Several local restaurants recognized for excellent wine lists

July 22, 2023

Great news! Wine Spectator has just recognized two Delaware restaurants for their wine programs with inclusion on its esteemed Award of Excellence list. Barda in Wilmington and Benvenuto in Milford join Blue Moon Rehoboth, listed since 2022; Bluecoast Bethany and Bluecoast Rehoboth, 2018; Catch 54, Selbyville, 2018; CS Brazilian Steakhouse Newark, 2017; Lupo Italian Kitchen Rehoboth, 2017; and Caffé Gelato Newark, 2005; for this prestigious award. Gaining this recognition is difficult. In the 1980s and ‘90s, The Garden in OC and Garden Gourmet in Rehoboth, my former restaurants, earned this award as well as Best of Awards of Excellence, thanks to a significant effort from Tim Wood and Terry Adriance, my very able bartenders, fellow winos and friends. The requirements are exacting. Currently 1,782 winners from all 50 states, 70 countries and territories are honored. From Wine Spectator: “These wine lists should offer at least 90 selections, feature a well-chosen assortment of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Whether compact or extensive, focused or diverse, these lists deliver sufficient choice to satisfy discerning wine lovers.” The “best of” list has an additional 1,290 restaurants. Those requirements add several layers of more-stringent criteria, including knowledgeable and proficient service, proper stemware, proper cellar conditions and depth of vintage, among others. Big props to the folks who have managed to achieve this coveted award.

Here are some more reasonably priced Cabernet Sauvignon from my note archives; several folks emailed claiming they were having a tough time locating previous recommendations. Achaval Ferrer is well known for its 90+ Malbec. It also produces a Mendoza Cab that has rated 90 McD since 2015 and can be had under $20. The 2019 is ruby purple with black currant, blackberry, black cherry and hints of barrel-driven cedar, tobacco, spice and chocolate bouquet. Well balanced with sufficient tannin to say it will cellar. The powerful palate repeats the nose. A long, complex finish continues the fruit, cedar, chocolate and tobacco. The 2020 was rated 92 by James Suckling; I have not sampled it yet. The 2020 Michael Pozzan MJ Matthew Joseph Napa Cab at $19.95 looked too good to be true. I was unfamiliar with it, and few of the likely suspects reviewed it. Blackberry, currant with undertones of violets, cherry and chocolate aromas develop to more cherry and blackberry with muted white pepper and cinnamon on the palate. Spent 18 months on French oak. Color, tannin and proper balancing acidity provide a truly fine, inexpensive Napa Cab. It will improve but is approachable now, 91 plus 2 price points under $21. Black Stallion Winery produces several Cabs priced from $24 to $184, so note this label carefully: Black Stallion Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, 91 McD. For some unknown reason, prices quoted on this offering are all over the spectrum from $24 to $35. Shop! Dark-fruit aromas with cedar back notes segue to cherry, raspberry and spice palate. Subdued tannins and a balancing acidity support the fruit through a long, clean finish.

Several requested more info on value upscale. Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Cab is my go-to for value at high end, as regular readers will remember. It’s rated consistent scores in the mid-90s for last 10 years. And somehow, the producers have maintained pricing under $130 for the 95-point McD 2018, which just opened its window. This is one where I disagree with my guru Ms. Jancis, who wrote 16/20. Virginia Boone saying 97, RP 96 and Falstaff 95 were closer. JR prefers more structure and age-ability in Cabs rather than fruit-forward, round-tannin, old-time Cali styles. Dark ruby-purple with currant, cherry and slightly herbal nose; vague forest floor notes lead to more fruit flavors on a nicely balanced frame with round tannins and fresh acidity. Finishes with nougat and chocolate after-flavors.

I am really excited about the 2022 California production. All reports claim it was a difficult year due to extreme heat and late-summer rain. Those who out waited the weather to pick were rewarded with a beautiful fall, extending hang times and allowing the grapes’ juices to return to balance. Reports claim yields were lower than normal, so expect more price elevation on release of quality products.


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