• Laurel Contributor

Awards of Excellence

by Luke Osteen

The Award of Excellence winners’ wine lists ”display excellent breadth across multiple winegrowing regions and/or significant vertical depth of top producers, along with superior presentation.

Wine Spectator’s 2019 Restaurant Award of Excellence recognizes restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine, and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.

That’s a big challenge to meet, and seven local businesses have earned the accolade, a remarkable achievement for such a small corner of the world.

Taking top honors this year are Wild Thyme Gourmet, Madison’s Restaurant & Wine Garden, Ristorante Paoletti, Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Bistro, Mountain Fresh, Meritage Bistro, and The Lakeside Dining Room at Greystone Inn.

The Award of Excellence winners’ wine lists ”display excellent breadth across multiple winegrowing regions and/or significant vertical depth of top producers, along with superior presentation. Typically offering 350 or more selections, these restaurants are destinations for serious wine lovers, showing a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through their service team.”

Wild Thyme Gourmet, located at 343 Main Street (in Town Square) in Highlands, displays its wine cellar proudly in its Dining Room. The walls are literally lined with wine racks. Owner/Chef Dindu Lama has assembled a staff with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the collection, and they’re trained to help diners select the perfect complement to his dishes.

If you’d like to discover for yourself why Wild Thyme Gourmet was chosen for the Wine Spectator honor, call (828) 526-4035 or visit wildthymegourmet.com. Reservations are not taken for lunch.

Madison’s Restaurant & Wine Garden’s extensive international collection helped it secure the Award.

“We have a rather extensive collection of wine from all over the world—but concentrated on France, Italy, and the United States,” says Madison’s Sommelier Trevor Waldrop. “Currently, we have almost 600 labels on our list, (with some wines in the cellar undergoing the aging process). We have a fantastic selection of wines that are sustainably or organically-farmed, with most wineries aiming to leave the land better than when they found it.”

Madison’s Restaurant & Wine Garden is located at 445 Main Street in Highlands. For reservations, call (828) 787-2525.

For Arthur Paoletti, a passion for wine is built into the architecture of his namesake restaurant.

“First and foremost, our philosophy and passion is to showcase properties of the world who’s wines pair best with our cuisine,” he says. “Our wine program and cellars stocks many heralded producers as well as those that fly under the radar but those who show varietal typicity and the terroir that they hail from. We try to avoid the current trend towards overly extracted wines and those that simply don’t exhibit the balance that is the hallmark of a properly made wine. We have been a proud recipient of the Wine Spectator’s ‘Best of Award of Excellence’ since 1987.”

Ristorante Paoletti is located at 440 Main Street in Highlands. For reservations, call (828) 526-4906.

“We are honored to have received the Best of Award of Excellence again in 2019, continuing a tradition that started with our first Best of Award in 2000,” says Annelize Giliomee, Wine Director of Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro. “We currently offer over 700 selections of wine, representing fine wine regions all over the world. We are very proud of the depth of offerings on our list, curated to fit every taste, every budget and every occasion.”

Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bar is located at 474 Main Street in Highlands. For reservations, call (828) 526-3807.

You won’t need reservations to check out the wine selection at Mountain Fresh Grocery.

Its collection of approximately 450 domestic and foreign labels is curated by Marlene Osteen and Cole Leitch. Marlene and Cole are on duty throughout the day to share their knowledge and opinions. It’s a fun experience and education, and the best part, you can take their recommendations home with you (just pay before you leave the store, though).

Mountain Fresh Grocery is located at 521 East Main Street in Highlands.

Meritage Bistro’s inclusion on this list should come as no surprise, considering that owner Andrea Schmitt has spent decades studying the intricacies of wine and the ways that those intricacies can complement a well-prepared meal.

“We stock over 700 labels,” she explains. “Since we’re a restaurant with a blended Mediteranean menu – with French, Italian, and Spanish dishes – we aren’t devoted to the wines that everyone knows. We’re always looking for new labels, new wine-growing regions, new varietals. We like surprising our guests.”

Meritage Bistro is located at 490 Carolina Way in Highlands. For reservations, call (828) 526-1019.

And finally, there’s one award-winner that’s not quite on The Plateau – The Greystone Inn at Lake Toxaway.

“We put a lot of emphasis on our by-the-glass offerings,” says Owner Geoffrey Ellis. “We usually have about 20 to 25 whites and reds on hand, from about $8 to $25.

“With our bottles, we like to look for wines that are a bit more esoteric, varietals from throughout the world. I try to not get hung up too much on the more prominent labels, though of course we stock those, but I like to be aware of other lesser-known labels. I’m a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, so I take these things seriously.”

Greystone Inn is located at 220 Greystone Lane on Lake Toxaway. For reservations, call (828) 966-4700.

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