Wine Spectator magazine has given its annual Award of Excellence to several Birmingham restaurants: Brock's, Fleming's, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Ocean, Ruth's Chris, Satterfield's, Standard Bistro, Veranda on Highand, and Village Tavern.
Congratulations to these restaurants. We've been to most of them and they're all good.
However, keep in mind that these awards are not the be-all and end-all of restaurant excellence. For one thing, unless you're one of the Grand Award winners, it has nothing to do with the food or service. The basic award level, which applies to all the Alabama restaurants in the list, is awarded for wine lists "that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically, these lists offer at least 100 selections." The overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration. To enter, restaurants must submit a copy of their current wine list and dinner menu, plus a cover letter that describes their wine program -- and a $250 entry fee.
In fact, this year, one enterprising wine critic even made up a fake restaurant and got an Award of Excellence for it.
It's for reasons like that that while Frank Stitt's restaurants (Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, Chez FonFon) have some of the best wine lists in town, they have opted not to participate in recent years.
So again, congratulations to this year's winners, but just because a restaurant is not on the list, don't assume its wines are not just as good if not better.