SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) — New York City's dining options are endless, a foodie's wildest dream come true whether they want classic landmark establishments or ultra-hip contemporary upstarts, mouth-watering dive joints or anything in between.

But only a small number of restaurants in the city are able to say they're home to three stars on the World's Best Wine Lists.

In fact, it's a distinction reserved for less then 40 restaurants in Manhattan, according to the World of Fine Wines, a British periodical that's just announced its inaugural World's Best Wine Lists awards.

The list involved assessing more than 4,000 restaurants around the world before settling on 750 that would be awarded one, two or three stars.

In the end, 59 restaurants in the United States got the top, three-star award, and the bulk of those — 36 of them — are in New York City.

London came in second place, with 17 three-star wine lists, followed by San Francisco in third place and Chicago in fourth.

"Today, a restaurant's wine list is often as important as the chef — and in some cases more important — in gaining notoriety amongst the foodie cognoscenti," says Alex Weil, wine adviser at Soutirage, a merchant that sells rare wines and spirits and helps corporations around the world build, develop and manage wine collections. "The wine list sets the tone for the restaurant experience before the food ever is seen or tasted ... Wine lists today speak volumes as to what can be expected from the restaurant and is an accurate predictor of the experience contained within its walls."

World of Fine Wine editors did not respond to requests for comment about the list, but the magazine's website says it aspires to offer the most prestigious and rigorous wine list awards in the world. The judges were to "acknowledge the importance of a good wine selection, as distinct from a massive compilation" of wine, noting that creativity, relevance to the cuisine, personality and price were all equally significant criteria. 

An international panel of judges was involved, including World of Fine Wines editor Neil Beckett, 2010 World's Best Sommelier Gerard Basset, Bloomberg News wine and spirits columnist Elin McCoy, the publisher of The Singapore Wine Review and wine columnist for Singapore's largest circulation Chinese newspaper, the Lianhe Zaobao, Ch'ng Poh Tiong, and Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia author Tom Stevenson.

Some of the top New York City restaurants on the list include Hearth, Marea, Morrell NYC and Rouge Tomate.

The list also includes awards for Best Overall Wine List, Best Champagne & Sparkling Wine List, Best Dessert & Fortified Wine List, Best By-the-Glass Wine List and Best Short Wine List.  

Frequent fliers might be happy to know World of Fine Wines included a category for Best Airline Wine List. (The winner is Qantas).

Creating such impressive wine lists is not easy. It requires money, time, focus and ambition, says Justice Figueras, business development manager for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

"What it comes down to it, a lot of restaurants that win lists like this usually have a few common factors," Figueras says. "No. 1, they are offering selections that pair with the theme and the cuisine of the restaurant really well. The list also needs to be very guest oriented — meaning there are a lot of great wines out there, but it needs to be something people are looking for, or something interesting for the guest. From a guest aspect, it's very easy to create a pretentious list that is not guest friendly. And a lot of these world-class lists are broken down well, in guest-friendly ways, where you can read where the grapes come from and what you can expect from the wine."

Figueras says one of his personal favorites on the list of New York City winners is Morrell NYC, winner of the award for Best By-the-Glass list. The restaurant offers more than 100 wines by the glass, Figueras says.

"That's really stunning. Most restaurants offer somewhere between 12 and 15 wines by the glass," he says. "It says a lot about their commitment to the guest experience."

Also among New York City's recipients of the three-star award is Tribeca Grill, a restaurant that's been developing its collection since the early 1990s, says Jason Jacobeit, the restaurant's head sommelier.

The restaurant has 26,000 bottles of wine in its inventory, representing about 2,300 unique wine selections. The collection, stored among four cellars, is the result of buying virtually everything on release for the past 25 years, as well as occasionally buying rare and fine wines at auction.

"The wines we have in our cellar from the early 1990s or late 1980s were literally purchased two and half decades ago and we can guarantee the authenticity and provenance, and that the wines been stored properly," Jacobeit says. "Everything we have has been purchased by us. And our wine list is saturated with value."

Of particular note to wine lovers who may want to pay a visit to Tribeca Grill is the restaurant's collection of wines from the Rhone Valley. The restaurant has one the most comprehensive Rhone programs in the country, with about 430 unique bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape on its list, Jacobeit says.

Here's another tidbit for wine lovers: Tribeca Grill is also home to one of the world's last bottles of 1900 Chateau Margaux.

"I've never seen another bottle in my career," says Jacobeit of the $9,000 bottle of wine.

For novices who aren't quite sure what's so special about a 1900 Chateau Margaux, here's how Jacobeit explains it:

I think there's something indefinable and elusive about one of the world's great wines that's 114 years old. It's really an experience that's unique. You're going to encounter a set of aromas and flavors you're unlikely to come by through any other medium. It's something that checks all the boxes — it's an extraordinarily good vintage. You have one of the world's most well-respected producers in Chateau Margaux, and you have a wine that has survived two world wars and endured for over a century. That's something unquantifiable. 

The 36 New York restaurants that earned three stars from World of Fine Wine, in alphabetical order, are:

21 Club, Ai Fiori, Asiate, A Voce Columbus, Babbo NYC, Bar Boulud, Bouley Restaurant, Cafe Boulud, Charlie Bird, Craft, Craftbar, Restaurant Daniel, Del Posto
Delmonico's NYC, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern NYC (Winner: Jury Award), Hearth (Winner: Best Overall in Region/Jury Award), Jean-Georges, Jungsik Restaurant, Le Cirque, Maialino, Marea (Winner: Jury Award), Moderne Barn, Morrell NYC (Winner: Best by-the-glass), Pearl & Ash, Per Se, Prime, River Cafe
Terroir, The Modern, The NoMad, Rouge Tomate (Winner: Jury Award), Tia Pol, Tribeca Grill, Union Square Cafe.