The plush Bel Air in Los Angeles was just voted number one hotel in the world by readers of Gourmet Magazine. Zagat, America's answer to the Michelin Guide, acknowledges both its stunning gourmet restaurant and weighty wine list as among the city's very best. Curious as to how the wines were selected, I asked award-winning executive chef, Gary Clauson, to reveal his method. We carted the heavy, leather-bound compendium out to the bouganvillea-draped terrace. 'There are more than 750 different bottles in here,' he said as I leafed through. 'It just grew. First we picked the best Champagnes, then the vintage Bordeaux from all the top houses, then something from the other regions in France - Burgundy, the Loire, the Medoc, Alsace - and so on throughout the rest of Europe - Germany, Italy, Spain - as well as some new world choices from Australia and New Zealand. Naturally, we have to show a bit of favouritism for Californian wines, so you'll find plenty from Napa, Sonoma and elsewhere in the state. And no list would be complete today without a few excellent pinot noirs from Oregon and Washington. 'Our clientele is sophisticated and knowledgeable about food and wine. They travel, they dine out regularly and of course they entertain lavishly at home. Many of their cellars compete with ours. They come here expecting to see their old favourites and the labels they discovered on their travels, but want to be introduced to some exciting new boutique wines, too,' he said. 'It's both reds and whites, and a fair spread in the pricing. We may have a 55 Petrus for US$2,000 [HK$15,480] but there's a whole section in the US$35 range. Our regulars don't quibble about what they spend on a bottle, but young couples and out-of-towners save up for months to celebrate their anniversary or some other occasions. We discreetly point out this section and assure them they're all immensely drinkable wines. They're delighted to find something reasonable and grateful we're thinking of them.' Initially, I thought a 750-bottle wine list a conceit. Now I marvel it wasn't more than 1,000.