Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen, and his wife, Susan, popped a few corks last month.
The pair celebrated the news that his restaurant, Story, had achieved a “Best of Award of Excellence” for its wine list from the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards Program for 2015.
“It was always a goal we had for this place – we wanted to have a top-notch wine program, both by the glass and bottle,” Thorne-Thomsen says.
This is a new step up in the rankings for Story’s wine list, which had been previously recognized with the “Award of Excellence” for the past few years from Wine Spectator.
Wine Spectator praises Story’s list for the breadth and depth of the restaurant's California labels, and for its moderately priced list, with bottles ranging from $40 to $200 and above.
Wine Spectator accepts wine lists from restaurants from around the country each year. The magazine then reviews and makes a professional determination on which restaurants deserve to be ranked on its list, and at what level of the three-tiered system each restaurant should be placed.
The Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards Program has been honoring the world’s best wine programs since 1981. Grand Award winners generally offer 1,000 or more selections, with superior breadth and depth in many of the world’s classic wine-producing regions. These restaurants and bars have also passed a rigorous inspection that evaluates the overall quality of their wine program, cellars, service, ambiance and cuisine.
Story was also recently included in the World of Fine Wine's world's best wine lists, which speaks to the amount of time and importance the chef places on tending his wine list.
“Don’t ask me to show you my wine cellar, because we don’t have one at Story,” Thorne-Thomsen says. He explains that he is looking for someone who can build a large cellar that can be kept temperature-perfect for his growing wine list, but has yet to find the right person for the job.
Right now, he says his wine inventory is being kept in smaller wine fridges scattered around his restaurant, and in a temperature-perfect storage closet near the restrooms. It's a short-term solution while he hunts for a long-term fix.
The chef also marvels at how much his wine list has evolved since he opened Story four years ago in Prairie Village, Kansas.
“When we opened the restaurant, we had less than 100 labels on our list, and there were only two to three wine distributors in Kansas we were able to order through," Thorne-Thomsen says. "Now, we have access to six to eight wine distributors in Kansas, which makes it a lot easier to get the quality labels we want on our wine list."
Now, with over 500 labels and 1,200 actual bottles on hand at the restaurant, Thorne-Thomsen believes his list was more highly recognized this year because of his increased access to more bottles with more Kansas distributors on the scene and because of that, he has been able to add more depth and vintages of the same wine to his list.
He has also been adding some nicer wines to his by-the-glass program, charging between $16 and $22 a glass in some cases.
“With this high-end by-the-glass strategy, I am able allow my customers the chance to taste an incredible wine by the glass, without having to shell out the money to pay for an entire bottle,” he says. “My customers see the value in that, and they seem happy to pay for quality food and drink at my restaurant.”
This year, 3,618 restaurants from all 50 states and more than 75 other countries earned an award from Wine Spectator for their outstanding wine programs. Of these, 2,563 earned the Award of Excellence, which recognizes a wine list of about 90 or more quality wine selections that thematically matches a restaurant’s cuisine. Another 973 earned the Best of Award of Excellence for offering a wine list of typically 350 or more selections with significant vintage depth or superior breadth in one or more major wine regions.
The complete list of award winners is featured in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectatormagazine.