In the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café has once again proven that it is serious about wine.
Last month, Opentable.com — an online service for diners to find restaurants, make reservations, and review restaurants — announced its annual Diner’s Choice Awards for the top 50 restaurants with the most notable wine lists in the country, which were based on more than 10 million reviews of 12,000 restaurants nationwide between October 2010 and September 2011. Putting Santa Barbara County on that map is this renowned cafe on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Olivos, and it's the second such award for owners Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein, who were also honored this year with the much-coveted “Best Restaurants for Wine” Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.
The Independent recently got the opportunity to ask Sam Marmorstein what the secret is.
What does this award mean to you?
The award is a great accomplishment. We have a great wine list to offer our guests. Not only do we have a great menu, but we also have a great wine list, which is something we are very proud of.
What is so “notable” about your wine list?
First of all, we have a great selection of wines. We currently offer more than 500 different wines to our guests. Secondly, the majority of the wines we sell are local, which is very important to us. Also, we do wine tastings where people can taste any wine off of our list, and they can choose between 30 and 40 wines by the glass when dining with us. Lastly, we have good prices.
How do you decide which wines to sell?
We have a wine director, Jon McDaniel, who does a great job bringing in wine, and then we taste every single wine we put on our list.
You also won Wine Spectator’s Best Restaurants for Wine Award of Excellence this year. What’s your secret?
We’re really passionate about wine. We even have our own wine, Bernat Wine. We’re just really into wine, especially wine from the area. We believe it is important that people can come here and sample wine from local winemakers. We really care about which wines we put on our list and bring into our restaurant. We go for wines that taste more expensive than what they’re selling for. We want to sell great wine for reasonable prices.
Do you only sell California wine?
No, we have international wines as well, but we tend to stick to major wine producing areas, such as Italy, France, and Spain. We also have a few wines from South America and a handful from New Zealand. We like the idea that people can come here and taste great local wines, but they can also try out internationally made wines.
Any good advice for first-time wine buyers?
It’s important to taste when you buy, which is why we sell by the glass and why we do tastings. Talk to someone who is knowledgeable about wine and ask questions. Let them know what you’re looking for, if you’re into dry wines or if you like them sweet, if you prefer red, white, or rosé. It’s all about tasting.
What is your favorite wine that one can buy at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant?
Everybody asks me, but it’s difficult to say. I believe that wine goes with food. If I’m having salmon, I’ll pull out a pinot noir. In the afternoon, I might drink a white wine or rosé rather than red. It also depends on your mood. But obviously I like our own wine the most, the Bernat Wines.
Learn more about the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café by visiting the Web site losolivoscafe.com.