In this issue, we celebrate restaurant wine lists that exalt Pacific Northwest wines.
It's a fine competition, and each year we judge more lists and give out more awards. This year, we honor 32 restaurants from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho that excel in seeking out and featuring wines from our region.
That's not enough. In fact, it's an insult, and I'm angry about it. You should be, too.
Let's think about it: If we're honoring 32 restaurants for their Northwest selections, there are at least as many more we would have recognized if their lists had been entered. To be generous, let's say there are 100. That means 100 restaurants out of more than 10,000 in the Northwest are worthy. That's less than 1 percent.
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Now, let's consider that a lot of restaurants -- like fast food joints -- don't have wine lists. Off the top of my head, I'd say at least 1,000 Northwest restaurants have some kind of wine program. That means 10 percent are worthy of being deemed "Outstanding" by our magazine.
If we were in California, France, Italy, Spain or Australia, the percentage would be much higher, at least 50 percent and probably closer to 80, depending on the region. My wife and I were in Italy a couple of years ago, and no matter what dinky little restaurant or wine bar we went into, the choices of wine primarily were from the region immediately surrounding us.
We were in Sonoma this spring and ate at nice restaurants that had few choices outside that valley. Sure, there was the token Hogue or Columbia Crest, but you'd be hard pressed to even find much from nearby Napa because of the fierce loyalty the restaurateurs have for their local winemakers.
That's what we need, more fierce loyalty.
Restaurateurs could take a lesson or two from some of our winners. The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Wash., has a wine list that will make you salivate. We've judged it three years in a row, with the last two taking our grand award. One would think proprietor Ron Zimmerman couldn't improve on his 700-wine selection when nearly all are from the Northwest. Yet he does. He reads, he asks around, and he tastes new wines.
Ditto with The Palmer House in Dayton, Ore. This is a 100 percent Oregon list, mostly Pinot Noir. Owner Jack Czarnecki has that fierce loyalty.
A few wine lists this year took it even further, featuring wines only or primarily from their immediate region. Granny Bogner's in Penticton, B.C., is a great example, as are Whitehouse-Crawford in Walla Walla, Wash., and the Lyle Hotel in Lyle, Wash.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the list from The Shoalwater, a wonderful restaurant in Seaview, Wash. It's loaded with Northwest selections and is a finalist every year for Best Northwest Wine List. Now, no offense to Seaview residents, but this little town on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula barely warrants a dot on the map. Yet owners Tony and Ann Kischner manage to compile and maintain a list that rivals any in the Northwest.
If I were a big city restaurant that couldn't do half as well as a restaurant in Seaview, I'd be embarrassed.
Even Red Lobster, a national chain, is making a push to include more local wines.
This diatribe is not to say that I don't think we should enjoy wines from other regions. Quite the opposite. I taste a few thousand Northwest wine samples each year, so I think I deserve the occasional Montepulciano, Cote Rotie or Alsace Gewuerztraminer.
But restaurants can do better. It isn't like Northwest vintners aren't giving them great choices. With our wide spectrum of styles and varieties and the world-class quality with which the wines are being made, there is no excuse -- other than sloth and lassitude -- that more Northwest wines shouldn't be featured.
I heard recently that the Washington wine industry is making a push to get at least 20 percent of the wines on wine lists to be from the state. That means getting a lousy two out of every 10 wines from Washington onto a list. That should be easy, and we can help.
Whenever you visit a restaurant and you don't think the wine list has enough Northwest selections, let the server or manager know. Don't let them give you any excuses, either. The wines aren't that expensive, they're high quality, and they're easy to get. If you're a restaurateur who wants to improve your Northwest selections, give me a call. I'll be glad to help.
If we all start to pay attention to what restaurants are doing, we can make a difference, and that's good for us, our wineries and the Pacific Northwest.