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The standard was higher than ever for this year’s Wine List of the Year, making a place on the shortlist even harder to achieve. Find out which venues in London made the grade.
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 (20pts)
• 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 wasn’t simply rewarding huge wine lists, but finding examples of professionalism, care and character. So if you visit any of the venues listed here, you’ll be sure to find great wines.
We revealed the regional shortlist in the summer issue of Square Meal Lifestyle. Read on for the London shortlist and catch the final results on SquareMeal.co.uk in November.
Isa Bal MS, The Fat Duck
Cédric Beaumond, Bo London
Joris Beijn, Sushinho
Paolo Brammer, ETM Group
Neil Bruce, Studio Alto
Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants
Christopher Cooper, Soho House Group
Christopher Delalonde MS, Boundary
Louise Gordon, The Rib Room
Alan Holmes, The Vineyard at Stockcross
Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent
Emily O’Hare, The River Café
Diana Rollan, Hakkasan
Athila Roos, The Arts Club
Richard Rotti, Caprice Holdings
Jacques Savary de Beauregard, Home House
Charlie Young, Vinoteca
Xavier Rousset’s list for his Marylebone bistro is concise, simple and interesting. Key to its success is the wide choice of 50 wines available by the glass and carafe as well as bottle. The whole thing is backed up by a concise ‘Collector’s List’ with good, interesting and old fine wines.
A Mayfair private members’ club is no place to look for value for money, and there’s little on this list under £50. Yet sommelier Athila Roos has resisted insane mark-ups. Clearly presented, accurate and interesting, it’s long enough to offer real choice, and short enough to be easily manageable.
This list by ex-Zuma sommelier Raphael Thierry, was one of the most interesting. There are just 30 wines, mostly under £40, but it still manages to mix the relatively safe with the genuinely unusual. Plus, the wines are grouped into helpful food-match suggestions. Brilliant!
This ‘hot dogs ‘n’ fizz’ joint has been a hot ticket in London since it opened last year, but there’s nothing faddish about this list. It squeezes more interest into its 50 bins than most lists do into 500, and the user-friendly way in which the wines are split up into short sections is brilliantly accessible.
A return to the Shortlist for this Kings Cross tapas bar. While they weren’t sure about the ‘listing by region’ idea, the judges thought the pricing and choice of wines was spot on, and the tasting notes were short, helpful and relevant. Nice range of glass and carafe-sizes available, too.
One of the easiest lists to follow, it uses dividers to separate red, white, rosé and sparkling, with wines divided by grape variety within the sections. Good, helpful (and short!) tasting notes, beautiful typeface and there’s even a Quick List (by country). ‘Simple, clear, concise and creative,’ praised Richard Rotti.
A European café/restaurant in the heart of London’s theatreland, this was a great example of a list that knew what it was trying to do and did it confidently. Entirely European wines, mostly under £50 and 40 out of the 50 bins available by the glass or carafe, it’s perfect for the pre-theatre crowd.
Part of the Putney scene for 23 years, Emile’s clearly knows its market – and the list reflects that. Printed on tracing paper, it’s clear, concise (with about 50 bins) and easy to follow, while the 16-bin Fine Wine list caters for those who are on a moderate splurge. Having said that, a bottle of 2000 Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blanc at £85 (on promotion) was the bargain of the first round of judging!
With nothing (not even sparklers) from outside Spain, Fino’s list makes a bold statement of confidence in the country’s versatility – and one that our judges loved. ‘A great selection of Spanish, Spanish and Spanish again!’, as Athila Roos put it, allowed them to overlook the odd typo.
Three lists from the same group made it through to the shortlist; as they were all put together in the same format we gave them one entry here. Wines are split up under quirky headings like ‘Purity: the expression of the fruit’, to encourage conversation with the sommelier. It’s intriguing, engaging and genuinely different. The lists were also uniformly clean, accurate and easy on the eye – real exercises in professionalism.
This Parisian-style bistro is a good example of condensation, with fewer than 50 wines, half by the glass/carafe. It’s heavily French (too French for some judges), but there are still flashes of quirkiness alongside the classics, it looks great and it’s easy to follow.
Proof that small needn’t mean boring, this A3-sized list mixes the fascinating with high-quality tried-and-tested for its City clientele. From Croatian Malvazijas to Godello, and Mondeuse to Aglianico, there’s barely a dull wine on the 40-bin list, 90% available by the glass – and the pricing is hearteningly fair.
Claude Bosi’s pub venture boats a clean, interesting and suitably concise wine list that is tight and easy to follow. Fans of the New World (indeed, anywhere bar France) will feel short-changed, but the wines are still interesting and fairly priced. ‘There’s a good selection of wines,’ said Emily O’Hare.
You wouldn’t come here for a bargain, but Michael Deschamps list is nonetheless impressive. It’s French dominated (especially Bordeaux and Burgundy, but also some great Rhône reds) though the German whites and North American red sections are good, too.
This Danish-import steakhouse majors on US reds, with a truly jaw-dropping selection. Some might wonder at France being relegated to the back of the list, but the selection across the board is terrific. Expensive, but terrific.
Split up into intriguing (but helpful) categories such as ‘Sea and Ocean’, this list is easy to follow, beautifully presented and isn’t afraid to big-up its weirder listings, like Georgian amphorae wines. ‘It’s very creative,’ concluded Olivier Marie.
This gastropub located in Mayfair mixes the well-priced with the blingy. Moreover, the way it splits the wines up, with sections like ‘thirst quenching’ and ‘racy and spicy’ are unusual and engaging. ‘It could be shorter,’ said Emily O Hare, ‘but there’s lots that I’d like to drink.’
This west London gastropub still manages to be as much pub as it is gastro. The wine list reflects that well, with wines for both those on a budget and those looking to spend a bit. It’s helpful and conversational, with good ranges from Burgundy, Italy and the Rhône.
The team at Quilon deserve credit for really trying to make this list accessible. Wines are split up into small sections that can be stylistic or varietal, pricing is fair, and a decent number are available by the glass and the carafe. Clear, accurate and inclusive, many ethnic eateries could learn from this.
Tradition-loving customers don’t demand anything radical here, but it’s a beautifully constructed list, that’s commendably accurate. French wines get most attention, but thought has gone into other regions; while the iPad list is a modern twist.
In fewer than 100 bins, Sam Harrison has put together a wine list that nails what an all-day brasserie is about. A decent range by the glass, prices are keen and there are personal recommendations. ‘Cool, interesting and fun wines,’ praised Christopher Cooper.
Most people come here for lunch, so the emphasis on lighter reds and whites, with a large by-the-glass selection, is perfect. It’s concise, elegant and accurate, with helpful tasting notes, but the sourcing really sets it apart. Some great wines here under £40.
Half the wines here are sherry, and almost everything else is Spanish or Portuguese – but rarely ‘safe and ordinary’. It fits more personality onto its three simple yet elegant pages than most lists manage in 50.
This list makes Italy accessible by breaking the wines down into regions (with hand-drawn maps), with friendly tasting notes and marks out of five to denote ‘weight’. The most error-free of all the lists we judged, it had a really attractive eagerness to please.
This feature was published in the autumn 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.