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Judging the entries for this year’s Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year, organised by Square Meal’s sister title Imbibe, was an exercise in both quality and quantity, with more restaurants entering than ever before. And the entries weren’t dominated by swanky Michelin-starred posho joints or chi-chi metropolitan eateries; an awful lot of contenders came from outside the big cities and from smaller neighbourhood restaurants.
As well as submitting a copy of their wine list, entrants had to describe their restaurant, cuisine, and clientele, and what they were trying to achieve with their list. The judges assessed not just whether the list was any good in isolation, but how well it met the needs of the venue. As well as assessing the wines themselves, the judges looked at whether the list was accurate and consistent; whether it was structured in an easy-to-follow, intuitive way; how informative it was; and whether it was aesthetically pleasing.
The panel has now whittled the entrants down to a 35-strong shortlist: read the shortlist to find out why the big 35 made the cut.
63 Tay Street
A surprisingly ambitious wine list for a small (32-cover) restaurant, which manages to combine crowd-pleasers with well-chosen oddities. The great selection of wines from Germany in particular adds a real point of difference, as does the large half-bottle selection, while the food-pairing chart is a stroke of genius. ‘I particularly like that,’ said John Clevely MW.
A wine bar first and foremost, with tapas-style snacks and a few traditional comfort-food main courses, Albertine boasts a cracking selection of wines from £14 a bottle up to £65. Clear, wide-ranging, nicely laid out and, as you’d expect, loads by the glass.
Beaminster Brasserie at the Bridge House Hotel
A concise 70-bin list (11 by the glass) fits the clientele of this Dorset brasserie nicely, but what really stood out for the judges were the tasting notes with every wine, specifically the helpful food-matching recommendations. ‘It’s a simple list, but well put together, and the tasting notes are really good,’ said Olivier Marie.
Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill (pictured, left)
An object lesson in clarity, for starters, and the way in which the wines are separated out (wines of the sea/Sauvignon Blanc/honeyed and aromatic), with a mix of stylistic, varietal and regional, really works. Loads by the glass, and all cleverly chosen for the seafood-driven cuisine. Good to see sherries given their own page as well. ‘It’s precise, but never pompous or condescending,’ said Ivo Stoyanov. ‘And I liked the introductions to each section.’
Beaufort Bar at The Savoy
One for Champagne lovers everywhere. A really impressive collection of Louis Roederer vintages and Cristal (including rosé). But just as eye-catching are the 27 bottles of pop available by the glass (including Nyetimber and five small growers) and the tasty magnum selection. Not cheap, but not the rip-off prices you might expect. And the list is beautifully (and classically) printed and laid out.
The Bon Vivant
This bustling Edinburgh wine and Champagne bar is a miracle of condensation. 35 wines – all available by the glass – plus five stickies and four fortifieds are backed up by 15 Champagnes. The latter are nearly all available by the glass and exceptionally well priced. £38 for a bottle of Roederer, anyone? ‘Amazing by the glass selection,’ said Alessandro Marchesan approvingly.
Boundary Restaurant (pictured,
This beautifully presented list is big but it’s very easy to follow, and the Sommelier Suggestions are helpful. If we had to be picky, we’d say that the New World was treated rather dismissively, but this is counterbalanced by the clever ‘Wines under £35’ selection. Nice idea…
Brian Maule at Chardon d’Or
This is a list that (typos notwithstanding) is trying really hard to engage with the diner. ‘They’ve applied a lot of effort into getting the customer interested,’ said Christine Parkinson. With focus wines on every page, special seasonal selections, and an open invitation for customers to request bottles be opened for sampling, it might be a special-occasion eatery, but it’s not short on energy and innovation.
Serving everything from sashimi to steak and chips, this buzzy restaurant/bar is characterised by a lively sprite of a list that covers lots of bases in a short space of time and, especially, with great value for money. ‘That’s always been his attitude. The prices are incredible, especially compared to some of the other lists we’ve seen,’ said John Clevely MW.