After a two week hiatus, Jacksonville Fine Dining Examiner returns with an updated review of the best restaurants for wine in the Jacksonville area. Our hiatus was partially due to spending time preparing for the Introductory Sommelier Course that was conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers at The Breakers in West Palm Beach, FL from 8/10/14-8/11/14. For those unfamiliar with the Court of Master Sommeliers, they are the top international examining body for beverage service, which was established in 1977. There are four levels that aspiring sommeliers can achieve:
- Level 1: Introductory
- Level 2: Certified Sommelier
- Level 3: Advanced Sommelier
- Level 4: Master Sommelier
The Level 1 class consists of two full-day lectures followed by a 70 question exam. Those who pass the exam receive a pin (see photo above) and certificate. Level 1 does not grant the title of "Sommelier". Rather, one must pass the Level 2 exam, which consists of tasting/theory/service in order to achieve this status. Level 3 increases the difficulty exponentially and Level 4 Master level is one of the most difficult credentials to obtain in the world. According to the Court of Master Sommeliers website, there are only 219 Master Sommeliers worldwide with 140 residing in North America. Amazingly, 4 of these Masters taught the level 1 class in-person and it was a fantastic experience. The amount of wine knowledge acquired through this exam is massive and we hope this new-found knowledge will allow for more in-depth wine commentary in our restaurant reviews. We strongly recommend the Level 1 class to anyone with a strong interest in wine. To learn more about the Court of Master Sommeliers we suggest you watch a documentary called Somm, which follows several Master Sommelier candidates in their pursuit of Master status.
Without further adieu, we'd like to present our list of the top 10 restaurants for wine in the Jacksonville area:
10. Roy's (Jacksonville Beach): This well-run restaurant has an excellent wine list including several we like including: Dr. Loosen Reisling, Estancia Pinot Grigio, and Justin Cabernet Sauvignon. The house Cabernet Sauvignon, simply called "Roy's", is an excellent wine for the value. Sake is also available.
9. III Forks: The focal point of the entrance into this restaurant is its 1,500 bottle see through wine cellar. As you might expect, there are numerous full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons like Darioush available.
8. Ruth's Chris (Downtown Jacksonville location): This restaurant offers excellent views of the St. Johns River to pair with a large wine list. The reds by the glass are mostly American, and we recommend Uppercut from Napa Valley for a reasonably priced Cabernet Sauvignon.
7. Bistro Aix: This downtown Jacksonville favorite features an extensive sparkling wine list featuring bottles like Dom Perignon Brut ($279) and Veuve Clicquot "Ponsardin" Brut Rose ($129). Bistro Aix also features one of the largest wine-by-the-class selections in the area.
6. Ovinte: We recently reviewed this restaurant/wine bar and had a great experience on our secon visit. They have a wide assortment wines including European wines like Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France. There's also Obalo which is a Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain.
5. Wine Cellar: As you might imagine from the name, this restaurant offers a lot of quality wines. Wine Cellar offers wines that many consider the "best of the best", like the first growth Bordeaux: Chateau Margaux. However, there is a great assortment of lower priced wines by the bottle like Franciscan ($88) and Frog's Leap ($105) Cabernet Sauvignon that would go excellently with a steak.
4. Seasons 52: Although there are no Master Sommeliers located in Jacksonville, diners can experience a wine list selected by Master Sommelier George Milliotes. The list includes several great domestic and international wines by the glass that you wouldn't normally see. For instance, we recently tried the Petite Petite by Michael David from Lodi. This wine consists of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petite Verdot and was one of the most concentrated and dark wines we've seen; unique and highly recommended. We also like the "Drink Them Before They're Famous Wines" section, which includes less-known wines like Wolf Blass Chardonnay from South Australia, that are recommended by George Milliotes.
3. Salt (Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island): We probably don't talk about this restaurant as much as we should. Keep in mind, Salt used to be the only AAA 5 diamond restaurant in north Florida. Unfortunately, it was dropped down to four Diamond, but from the looks of their wine list, it wasn't because of a lack of great wine. We like wines off their list like Sequoia Grove from Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA.
2. Restaurant Orsay: We recommend the steak frites at Orsay. To go with this strong flavored strip steak dish, a cabernet like Lail Blueprint from Napa Valley would likely make your dining experience very enjoyable. Otherwise, Orsay has one of the most impressive wine lists in Jacksonville, including wines from France, Spain, Portugal, Italy. For those looking for top-of-the line wine, diners a Orsay can order Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, 2009 Pinot Noir for $2,500 and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 20005, Bordeaux for $1,200.
1. Azurea (One Ocean Resort Atlantic Beach): Our #1 restaurant in the Jacksonville area is also our #1 restaurant for wine in Jacksonville the Jacksonville area. The prix fixe menu at Azurea called "The Adventurous Palate" features some of the most delicious and creative seasonal food paired with delicious wines. These pairings include exotic wines like Mohua Pinot Noir from Central Otago, NZ and E. Guigal "Gigondas" from Rhone, France. For more about Azurea wine: local Sommelier, Kris Chislett provides some excellent wine recommendations here at his Jacksonville Wine Guide website.
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