2 Southern Utah restaurants win acclaim for wine selection

John Delaney holds a bottle of Painted Pony pinot noir, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2018 | By Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Painted Pony in St. George and The Spotted Dog Cafe in Springdale are the only two Southern Utah eateries to be recognized by Wine Spectator in its 2018 Restaurant Awards for the best restaurants for wine.

In the 37th edition of its annual awards, Wine Spectator is honoring 3,759 restaurants from more than 75 countries, including all 50 U.S. states. In addition to The Spotted Dog and Painted Pony, 19 restaurants in Utah received awards. Fifteen of those were in Salt Lake City or Park City.

Wine Spectator has three different award categories based on factors such as the number of wines available, presentation, how they pair with the menu based on price and style, and the variety of winegrowing regions represented, among others.

The Painted Pony pinot noir, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“It’s good to be recognized for the effort you put into making a wine list and everything that goes into it,” John Delaney, the Painted Pony’s sommelier, said, adding that the award is an honor because of the magazine’s reputation as a respected source for wine information.

The restaurant was last awarded by Wine Spectator in 2014. After that, the award became less of a priority as the owners focused on their second restaurant, George’s Corner Restaurant, which opened in 2012. Even though they didn’t apply for the award, the effort they put into their wine remained. This year, the restaurant decided it was time to try again.

Delaney grew up in the restaurant business. He, along with Randall and Nicki Richards, opened the Painted Pony in 2001. And since the restaurant largely focuses on wine, Delaney felt he should become a certified sommelier several years ago.

The wine list at the Painted Pony is carefully chosen. The owners go through extensive travel and research for their wine selection, compiling a globally representative list.

“Every time I open a wine list I get to travel,” Delaney said. “I get to take a little swoop around the world.”

The outside entrance to the Painted Pony, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

After deciding to expand their wine list in 2009, the trio went to the Road 31 Wine Co. in California, where owner and winemaker Kent Fortner helped them blend their first vintage wine and original label, the Painted Pony’s popular pinot noir.

“It’s got quality and finesse, it’s really popular, it speaks for itself,” Delaney said.

The restaurant has 138 wine selections by the bottle, 28 of which are served by the glass. Its inventory includes over 1,000 bottles, and Delaney said he hopes to expand the selection in the future.

The restaurant carries many classic wines, but it depends on the season which wines are most popular. During the summer, many people drink rosé. Once the weather cools off, Delaney said people will start to drink meatier wines.

The Spotted Dog Cafe, part of Flanigan’s Inn in Springdale, has been awarded by Wine Spectator since 2009 and puts significant effort into its wine selection, considering it an equal partner to its food menu.

The wine is selected by father and daughter co-owners, Larry and Rebecca McKown.

Larry McKown in the wine cellar of The Spotted Dog Cafe, Springdale, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Flanigan’s Inn, St. George News

Larry McKown has been in the wine business since 1964 and made wine a part of his restaurant in 1984.

The Spotted Dog Cafe prides itself on being a classy, but casual, dining environment next to Zion National Park.

“We don’t call ourselves a fancy restaurant. We’re more of a national park restaurant really,” McKown said.

The restaurant has a wine list with over 400 wines and 2,000 bottles in its temperature-controlled wine cellar.

McKown said they have a three-point philosophy for selecting wines: a strong emphasis on California wines; wine from boutique wineries and private estates; and they prefer small, privately owned wineries, not corporate-made wine. They often choose wines that are harvested and produced with biodynamic farming practices.

The Spotted Dog Cafe has a private label, the Flanigan’s reserve cabernet, and the Flanigan’s chardonnay, produced by White Rock Vineyards, a 35-acre family-run vineyard in California. The vineyard uses natural farming techniques and produces wine with handpicked grape clusters.

Wine is selected for the restaurant’s list after extensive research. Four staff members are in the wine sommelier program, and McKown, along with others from his staff, enjoy taking trips to Napa Valley to study wines. Most wines were comparatively tasted before being added to their selection.

The Spotted Dog Cafe, which received the award of excellence from the Win Spectator, Springdale, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Flanigan’s Inn, St. George News

“I consider it food instead of an alcoholic beverage, it’s part of the meal,” McKown said.

Delaney said that even though Utah has a reputation for being against alcohol, his largest customer base is locals, saying the idea that alcoholic beverages are unavailable in Utah is a misconception.

There are two wine clubs in St. George that meet regularly to drink and discuss wine, the St. George Wine Club and the St. George Wine Appreciation Society.

The owners of the Painted Pony are working to make it part of a larger local wine effort, joining Southern Utah vineyards such as Dammeron Valley Vineyards, whose owner, Mark Bold, is working to establish Southern Utah as an American Viticultural Area.

A little known fact, Nicki Richards said, is that Santa Clara was historically a location for wine grape growing in the 1800s. With the rise of the area’s dominant Mormon religious customs, this practice faded away. Now it’s starting to come back.

“Winemaking is one of the oldest industries in the world, so it’s a very historical thing that we’re learning and featuring,” Richards said.

For the owners of the Painted Pony and The Spotted Dog Cafe, wine is not simply a nice drink to pair with dinner. It’s their passion, a way of life.

“I could talk about wine all day,” Delaney said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 8:38 am

    ….. and no one died or turned into a satanic beast from drinking wine.
    Someone might want to tell the locals about these places, so it’s not just tourists enjoying those places.

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