Wine Spectator has officially held forth on restaurant wine lists since 1981, when the oenophile mag offered up its inaugural list of Restaurant Award winners. Restaurants and sommeliers across the nation were honored with awards in one of three tiers: Award of Excellence, the somewhat-awkwardly-named Best of Award of Excellence and the highest honor available, the Grand Award.
In that time, the Restaurant Awards have achieved both national and international success as a widely-recognized barometer of overall wine quality. They've also attracted a fair amount of criticism, most notably in 2008 after wine critic Robin Goldstein was able to secure a Wine Spectator award for a non-existent restaurant he fabricated in order to draw attention to the magazine's lack of oversight for the roughly 4,000 award entries it receives each year. Wine Spectator receives over $1 million in entry fees from the competition each year, the LA Times noted in the wake of the Goldstein scandal, and all but 319 of the 4,000-odd entries go on to receive awards in a typical year.
Nevertheless, Wine Spectator went on to recover from the stumble, and vowed to "be more vigilant in the future," as executive editor Thomas Matthews put it in a response to the hoax in 2008. These days, the scandal all but forgotten, the annual awards are still as eagerly awaited as ever. And this year, 44 Houston-area restaurants received recognition from the magazine for their wine lists, including Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, which secured a coveted Grand Award for the fifth year in a row.
Additionally, 11 restaurants received the Best of Award of Excellence for their wine lists, including Backstreet Cafe, Brennan's, Brix Wine Cellars in Cypress, Caracol, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, Mark's American Cuisine, Ristorante Cavour, Smith & Wollensky, Sullivan's Steakhouse, Tony's and Vic & Anthony's. Backstreet Cafe was also recognized for its "uncommon value"—that is, a wine list with inexpensive yet excellent selections—as was sister restaurant Hugo's, Houston's two locations of Seasons 52, El Meson, Prego and Sonoma Wine Bar & Restaurant (all good spots to keep in mind for the budget-minded wine lover).
The full list of Houston restaurants will be released in the August 31 issue of Wine Spectator. And don't fret if you don't see personal favorites such as Underbelly, Ibiza, The Pass & Provisions or The Tasting Room listed amongst its pages—it doesn't mean they aren't award-worthy; it just means they didn't want to pay the $250 entry fee.