Psych the Cellar

To no one's shock or surprise, the current issue of Wine Spectator contains the news that Canlis, the classic Seattle restaurant perched above Lake Union on Queen Anne Hill, has been named one of the magazine's "Grand Award" winners for the eighth straight year. Wine Spectator doesn't scrimp on handing out citations; over 3,000 restaurants worldwide made the cut this year. But a Grand Award is serious, "given to those restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to quality," and have "1,250 or more selections." It's desirable enough that culinary landmarks like Paris' Tour d'Argent, New York's Ducasse, and Chicago's Charlie Trotter's consider it worthwhile to pay $200 and submit their menus and wine lists for consideration. At that, only 87 restaurants make the grade (Canlis is alone in the Northwest apart from the Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island). This would be a bulletin fit only for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous were it not that Canlis, emulating some of its illustrious fellow Grand Awardees, has posted its winning wine list on the World Wide Web for all to see (www.canlis.com/wines/wines_winelist.html). Scheduled to be updated once a month (the current edition is dated July 19), the 67-page list offers 1,600-odd items for your tantalized perusal, ranging from a $7 glass of L'Ecole No. 41's "Walla Voila" chenin blanc to a bottle of 1990 Vosne-RomaneƩ "La Tache" for $4,000. (There's a sprinkling of $25 and $30 bottles, but the median tab is in the $50 to $100 range.) Apart from feeding wine-buff fantasies, what use is Canlis' online wine list? Not much, perhaps, to regulars. But for the rest of us, who look on dining there as one of the more special of special occasions, it could be a godsend. Consider: When those 67 leatherbound pages approach your table, don't you freak? It doesn't even help that much to set a mental wine budget in advance; whatever the number you have in mind, examples are scattered all over the wine list, and it's not considered good form to get out a scratch pad and pocket calculator while ordering. Of course, you can throw yourself on the mercy of sommelier Shayne Bjornholm or one of his minions. They'll steer you right; but what if you don't like being steered? Here's where the online list shines. Look up some likely prospects at leisure online; check 'em out in your reference books if you want to break ties. Alternatively, scan the books for a dream bottle or two and then check the online list to see it they're represented. Either way, you'll be more familiar than 99 percent of Canlis diners with the extraordinary range of wines the restaurant offers. You can even show off a little, if you lean that way. Chat with the wine steward about the relative merits of '94 and '93 Woodward Canyon cab, or advise a guest that in your opinion, the Zardetto prosecco is not just better value but better wine than the Chandon blanc de noirs, despite its modest price tag. Anything that takes the stress out of ordering wine is a good thing; thanks to Canlis, you can actually have fun doing it. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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