Drinks: Wines

Merchant Awards 2011

Every year for the last three years, our team has taken a look at who’s done what in the competition and made special awards to the submitters. Totally discretionary, the categories can change from year to year, and are intended to provide extra recognition for merchants who have excelled in a particular field.

To help work out who should receive the awards this year, every submitter had the overall ‘worth’ of their medals calculated, using three points per Gold, two per Silver, one per Bronze, and five points per ‘extra’ award, such as Food Match, By The Glass or Critics’ Choice. The overall score was then divided by total entries to give an SWA index, based on ‘hit rate per entry’.


17 Gold, 45 Silver, 38 Bronze
Well, the team at Boutinot has done it again. Cynics might suggest that it’s purely a numbers game – enter enough wines and you’re bound to win a lot of medals. But, in fact, Boutinot’s hit rate of medals to entries was phenomenally high – higher than many merchants who entered only a dozen wines. Phenomenally strong in all the staples of the wine list, the vast majority of medals came from France, Italy, Spain and ‘Essentials’ like Sparkling Wine and, particularly, House Wine, where Boutinot’s performance was astonishing. Does anyone else in the UK have a better portfolio of wines under £5? Unlikely.

Its New World offering is less influential, but estates like the cool-climate Waterkloof (South Africa) and, particularly, the Chilean organic estate Emiliana were obvious highlights. And, crucially, when the Boutinot wines are good, they’re very good. Nobody picked up anywhere near as many extra awards: two wines on the By The Glass list, four Food Match winners and four Critics’ Choice awards was an exceptional effort.


10 Gold, 11 Silver, 11 Bronze
A company that has often under-delivered in the SWAs, Enotria found its feet this year, with the highest hit rate of entries to medals of all the big merchants. Ten Golds, 11 Silvers and 11 Bronzes, plus one Food Match and one Critics’ Choice, was a quality showing. The clincher in deciding this Runner-Up slot, however, was that, within its medals, Enotria encompassed a really balanced selection of wines, covering all of the main New World varietals and key European regions. The prices didn’t exactly leap out as being exceptional value for money but this was a fine performance nonetheless.


2 Gold, 2 Silver, 5 Bronze
Odd to see a high-street name within the on-trade-only confines of the SWAs, but Majestic’s trade-supplying arm deserves recognition. Concentrating overwhelmingly on the cheaper end of the wine scale, it nonetheless managed a good hit rate of medals to entries. Two Golds, two Silvers and four Bronzes under a fiver (plus a Rioja at £5.16) was an impressive first effort in this competition.


Liberty wines
12 Gold, 17 Silver, 18 Bronze
Last year, Liberty won Italian Merchant of the Year but this year it has picked up European Merchant of the Year on the back of an exceptional performance with Italy (again) but also with France and Spain. All 12 of its Gold medals were from Europe: six Italians (including a sticky), three from France and three from Spain (including two sherries). It picked up a good swath of Silvers too.

Strong in Burgundy, the Rhône and the south of France, the only French areas Liberty missed out on were Bordeaux and the Loire, while its performance in Italian Tuscany was imperious. The New World performance may have been surprisingly muted, given that it won New World Merchant of the Year in 2009, but within Europe Liberty was peerless.


Berkmann wine cellars
7 Golds, 16 Silvers, 16 Bronzes
Yes, it had a few ‘trophy’ Golds and Silvers – the Saintsbury Pinot, Delas Hermitage and, of course, the Cuvée William Deutz 1999 were hardly cheap. But overall Berkmann, more than anyone bar Boutinot, managed a large spread of successful wines at good prices. More to the point, it often managed to produce sub-£10 wines in categories where most of the higher medals were over £12, suggesting some good sourcing.


Hallgarten druitt
6 Gold, 14 Silver, 14 Bronze
Nobody really took control of the Golds in the New World categories this year, but one name kept recurring throughout the medals. Half of Hallgarten’s six Golds were in the New World section, and its spread of Silvers reads like a stylistic ‘must-stock’ of New World varietals: Sauvignons from Marlborough, Leyda and Constantia, plus Rieslings, Gewurz, Malbec, Carmenere etc. And, crucially, in a year where prices tended to be on the steep side, Hallgarten supplied almost all of its medal-winners for under a tenner. The Australian offering was a bit light but there was a strong supply from South Africa, New Zealand and Latin America.


Concha y Toro
2 Gold, 6 Silver, 1 Bronze
All of the SWA awards are discretionary and, while last year saw our first ever Producer of the Year award, we had no qualms about repeating it this year if there was a standout candidate. In the event, we had two. Boutinot’s Chilean Vinedos Organicos Emiliana put in a strong performance, with a Gold and three Silvers, but even this fine haul was surpassed by the mighty Concha y Toro. Two Golds, six Silvers, two Bronzes and a Food Match was a staggering effort for one wine company – even one as large as Concha. Particularly striking were the low prices: every wine was under £10, and half of them were under £5.

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