A glass of wine designed to compliment the tastes of fine-dining menu items is something Christina's Restaurant at the Bailiwick Inn prides itself on, and now the world of "foodies" and wine enthusiasts have recognized the restaurant as one of the best in the world.
Bonnie McDaniel, proprietor of the Bailiwick Inn and Christina's Restaurant in the City of Fairfax, said winning the award was not an easy thing to do. Wine Spectator looks for very specific criteria, including the order in which the winemaker, vintage and grape varietal are presented on each wine list as well as the list's thematic match to the menu in both price and style, according to Wine Spectator Online. Punctuation and spelling are taken into consideration, as well as the overall appearance of the list, said Tom Matthews, spokesman for Wine Spectator.
"We have a team of about five judges who go through every single one of those [more than 4,000 applicants'] wine lists and try to make a good judgment about how successful the wine list really is," said Matthews.
Wine Spectator looks for a thoughtful list, said Matthews. While some applicants might have 1,000 bottles on their list, if a list with 50 bottles shows some thought and passion, and includes wines that can't be found in an average retail store, it certainly catches the judges' attention, said Matthews. At the Bailiwick, it's this same quality over quantity attitude that stood out in the selection process.
"We only have 30 or 40 seats for dinner," said Luis Santiago, Maitre d'Hotel and Christina's wine director. "We don't need to have a thousand different wines."
THE LIST OFFERS more than 100 wines, including a few selections of wines by the glass and half bottles. The current glass list includes two whites and three reds, all from the Santa Ema label in Chile, Santiago's home country. Six half bottles are on the list ranging from $30 to $50. Santiago said he included half bottles so guests have a great selection of wine, but still have an alternative to buying an entire bottle or just a glass.
"We have different prices for different people," said Santiago.
Christina's price ranges for wine vary as much as the wine regions on the list, including New Zealand, Spain, Italy, France, California, Oregon, Chile and Virginia. Santiago said he's been more and more interested in bringing Virginia wines to the menu, since he said the quality of wine has been improving here. Joanna Ormesher, marketing manager for the city, said the Bailiwick is a wonderful place to sit and drink wine because of the atmosphere and the quality. While she said the wine there isn't necessarily the cheapest in town, "it goes with the territory."
"I think it is such good news for the city to have a place of that caliber," said Ormesher. "People can come here [to Fairfax] and have the best of the best, and that's now been proven [with the award]."
As a wine drinker in and out of the so-called office, Santiago knows what works with certain foods, and he knows what people want.
"It's my passion," said Santiago. "The only thing I drink is wine."
McDaniel has trusted Santiago's expertise to create a list that matches the tastes and quality of Chef Thierry Sanchez's menu. From Kobe beef and filet mignon to roasted lamb loin and parmesan-crusted halibut, there is wine on the menu that is perfect for each dish, and it's Santiago's job to recommend the perfect wine for each dish at a guest's request.
"I know I never have to worry about that dining room when Luis is here," said McDaniel. "I'm very comfortable in allowing my people to do their jobs."
When McDaniel opened Christina's two years ago, she wanted to make sure the restaurant would complement the quality and atmosphere of the hotel. Santiago came along and they immediately began working on the wine list. They set a goal to achieve the Wine Spectator recognition since they knew it was highly regarded among food and wine enthusiasts around the world.
"You're really nobody if you don't have a great wine list," said Santiago.
McDaniel and Santiago said they hope the award will raise awareness about the restaurant. Matthews said past award-winners will say that the recognition definitely stimulates business, especially business from wine lovers, since he said the Online and print version of the award list gets "pretty wide exposure." After two years of business at Christina's, Santiago said many locals don't know about the restaurant and travel to Washington when they want a fine-dining experience. That is one reason why McDaniel has displayed a banner outside to let people know about the Wine Spectator award.
"It's not to show off," said McDaniel. "It's to let people know we have a really good restaurant and wine list."