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6 Best Wine Restaurants


Planning a vacation or business trip? We touched base with insiders from coast to coast to find restaurants with the best wine programs. We wanted tips on restaurants that make wine enjoyable, accessible and easy to pair with the food coming out of the kitchen. Because really, who wants an intimidating sommelier trying to push some pricey trophy wine onto your bill?

That being said, some of our picks are award winners and quite high profile -- but they also do a terrific job of putting customers at ease with their wine programs. Our other choices are neighborhood spots and hidden gems that simply make wine fun, delicious and affordable. We begin where much of this country's wine originates: California. Here we go!

San Francisco

As the gateway to much of California's wine country, San Francisco is a virtual treasure trove of great California wine lists, but the high prices and phone-book-size volumes can be as difficult to navigate as Lombard Street.

So we asked Peter Marks, senior vice president of wine at Napa Valley's COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, for his personal pick of an affordable yet interesting San Francisco wine list. He singled out the casual, bustling Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant for its well-priced, artisanal wines paired with exceptional cheeses, sandwiches and charcuterie specials.

With a slew of wines that barely make it out of the Bay Area, fun offerings such as wine flights (a grouping of wines poured in 2- or 3-ounce quantities and sold as a set) and rock-bottom corkage fees to open any wine you like from the adjacent retail space, this is truly a wine-lover's paradise. fpwm.com

Las Vegas

Fresh off their 2008 AAA Five Diamond Award and 2008 Michelin two-star rating, the staff at Picasso at the Bellagio hasn't let success go to their heads. Master sommelier Robert Smith heads up the wine program, managing nearly 1,500 selections from Europe and beyond. 

Wine and food aren't cheap here, but this is a case of expensive done right -- with exceptional service, jaw-dropping decor and deliciousness down to the last sip and bite.

Smith is widely known as a wonderful and warm host who emphasizes staff training, explaining that, "we taste wines together and see what we enjoy, and often I will let the staff taste wines that are unique or highly allocated so they are able to offer advice when patrons are looking for a special-occasion wine." Bottom line? If you're going to splurge, this is the place to do it. bellagio.com/restaurants/picasso.aspx

Dallas

This town is replete with glitzy, hip options, but Abacus is still at the top of our list. And not because of chef Tre Wilcox's recent turn on Bravo TV's Top Chef. Abacus is about the sum of its parts. The luxurious ambience and cushy chairs. The lovely service. The signature lobster shooters in their little sake cups. The extensive wine list with high-end wines and verticals. The sumptuous food featuring outstanding quality ingredients sourced from around the world by chefs Kent Rathbun and Wilcox. This is the place to go when you're in the mood for classic elegance and excellence that never disappoint. abacus-restaurant.com

Boston

Think of Boston's Sel de la Terre as the "second label" to famed sister restaurant L'Espalier -- all the talent and resources of L'Espalier at a much lower cost. Rated as Boston magazine's "Best Affordable Wine List" in 2005, Sel de la Terre offers brasserie classics like cassoulet and short ribs alongside a wine list by beverage director Erik Johnson that features earthy, slightly rustic favorites from Provence, Languedoc, Roussillon and other regions in the south of France. seldelaterre.com

Scottsdale

Wine enthusiasm is in full swing in Scottsdale, and The Arizona Republic restaurant columnist-reviewer Carey Sweet singles out Cowboy Ciao and its sister property, Kazimierz World Wine Bar, as the "leaders in Valley wine." Both are run by Peter Kasperski and offer "enormous lists with unique selections," Sweet says. "Plus, the places are a ton of fun!"

The sheer size of the nearly 3,000-bottle-strong wine lists would be daunting if it weren't for how easy Kasperski and his equally wine-crazed staff strive to make things. This group is truly happy about wine, and they won't rest (or relent, as the case may be) until you are too. cowboyciao.com, kazbar.net


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