Diners in Columbus and Opelika who don’t know which wine to drink with dinner need not worry. Wine knowledge and expertise is not confined to just large cities or wine-growing regions, according to Wine Spectator magazine. The magazine chose three local dining destinations for national wine awards.
The Award of Excellence has been given to Meritage Cafe in Columbus and to the Warehouse Bistro and Jimmy’s Restaurant in Opelika.
These three restaurants were among 2,957 in the nation that were honored with Wine Spectator awards.
To be recognized by Wine Spectator a restaurant must submit its wine list and menus. The vintages and appellations for all the wines must be listed and spelled correctly.
Wine Spectator also stated that wines at all three restaurants were affordable. They each earned a “green” designation, which means they offer below-normal markup prices (usually 2 to 2 1/2 times the wholesale bottle price).
Faye Simmons, who owns Meritage, is proud of winning the award for the fourth year in a row.
“We’re excited,” she said. “But every year, we hold our breath.”
She’s especially proud of the green designation.
“I can always tell when a table is from out-of-town,” Simmons said. “They’re shocked at our wine prices.”
Meritage is named after blended wines made from five Bordeaux grapes — cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and Petit Verdot.
Besides selling wine by the bottle, each restaurant offers selected wines by the glass. At Meritage, Simmons laughs when she says the wines she sells by the glass is whatever bottle is open.
She acts as the wine steward or sommelier. Out of 66 Georgia restaurants honored with the Award of Excellence, only 14 are located outside the Atlanta area.
Simmons bought Meritage in 2004 and received her first Award of Excellence in 2006. “I’m still working on the branding,” she said. “It’s still a challenge. It’s a passion for me. I enjoy food and wine pairings.”
To buy wine for the restaurant, Simmons has to like the wine herself.
The next wine dinner will begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 1. The deadline to make a reservation is 5 p.m. Aug. 28. It will feature wines selected by Simmons with a menu to be announced later. It will feature smaller food portions and seven tasting pours. It will cost $49-$79, depending on the wines and the menu, Simmons said.
Jimmy Sikes owns Jimmy’s Restaurant in downtown Opelika. This is his third Award of Excellence.
He opened his New Orleans-style restaurant in 2005.
Even though Opelika is his home, he went to Louisiana State University for graduate school, where he fell in love with New Orleans-style cuisine.
This is his first restaurant, but he’s always been involved with wine.
“I developed the wine list, a diverse wine list.”
After his first year, he decided to make his submission to Wine Spectator.
Sikes has 200 selections. Most is in a wine storage at the restaurant, but some are stored at his house. Luckily, he said, he lives just five blocks away.
He serves 20 wines by the glass.
“Keegan Peterzell is the wine guy,” Sikes said. “He knows a lot about wine. Joe Herzing has 20-some odd years in the business and has a lot of experience.”
The staff is trained as well, Sikes said.
Every year since 2003 The Warehouse Bistro has won an Award of Excellence.
Joe Hippely opened the Bistro in 2001. He has 386 bottles for diners to choose from.
He tries to go to California’s Napa Valley once a year and taste various wines.
“We try to find wines that are great-tasting and are affordable.”
His maitre d’ and sommelier, Hardy Gilbert, trains the entire wait staff.
“They are all familiarized with wines, wine tastings and how to compare wine with food,” Hippely said. “We actually bring wine makers to the restaurant and teach my staff about their wines. That helps the wait staff. Each one of my servers are bartenders, too.”
While most of the Bistro’s wines are from California and Oregon, there are some from Washington in the United States, and from Australia, Spain and France.
Hippely’s background is French cuisine. Originally from Ohio, he grew up in Florida. His wife works for Dillard’s and was transferred, which brought the family to Opelika.
ContactSandra Okamotoat 706-571-8580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.