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The Cherwell Boathouse (pictured, left)
With a fine wine list built up over decades, and mark-ups of not much more than 50%, last year’s Fine Wine List of the Year winner breezed onto the shortlist once again. ‘That’s probably the best value-for-money fine- wine list in the UK,’ cooed Ronan Sayburn MS. ‘1985 Lafon Montrachet for £250? That’s amazing...’
Coq d’Argent (pictured, right)
Yes, its City-based location helps, but still this is a highly personal list put together with love and attention to detail. Loads by the glass, a fair bit of large-format and an enviable selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy. But as well as swooning at the selections of Guigal, Mouton and Cos etc, our panel really liked the attempts to help and educate the diner, which manage to be germane without being patronising, and useful without ever being intrusive. Nice to see the New World given the same treatment as Europe, and split up by region.
The Cross at Kingussie
For such a small place (24–seater), this is a marvellously indulgent wine list. Split up by grape variety, and featuring handy food suggestions, its constant enthusiasm is always giving diners reasons to try bottles, even if it gets a bit wordy at times. ‘There’s a lot of information, good pricing and it’s well-presented,’ said Ronan Sayburn MS. Our panel loved the unashamed nationalism of the ‘wines with a Scottish connection’, too!
Drakes of Brighton
With wines split up by style (Dry, Crisp and Refreshing; Aromatic and Floral, for instance) and including helpful tasting notes and info on the grape varieties, the Drakes list gets over a lot of information in a painless, easy-to-follow way. An object lesson in clarity.
This list looks absolutely fabulous: clear, elegant, easy to follow, with short, helpful tasting notes that capture a wine’s essence and never get in the way. ‘The sub-categories – Smooth and Fruity, Rich and Peppery, and so on – are great. They just need some more wines,’ said Christine Parkinson.
Sure, there are half-a-dozen reds and whites in this list, but Epernay is all about fizz, which it does with abandon. Thirteen by the glass (mostly under a tenner) and dozens of vintages, ultra bruts, rosés, blanc de blancs, all split up by house. Mostly, it’s pretty affordable grand marque stuff – purists might want to see a few more growers in there – but these guys know their market. And with Salon, Clos de Mensil and a jeroboam of Cristal, there’s plenty for the bling crowd, too.
The Folly (pictured, left)
This bustling bar/restaurant in the heart of the City (300 covers on a Friday night) needs a list that lets customers make an informed decision quickly, and it does that quite beautifully. Compact and easy to follow, it covers a lot of bases very quickly – and the dragonfly logo (‘The Folly Recommends’) is a neat touch. ‘For a small list, it’s written with real conviction. It leapt off the page at me,’ said Christine Parkinson.
Franco’s made it to the shortlist entirely on the strength of a fine Italian selection. There is an ‘international wines’ section (which includes such makeweight countries as France!) and a truly impressive spread of 24 rosés, but this list is really all about Italy. ‘I could drink any of those wines,’ said Alessandro Marchesan, possibly with one eye on 14 vintages of Sassicaia and Tignanello. ‘It’s a great selection.’
The Gurnard’s Head
In a list of around 100 bins, around a fifth of The Gurnard’s Head’s wines are available by the glass or carafe – those wines coming with neat, concise tasting notes. The rest (mostly European) are split up by region. It’s simple, carefully laid out and accurate, and is never in danger of being dull. ‘It’s simple, and easy to find your way around, and it feels personal,’ praised Christine Parkinson.