By Rick Riozza

Since 1981, Wine Spectator has been giving awards to restaurants with excellent wine programs.  This year they write, “Every wine list tells a story, and like life, it evolves over time.”

The publication continues, “Representing everything from neighborhood wine bars serving small plates to opulent palaces with star chefs and elaborate tasting menus, the just-revealed 2018 Restaurant Award winners all share one thing—a passion for exploring and sharing the world of wine, whether through eclectic flights with a sense of fun or cellars laden with well-aged gems from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

For us wine folk in our valley, it’s wonderful news to report that in 2018, 17 Coachella restaurants have made the wine grade and were honored with Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards.  From the Grand Award, The Best of Award of Excellence, and the Award of Excellence, the magazine strives to showcase restaurants and wine lists, “that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program.”  Wine Spectator goes on to pat itself on the back as it claims, “reviews and awards are held in the highest regard in the domestic and international community.”

You’ll find that the wine lists at these award winning restaurants typically feature a selection of hundreds to thousands of labels carrying top producers; often times they will exhibit a good depth in mature vintages; they may have a large selection of large format bottles available for dining parties; are in harmony with the menu, and provide superior presentation with a knowledgeable staff.

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Now I don’t have to remind us foodie enthusiasts that putting together such an impressive program takes time, and, especially money.  It’s a brave group that takes on this endeavor.  And we hope to show our appreciation to these establishments, and other eateries and restaurants that devote time, funding, and consideration in their wine lists.

And now—let’s name a few of the winners so we can congratulate them by a visitation. You know they are very proud of the accomplishment and I’m certain that they will appreciate your wine interests and show you their collection, if there is time to do so.  Of course sitting for a meal and ordering up a nice bottle of wine is the supreme compliment.

First off, let me congratulate, again for yet another Best of Award of Excellence year, restaurateur Mindy Reed, owner and beverage director at one of Palm Springs iconic restaurants, Zin American Bistro.  I’ve known Mindy for some time now and respect her wine knowledge; I featured her in a past Tasting Panel Magazine article, which is posted on her website.

Besides the fine dining and patio joie de vivre in the heart of downtown, I’ve enjoyed so many fantastic wine pairing dinners and I’ve met a variety of winemakers who love coming into our town.  198 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262. zinamericanbistro.com.

Let me also make a warm shoutout to sommelier Lisa Tussing at the Award of Excellence winner, La Quinta Cliffhouse Grill and Bar.  I first met Lisa at the Ironhorse winemaker dinner over at Morgan’s in the Desert.  She’s been at the Cliffhouse for some time now and she makes it as comfortable as her home.

Just the location of the Cliffhouse, up the mount, off of Hwy 111 near Washington, singles the restaurant out and has remained a Coachella Valley favorite for upscale casual dining since it first opened its doors.  Be sure to introduce yourselves to Lisa and ask her for the wine of the day, or one that will pair well with your dinner.  78-250 Highway 111, La Quinta, CA 92253. www.laquintacliffhouse.com

It’s no surprise to any wine enthusiast here in the desert that Cork & Fork in La Quinta was selected as an Award of Excellence recipient. Executive Chef and Owner, Andie Hubka is at the top of her culinary game enjoying all the accolades such as Palm Springs Life Magazine’s “Chef of the Year”, and headliner at the Palm Desert Food & Wine.

The Cork & Fork restaurant is into almost every type of wine pairing dinners, tastings, and events.  This is casual fine dining at its best. The menu features creative small plates ranging from classic comfort to exotic fusion. They offer an eclectic list of affordable wines by the glass and bottles to share, with perfect pairing advice for each of our tasty dishes. 47875 Caleo Bay Dr, La Quinta, CA 92253. corkandforkwinebar.com

It’s great to see Trio Restaurant as an Award recipient.  One could easily forget about their wine program with all of the happy hour cocktails going on, but when was the last time you checked out their wine list.  They have so many wines by the glass or bottle at the best prices to match all of the weekday specials and three course prix fixe meals.

Allow me to repeat:  The wine prices here (and the cocktail prices as well) at Trio’s are probably the lowest in town.  This is not only the place “where Palm Springs eats” but probably “where Palm Springs drinks”.  Cheers! 707 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. triopalmsprings.com

It’s interesting to note that three dinner restaurants in our valley’s casino have also won the Award of Excellence:  Cielo at the Morongo Casino & Resort Spa, and at both locations of The Steakhouse, Spa Resort Casino and Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.

And of course, we always wish to keep in mind the wonderful restaurants about town who are also Award of Excellence winners such as Cuistot (a Best of Award of Excellence), Morgan’s in the Desert, Mitch’s On El Paseo, Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, Vue Grille and Bar, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Spenser’s Restaurant.  No doubt, some of these fine eateries are on your favorite list.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

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