Tucked away on the West Village’s charming Barrow Street in New York City is Annisa, an elegant gem of a restaurant featuring contemporary Asian-inflected American fare with skilled, unpretentious service. Helmed by two women, chef Anita Lo (winner of a “Best New Chef” award from Food & Wine in 2001) and her partner Jennifer Scism, Annisa exudes an aura of casual elegance. Soft lighting and white draperies cascade down the walls, a soothing backdrop for the refined eclectic cuisine. The food reflects Chef Lo’s top-flight French training (under the likes of Michel Rostang and Guy Savoy) and her inventive forays into pan-Asian cooking.
While food usually trumps all in my fine-dining memory, what I remember most about my first visit to Annisa was the wine list. Virtually every bottle was either made by a female winemaker or hailed from a winery owned by a woman. Annisa is the Arabic word for “women,” and in an industry dominated by male figures, this wine list was cause for celebration; honoring the contributions, and very existence, of women in the wine world.
In lesser hands, this theme could have been a gimmick, designed to spark conversation and garner press. Or worse, it might have read as a heavy-handed political statement, the kind that can alienate all but the converted. But at Annisa it simply adds another rich dimension to a well-curated and balanced list that would attract attention from serious wine lovers, independent of the abundance of X chromosomes that gave rise to it.
“I wanted a focus, but I didn’t want to limit myself, and I haven’t,” says Scism. “There are tons of wines to choose from. We take way less than half of what we taste.” And the selection process is a two-way street. “Some of our wines are highly allocated. With Maya, from Dalla Valle Vineyards in Napa, we had to apply, submit menus and show our wine list to see if we were worthy.”
A good wine list fulfills several criteria: a suitable range of varietals to please different palates and marry with the menu; a variety of geographies to highlight regional styles or an emphasis on local relationships between the wine and cuisine. It offers a range of price points (in proportion to the type of restaurant) and should include some accessible wines that most diners could recognize as well as more unusual wines to encourage discovery.