Where to Wine & Dine: The Best American Restaurants for Australian and New Zealand Wines

Where to Wine & Dine: The Best American Restaurants for Australian and New Zealand Wines

by Chuck Hayward


Over the past few weeks, both Australia and New Zealand have paused to celebrate their national holidays.  Australia slows down to celebrate Australia Day, which is the day that English explorers discovered Sydney Harbor. (It’s often said that the annual running of the Melbourne Cup horse race is probably the real national holiday but that’s an argument for another day).

New Zealand’s holiday is called Waitangi Day which is the day that a treaty was signed making the country part of the British Empire and at the same time granting the native Maori population rights to their land along with the legal rights associated with being a British citizen.

As is customary when you specialize in wines from Down Under, there are a slew of emails extending invitations to events surrounding both holidays and they all re-ignited a lingering question: Where in this country can someone dine out and enjoy the best wines from New Zealand or Australia with their meal?

Wines from both countries have been part of America’s drinking portfolio for over 20 years now. Yet if you look at many of the wine lists across America, especially those restaurants that are considered to be among the best, wines from Down Under are far and few between. Yes, you’ll see a Cloudy Bay here or a Penfolds there but rare is it that you encounter an extensive selection of the kind of artisanal producers favored by many wine enthusiasts and explorers. Oh sure, there have been a few wines that are detailed at the end of the list but an emphatic presence is something that has been rare to witness in America. But a few restaurants have made the effort to cast some light on the Aussie and Kiwi wine category and they deserve some recognition. Hopefully, in a few years time, this list will grow a little bit more.


PUBLIC

If you could award a "Best Australian/New Zealand Wine List" to an American restaurant today, Public would be the hands down winner following on from a few years where it was probably the only list in the country to wave the flag for Down Under wines. Located in New York City's Nolita district, this smartly designed dinner establishment has made a quite a splash since it was founded and it remains a hot culinary destination having been awarded a Michelin star .

Public was the first place opened up by the AvroKO Group which owns a few other establishments as well as adding Napa Valley hot-spot The Thomas to their portfolio. (They also design restaurants of which RN74 is their most notable.) Chef Brad Farmerie has been at Public since it was founded back in 2003. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Brad worked in London at Providores under acclaimed kiwi chef Peter Gordon. Brad’s take on food is to bring unique ingredients sourced from New Zealand and Australia to the table in a modern manner. There’s Tasmanian sea trout or kangaroo filets to create a unique dining experience.

Although Public has always been staffed with top class sommeliers who help craft the wine list, Brad has taken a particular interest in the wine program. He often spends late evenings after service scouring wines that have been put up for auction at Langtons, Australia’s premier wine auction company. This requires some true dedication as he tries to get his winning wines through a maze of shipping and customs regulations. Over the years, the proportion of Aussie and Kiwi wines has steadily increased to where almost 80% of the wines are from Down Under including some choice older vintages that come from Brad’s efforts. Bravo to Public for making the effort to promote these wines.

Public, 210 Elizabeth St, New York  www.public-nyc.com
 

BRASSERIE S&P AT THE MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL

It might seem a bit illogical for a hotel restaurant in San Francisco to promote Australian and New Zealand wines given that visitors might prefer to see something from Napa Valley. But wine director Nicole Kosta has stayed true to her Australian roots by making sure that the countries sharing the Tasman Sea are properly represented on her list.

The Mandarin Oriental’s San Francisco location was home to Silks, a popular and more formal restaurant that showcased the first efforts to highlight Asian influenced fusion food with a strong emphasis on Napa and Sonoma wines. However, the hotel recently underwent some renovation that required the closure of the long-standing restaurant. While helping reposition the hotel's dining options towards a more informal place to eat, Nicole also ensured that Aussie and Kiwi wines maintained a prominent presence on her wine lists.

What you’ll see, on both her bottle and glass selections, are a series of well priced wines from both countries sprinkled among wines from around the world. Her knowledge of Australian wines is extensive, so much so that you can even order up a bottle of sparkling shiraz! She also hosts a number of dinners and tastings featuring winemakers from Down Under, often in conjunction with JJ Buckley.

Brasserie S&P, 222 Sansome St, San Francisco  www.mandarinoriental.com
 

ATELIER CRENN

Dominique Crenn's artistic cuisine has catapulted her to the upper echelons of America's dining scene with her recent upgrade to two Michelin stars making her the only woman in America to achieve this level of recognition. It's fairly common for restaurants at this level to have a smattering of Australian and New Zealand wines if only to create a well-rounded wine list that ticks off the boxes needed to win a wine list award. But somms at such restaurants typically recommend old world wines leaving southern hemisphere selections to languish on the list. When you encounter Aussie wines that seem a bit too old compared to the list's selection of wines from California or Europe, you can bet that the sommeliers did not actively promote them to their clients.

A selection of wines around the world are often required of restaurants of this caliber and Atelier Crenn is no different in this respect. But it takes a sommelier to focus the diner’s attention to a specific wine category. Thanks to wine director Ian Burrows, Down Under wines do not languish on his list. While there are a smattering of Australian and New Zealand wines on the list, they are particularly well chosen and represent some of the top wines each country has to offer. Whether its an old bottle of Clonakilla shiraz or the latest wines from Bell Hill, you can see that Ian has a sharp eye for wines that will also complement Dominique’s eclectic and unique culinary vision.

Atelier Crenn, 3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco  www.ateliercrenn.com


THE MUSKET ROOM


It's pretty crazy to think that two of the country's top Antipodean wine lists are located within one block of each other. So it is that the newly opened Musket Room lies just a bit north of Public allowing enthusiasts of Kiwi and Aussie wines to indulge themselves in their favorite wines without much traveling. In addition to being close by, it also served as a training ground for The Musket Room with Chef Matt Lambert and sommelier Erin Barbour Scala, both having worked with Public's chef Brad Farmerie.

The Musket Room is not a duplicate of Public, however. The chef and staff have their own little twists with a heavy emphasis on modern NZ cuisine. While Matt’s Kiwi passion comes from having grown up there, Erin learned about New Zealand wines first hand from her work at Public and vowed to make Kiwi wines the focus of the Musket Room.

The cuisine is classic modern New Zealand fare combining beautiful and meticulous presentations with a twist on conventional kiwi cuisine (think a deconstructed meat pie). With respect to the wine list, Erin has put together a wide ranging list covering lots of ground but about 60% of the wines are from New Zealand including many rarities like a 2008 Dry River syrah. She has found that her clients are very receptive to NZ pinots in particular and thinks that her sales have improved by just listing the region and not the country of each wine.

The Musket Room, 265 Elizabeth St, New York, NY  www.musketroom.com