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Picking the winners was no easy feat, but the lists have been scrutinised and the results are in. Chris Losh reveals the winners of the Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year 2011.
If you want to know what makes a good book, ask a writer. If you want to know what makes a good wine list, ask a sommelier. Such is the premise of the second Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year competition, run by Square Meal’s sister publication, Imbibe, where restaurants from all over the country – and from all styles and price levels – send in their lists to be judged by some of Britain’s top restaurateurs.
The judging panel was looking for lists that displayed clarity, imagination, accuracy, user-friendliness, and that indefinable something best described as ‘character’. After a day deliberating the shortlisted candidates, there was a puff of white smoke, and the following lists came out on top.
The judges finally managed to narrow the contenders for the competition’s biggest award down to Coq d’Argent and Hakkasan, but after 20 minutes of discussion were totally unable to separate them. ‘I could spend five minutes arguing, with utter conviction, why Hakkasan should win, then turn round and do exactly the same for Coq d’Argent,’ said the Tate’s Hamish Anderson.
Two brilliant lists, but also quite different. Coq d’Argent’s list is fairly traditional in the way it is laid out, with wines separated by country and then by region within that. But the fact that it’s not just the A-list appellations of France that are sub-divided, but those of the New World, too, shows an open-mindedness that too many lists lack.
The by-the-glass selection is large and fairly priced, and the nuggets of information in sommelier Oliver Marie’s ‘Did You Know?’ panels are unfailingly interesting.
The beauty of this list is the way in which it manages to be subtly innovative without ever being slow-moving.
Hakkasan’s list, meanwhile, must be one of the most ground-breaking in the country.
The wines are split up into utterly unique sections selected by buyer Christine Parkinson such as ‘Blends – the art of the winemaker’ (varietal blends) and ‘Purity – the expression of the fruit’
What could be pretentious somehow isn’t, instead forcing diners to engage with the list in a new way. The presentation is elegant and easy to follow. And while there are a good number of wines, it is tightly focused and put together with a clear-headed unsentimentality as well as love.
There was some strong competition here this year, but Le Pont de la Tour stood out for its willingness to go beyond big names.
Of course the likes of Roederer, Taittinger and Pol Roger are in there, but there’s also an atypically large number of grower Champagnes – maybe half the total.
‘I ran out of breath reading it,’ said judge Gearoid Devaney MS. ‘It’s a fantastic representation of what’s available.’
This Cornish pub describes wine as being ‘a critical part of what we offer’. And it shows. Its list is about 100 bins – 20 by the glass or carafe – and is easily navigable, with no unnecessary indulgence, yet plenty of carefully selected listings.
Descriptions like ‘achingly good Beaujolais with backbone’ or ‘Cabernet Franc as you’ve never had it before’ are simple, inspirational and concise. A great example of what pubs that are serious about their wine offering can aspire to.
Describing The Harwood Arms as a ‘pub’ is a bit like saying the Queen lives in a big house. It’s not inaccurate, but it’s not exactly the full story, either. This Fulham watering hole has fulfilled its intention of being a local pub with ‘a great offering of food and drink’.
With (mostly) wealthy locals and a Michelin star behind it, there’s no surprise that the wines climb fairly rapidly above £50, but the list deserves credit for writing good descriptions of every single wine irrespective of price. The judges particularly liked the ‘Seasonal Wine Specials’ at the front and the 30 wines by the glass.
You don’t survive for more than 30 years without being good, and frankly, this is all you could ever want from a wine bar list.
It covers pretty much every style of wine you could wish for, with a huge number of wines under £30 and getting on for 90 wines available by the glass. The 30-bin fine wine section covers all the bases, with a few neatly selected New World additions, and the prices are, once again, remarkably good.
It’s hard to think of any entries this year that combined imagination, quirkiness, information and sheer joie de vivre in such large quantities as David Young’s list from The Cross at Kingussie.
The choice of 190 wines, plus 35 halves and 40+ dessert wines would be impressive at a 100-cover eatery, so it’s truly remarkable at a place that seats only 24 people.
Yet it was the quirky attempts to engage with the customer that thrilled the judges: the exuberant tasting notes and the witty use of symbols – an ambulance for wines with high alcohol, bagpipes for wines with a ‘Scottish connection’. If only more wine lists showed this much enthusiasm and wit.
Square Meal would like to thank Aura Mayfair in London – one of Madonna’s favourite hangouts, no less – for hosting the Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year Awards.
A new feature this year, the Sommelier’s Award gave recognition to sommeliers who have put extra effort into finding great wines, but who have not sought to present them in a particularly innovative way.
This is a wonderfully wide-ranging wine list, stuffed full of superb wines, yet still firmly a neighbourhood restaurant, with very few listings over £70. Other lists had more, and more expensive, wines – Burgundies, Bordeaux, Tuscans and so on – but none had such consistently well-chosen examples.
Dripping with expensive bottles and rare vintages, The Greenhouse’s list is mind-boggling in its size. Yet, for all the nine vintages of DRC (the 1929 is a snip at £17,500) and the jaw-dropping selections of first-growth claret (14 vintages of Latour!), it was the edges of this list – Alsace, the South of France, Australia – that impressed our judges most.
These were handed out to entries that narrowly missed out on a full List of the Year award, but still had elements that the judges really liked.
The food and wine matching grid shown at the beginning of the list is very user-friendly, encourages the customers to try something different, and is a genuine innovation.
The by-the-glass Champagne selection is impressive, and the prices are amazing; Roederer at £7 a glass, anyone? Every single listing at this wine bar is available by the glass or carafe.
The tasting notes on this interesting list are often works of genius – informative, pithy, irreverent, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
Hamish Anderson, Tate Group; Gearoid Devaney MS, Flint Wines; Chris Losh, editor, Imbibe; Peter McCombie MW, consultant.