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With a daunting number of entries, competition was tough. Chris Losh watches as teams of experts whittle down the hopefuls to create the shortlist for this year’s Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year.
As the Wine List of the Year competition – run by our sister magazine, Imbibe – has grown, so it has kept adapting. This year saw a stricter judging process, whereby each list was reviewed by at least two judges, all of whom scored it against six criteria: accuracy, aesthetic appeal/creativity, clarity/ease of navigation, quality of wine, relevance to market and value for money. Accuracy, relevance and value for money were all scored out of 10, creativity and navigation out of 20, and quality of wine out of 30, to give each list an overall points score out of 100.
By the end, it became apparent that to make the shortlist, restaurants needed to be scoring more than 80 points. This year, being good was not enough; lists had to be exceptional – and a lot of perfectly decent entries didn’t get through. They weren’t flawed or rejected (as has often been the case in the past couple of years) – they simply didn’t score highly enough to make the cut.
As usual, the panel was not simply looking to reward vast wine lists stuffed full of blue-chip wines. A tight, well-sourced neighbourhood list, or an imaginative pub list put together with care and attention, had just as much chance of getting through to the shortlist. Read on to find out which regional wine lists have made the grade.
This small Scottish fine-dining restaurant impressed the judges. An extraordinary number of wines for such a small place (36 covers), including – impressively – 18 by the glass, and 37 half-bottles. The food-and-wine-matching grid remains a unique stroke of genius (albeit not a beautiful one), and some of the prices are terrific. £89 for 1995 Langoa-Barton, anyone?
A second consecutive shortlisting for this Glaswegian eatery. ‘We want our guests to discover new things and love what they drink,’ says GM Steven Whitbread. And this list – modern, clean, helpfully divided into broad flavour characteristics such as ‘aromatic whites with vibrant fruit’, and packed with helpful tasting notes – will help them to do that. A dozen excellent merchants and a few direct imports saw a high score for the wines on the list, too.
Fine Wine List of the Year in 2010, shortlisted in 2011 – and back again in 2012. This is just a very good wine list. Clear and elegant, it’s as easy on the eye as it is intuitive to follow. Interestingly, despite being heavily European in focus, wines are split up by grape variety, so the 12-wine focus on Domaine des Comtes Lafon appears in ‘Chardonnay’. Although not a vast list, there is plenty of variety and the pricing is astonishingly good.
A third successive and deserved shortlisting for the winner of last year’s Small Restaurant List of the Year. Wines are split up by both varietal and style (depending on which seems more natural), the tone is helpful but relaxed and the selection of both wines and whiskies is impressive. ‘There’s something here for everyone,’ said D&D London wine manager Nicolas Clerc. ‘It’s a big list for such a small restaurant, but it’s very dynamic.’
The large, continuous selection of Italian red and white wines would be somewhat daunting to the non-expert, but these problems of navigability were, to an extent, countered by some interesting and accessible wine flights, and the fact that the by-the-glass wines were listed in order, from light to full-bodied. ‘There are some very good wines here,’ said Clerc. ‘They’ll satisfy the curious client and the connoisseur.’
This list has the enthusiasm of a young puppy, with reasons-to-buy scattered throughout: sommelier’s recommendations, 30 wines by the glass, focuses on selected wineries. And if the tasting notes and section introductions aren’t enough to give you a flavour of sommelier Chris Neeves’ personality, there’s even a full-page cartoon of him. So yes, quirky and lively, but all clearly aimed at encouraging trial.
‘Wine,’ says Julie Bell, GM at this Welsh inn with rooms, ‘should be treated with respect and loved.’ And such affection for the product shows throughout this terrific pub list. The 100 or so bins might be mostly European (something they’re working on), but the selection and pricing are impressive. A fine sherry range, and 17 wines available in two glass sizes and two carafe sizes complete the picture of a place that knows its market superbly well.
Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones is a big champion of New World wine, particularly Australia and New Zealand – and his list is a prolonged love letter to the efforts of winemakers Down Under. There are 13 pages of whites (including a mouth-watering selection of Clare Valley Rieslings), and 11 pages of reds (including 12 vintages of Moss Wood Cab and seven vintages of Grange). But this isn’t so much about sheer volume as great names – often with a fair bit of age, and great prices.
For a top-end country house hotel, this list manages to be large and wide-ranging, without veering into phone-book territory. The by-the-glass selection is wide-ranging but accessible, and there’s an unusually large choice of stickies. Key to its place on the shortlist, though, is the way in which, along with the good selection of European classics, there are edgier offerings from Wales, Israel, England and Slovenia. It looks fantastic, too.
Shortlisted for the third year running, this Leeds wine bar breezed through the first round again. Clean, neatly presented and simple to follow, its list scored highly for navigability. Felton Road Pinot for £7 a glass had our judges smacking their lips, and the ‘pre-order’ section – allowing punters to order more expensive bottles in advance – is a clever idea, and allows for the restaurant to stock blue-chip offerings without tying up money.
This small (25 cover) Cheltenham fine-dining restaurant’s list is a great example of doing simple things well. It’s beautifully presented without being gimmicky, and impressively accurate and consistent. The wines are fairly priced and well-chosen for the clientele, with a good spread of prices.
This Lancashire institution – Michelin-starred since 1996 – has a good selection of wines in every geographical section of its list. But it’s quality, not bling (and certainly not sheer weight of numbers) that’s the goal, with fairly-priced pedigree offerings everywhere, from Chile to Ribera to Champagne. Clear, consistent and easy to follow, there’s a lot here to like.
This is an excellent example of a country-house-hotel wine list. There are enough wines (about 120) for it to be wide-ranging in scope, but not so many as to make it daunting, and the disciplined approach to listings means there’s enough space for useful tasting notes for every wine. With helpful sub-divisions by style, and amazing pricing (plenty under £25), this is a list that works hard, but does so effortlessly.
It’s good to see a fine-dining restaurant that takes the New World seriously, and head sommelier John Power has clearly put a lot of thought into all his sourcing for the restaurant in this boutique Edinburgh hotel. There are a lot of good wines in all styles from all over the globe, but little in the way of over-indulgence. ‘These are relevant for the market, and a good selection, with some exciting wines and a few good finds, too,’ praised Gearoid Devaney MS of Flint Wines.
One of the best examples of how to make a wine list accessible in this year’s competition. There’s a good selection, but at fewer than 100 bins, it’s not remotely overwhelming. What’s more, because the list is separated by broad style, it’s easy for the uninitiated to find what they want, particularly given some helpful tasting notes and lower-than-average mark-ups. A sub-section of ‘classics’ might have helped for those looking for Rioja, say, but for such a small place (12 covers) this is a truly impressive list.
No reason for the green-pen brigade of Tunbridge Wells to be disgusted with the wine list at their local eatery. Fine French restaurant Thackeray’s has a well-chosen medium-sized list that mixes the well-priced and recognisable with showier offerings to great effect. The highlight of the list for our panel was the 30-or-so wines on the Selection pages – all of which are available by the glass.
This feature was published in the summer 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.