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More entries, more top judges – and stiffer competition as a result. That was the story of the first round of judging at the Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year 2013 run by our sister magazine Imbibe. Like last year, every list was rated by at least two top sommelier judges, with panellists asked to assess (and score) each entry against six key criteria:
• accuracy (10 points)
• aesthetic attractiveness/creativity (20pts)
• clarity/ease of navigation
• quality of wines (30pts)
• relevance to market (10pts)
• value for money (10pts)
This gave each wine list an overall score out of 100pts, as well as detailed feedback from the various judges in the key areas. It was from these scores, and from their comments, that the final shortlist was drawn up. With entries increasing again, but the number of shortlisted lists only the same as last year, the standard was incredibly high, and many perfectly good lists (including a few that have been successful in the past) didn’t make it past the group stages.
As usual, our panel weren’t looking simply to reward huge wine lists, but to look for examples of care, professionalism and character. So if you visit any one of the venues listed here, you can be sure to find some great wines. Read on to see which regional wine lists made the grade this year. And look out for the autumn issue of Square Meal Lifestyle to find out who makes the London shortlist.
THE CHERWELL BOATHOUSE
The Cherwell Boathouse is a serial winner of this competition, and it’s back on the Shortlist for the fourth year running. Sommelier Brice Guibert’s list is not exactly innovative – but it’s clear, elegant, concise, incredibly easy to follow and absolutely stuffed with great wines at incredible prices. ‘More lists should be like this,’ sighed judge Neil Bruce from Studio Alto. We agree.
DONNINGTON VALLEY HOTEL & SPA
Another serial finalist in previous years, Donnington Valley’s list has tightened up over the years while retaining the obvious enthusiasm of long-time sommelier Chris Neeves, who deserves credit for his willingness to sell wines from emerging regions such as Japan and India, as well as classic styles from Chablis and Rioja. Whether you’re choosing from the ‘Trusted Friends’ selection (ranging in price from £19 to £29) or from verticals of South Africa’s Morgenster, there are lots of reasons to buy.
RESTAURANT NATHAN OUTLAW
This two-Michelin-starred restaurant majors on local Cornish produce – mostly fish – so it’s no surprise that sommelier Damon Little’s wine list focuses on whites and lighter reds. ‘This list is very classic, with a great selection,’ said judge Jacques Savary de Beauregard of Home House. The range is impressive but not overindulgent, and it gives a decent look-in to Austria and Italy, as well as France.
THE OLD COASTGUARD
From the team that brought you last year’s Pub List winner, the Felin Fach Griffin – and the 2011 winner, The Gurnard’s Head – this Cornish pub list
is cut from the same cloth. There are 17 wines available in two sizes of glass/carafe, a page of whites, a page of reds, and a page of New World options, all at decent prices. ‘A small list, with lots of information and real passion from the owners,’ said judge Alan Holmes from The Vineyard at Stockcross.
THE ROYAL OAK
Nr Maidenhead, Berkshire
This 17th-century pub, owned by Sir Michael Parkinson and his son Nick, was awarded a Michelin star three years ago – and the 50-or-so Champagnes on its list suggest that it’s rather more restaurant than it is pub. Nonetheless, the range of quality Rhônes, Burgundies and, particularly, clarets (including a lot of good second, third and fourth growths) is impressive – and the Sommelier’s Selection is a nice touch.
Mawgan Porth, Cornwall
It’s no surprise that this ‘eco hotel’ should go heavy on organic and biodynamic wines, however this, coupled with an entirely European range, makes for a list with real character. Almost half the wines are available by the glass – which is no mean feat, given that it’s not an especially small list – and the owners have worked hard to make the wines accessible with helpful section headings (and good explanations) plus useful tasting notes.
THE RUSTIC AT STRATTONS HOTEL
The colourful wine list, with pictures of food, is deliberately friendly and unintimidating for this hotel’s mostly ‘non-wine-expert’ clientele. The wines are sourced from only one supplier, London-based Corney & Barrow, but there’s a good range of wines in styles that everyone will feel comfortable with. Splitting the wine list up by food (fish, meat, cheese) rather than country is a brave move that really works. ‘There’s brilliant presentation here. A great way of breaking the list down,’ said judge Athila Roos of The Arts Club.
There’s one very definite sub-group within the Wine List of the Year competition: the Large List. Usually the preserve of very top-end establishments, with lots of sommeliers and pricey menus,
their selection of hundreds (occasionally thousands) of bottles prevents them from doing much morethan listing the wines that they have available.
With space at a premium, and the role of the sommelier crucial, there isn’t much space for tasting notes; no premium is put on innovative ways of listing the wines; and there’s no interest in suggesting food pairings. Instead, these lists are all about quality of sourcing, of range of expression; of blue-chip indulgence rather than careful honing. And it is to recognise and reward such elements that the special Sommelier’s Award was created within the Wine List of the Year competition.
This artcle was published June 2013 in the Square Meal Lifestyle summer magazine.