Entries were up, along with quality – so whittling entries down to a shortlist for this year’s Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year was tough work. Chris Losh supervised
There are times when you wonder what you’ve let yourself in for. And watching the pile of entries for the second Louis Roederer Wine List of the Year climb ever higher was one of them.
Sure, the initial round of judging was split over two days, but even so – as the time to assess them all approached, it became clear that our judges would be looking at many more lists than last year. Not only that, but as judging began, we realised that there weren’t just more lists, the quality was far higher too. Entries that would probably have made the shortlist last year fell short in 2011.
Nor were the entries entirely dominated by top restaurants aspiring to (or poss-essing) Michelin stars. Of course, it was fabulous to see the likes of Hakkasan, Coq d’Argent and Clos Maggiore entering again, but for every Greenhouse, Savoy or Pont de la Tour, we received dozens of lists from outside the capital and from smaller neighbourhood restaurants.
This is where the entry form came in handy. As well as submitting a copy of their wine list, entrants had to tell us about their restaurant, cuisine, clientele and the aim of their list. This allowed our judges to assess not only the list content, but how well it met the venue’s needs.
As well as (obviously) assessing the wines themselves, they looked at whether the list got the basics right, such as accuracy and consistency; whether it was well-structured, informative and aesthetically pleasing.
I’m sure those who didn’t make the final round will be disappointed. And in truth, there could have been over 50 rather than 35 on the shortlist.
We hope that you can learn from our findings this year, carry out a few tweaks and improvements, and come back again better and stronger next year!
Ronan Sayburn MS, Hotel du Vin; Alessandro Marchesan, Zuma/Roka; John Clevely MW, Geronimo Inns; Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan; Ivo Stoyanov, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon; Olivier Marie, Coq d’Argent;
l Note: none of the judges were able to judge their own list.
63 Tay Street
A surprisingly ambitious wine list for a 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.
63 Tay Street, Perth, Scotland, PH2 8NN; 01738 441451; 63taystreet.com
A wine bar first and foremost, with tapas-style snacks and a few traditional ‘comfort food’ main courses, the nine (predominantly small) suppliers have provided Albertine’s Giles Phillips with a cracking selection of wines from £14 a bottle up to £65. Clear, wide-ranging, nicely laid out and, as you’d expect, loads of wines by-the-glass.
Albertine, 1 Wood Lane, London, W12 7DP; 020 8743 9593
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 and food-matching recommendations. ‘It’s a simple list, but well put together, and the tasting notes are really good,’ said Olivier Marie. Eight suppliers, too – a sign Mark Pielesz takes his job extremely seriously.
Beaminster Brasserie, The Bridge House Hotel, Prout Bridge, Beaminster, Dorset, DT8 3AY;
01308 862200; bridge-house.co.uk
Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill
A lot of good stuff in here. Wines are separated out (wines of the sea/Sauvignon Blanc/honeyed and aromatic), with a mix of stylistic, varietal and regional – and it really works. Loads by the glass, 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.
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill, 11-15 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DG; 020 7734 4756; bentleys.org
Beaufort Bar at The Savoy
One dedicated to champagne lovers everywhere. A really impressive collection of Louis Roederer vintages and Cristal (including rosé) plus 27 bottles of pop available by the glass (including Nyetimber and five small growers) and a tasty magnum selection. Not cheap, but not the rip-off prices you might expect. The list is beautifully (and classically) printed and laid-out.
Beaufort Bar, The Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU; 020 7836 4343; fairmont.com/savoy
The Bon Vivant
This bustling Edinburgh wine and champagne bar is a miracle of condensation. The 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 are exceptionally well priced. £38 for a bottle of Roederer, anyone? ‘Amazing by the glass selection,’ said Alessandro Marchesan approvingly.
The Bon Vivant, 55 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH2 1DY; 0131 225 3275; bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk
A huge number of suppliers (40!) add a real energy to this beautifully presented list. Yes it’s big, but it’s very easy to follow and the ‘Sommelier Suggestions’ are helpful. If we were being picky we’d say that New World was treated rather dismissively, but this is counterbalanced by the clever ‘Wines under £35’ selection. What a very nice idea that is…
Boundary Restaurant, 2-4 Boundary Street, London, E2 7JE; 020 7729 1051; theboundary.co.uk
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, this list is far from short on energy and innovation.
Brian Maule at Chardon d’Or, 176 West Regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland, G2 4RL; 0141 248 3801; brianmaule.com
Serving everything from sashimi to steak and chips, this buzzy restaurant/bar is characterised by a lively list that covers lots of bases in a short space of time and offers 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.
Brinkley’s, 47 Hollywood Road, Little Chelsea, London, SW10 9HX; 020 7351 1683; www.brinkleys.com
The Cherwell Boathouse
With a fine wine list built up over decades and mark-ups of little more than 50%, last year’s Fine Wine List of the Year winner breezed onto the shortlist again. ‘Probably the best value for money fine wine list in the UK,’ cooed Ronan Sayburn MS. ‘Lafon Montrachet 1985 for £250? That’s amazing…’
The Cherwell Boathouse, Bardwell Road, Oxford, OX2 6ST 01865 552746, cherwellboathouse.co.uk
Its City location helps, but this is a highly personal list put together with love and attention to detail. Loads by the glass, a fair bit of large-format and an enviable selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Besides swooning at the selections of Guigal, Mouton and Cos etc, our panel loved the attempts to educate diners without patronising them. Also nice to see the New World given the same treatment as Europe, split up by region.
Coq d’Argent, No.1 Poultry, London EC2R 8EJ; 020 7395 5000; www.coqdargent.co.uk
The Cross at Kingussie
For a 24-seater place, this is a marvellously indulgent wine list, using a dozen suppliers. Divided by varietal and featuring handy food suggestions, it is constantly enthusiastic, even if it gets a bit wordy at times. ‘There’s a lot of information, good pricing and it’s well-presented,’ said Ronan Sayburn MS. Our panel also loved the unashamed nationalism in the inclusion of ‘wines with a Scottish connection’ too!
The Cross at Kingussie, Tweed Mill Brae, Ardbroilach Road, Scotland, PH21 1LB; 01540 661080; thecross.co.uk
Drakes of Brighton
With wines split up by style (‘Dry, Crisp and Refreshing’; ‘Aromatic and Floral’ for instance) and including helpful tasting notes and info on the grape varieties, the Drakes list conveys an awful lot in a painless, easy-to-follow fashion. Nice to see some local vineyards in there, but a few more suppliers wouldn’t go amiss. Shortlisted for the second year on the trot, Drakes offers a lesson in clarity.
Drakes of Brighton, 43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton, BN2 1PE; 01273 696934; drakesofbrighton.com
A credit to the guys at Matthew Clark who have worked with GM Adrian Bibart to compile a list that looks absolutely fabulous: clear, elegant, easy to follow, with concise, helpful tasting notes that never get in the way. It would be nice to see a few more suppliers in there, however. ‘The sub-categories – ‘Smooth and Fruity’, ‘Rich and Peppery’ and so on – are great. ’They just need some more wines,’ said Christine Parkinson.
Drapers Hall, 10 St Mary’s Place, Shrewsbury, SY1 1DZ; 01743 344679; drapershallrestaurant.co.uk
Sure there are half a dozen reds and whites in this list, but Epernay is all about fizz, with 13 by the glass (mostly costing under a tenner) and dozens of vintages, ultra bruts, rosés, and blanc de blancs split up by house. For the most part it’s pretty affordable grand marque stuff – and with Salon, Clos de Mensil [sic]and a jeroboam of Cristal on the list, there’s plenty for the bling crowd too.
Epernay, The Electric Press, 12 Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3DW; 0113 242997; epernaychampagnebars.com
This bustling bar/restaurant in the heart of the City demands a list that lets customers make an informed decision quickly, and the team at Justerini & Brooks have worked closely with The Folly to do that quite beautifully. Compact and easy-to-follow, the list covers a lot of bases very quickly – and the inclusion of the dragonfly logo (‘The Folly Recommends’) is a neat touch. ‘For a small list it’s written with real conviction. It leapt off the page at me,’ said Christine Parkinson.
The Folly, 41 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BT; 08454 680102; thefollybar.co.uk
Franco’s made it to the shortlist entirely on the strength of a fine Italian selection. There is an ‘International Wines’ section (including such makeweight countries as France!) and a truly impressive spread of 24 rosés, but this list is really all about Italy. ‘I could drink any of those wines,’ said Alessandro Marchesan, possibly with one eye on 14 vintages of Sassicaia and Tignanello. ‘It’s a great selection.’
Franco’s, 61 Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6LX; 020 7499 2211, francoslondon.com
The Gurnard’s Head
In a list of some 100 or so bins, around a fifth of The Gurnard’s Head’s wines are available by the glass or carafe – those wines coming with neat, concise tasting notes. The rest (mostly European) are split up by region. It’s simple, carefully laid out and accurate, and with around 10 suppliers the list is never in danger of being dull. ‘It’s simple, easy to find your way around and it feels personal,’ praised Christine Parkinson.
The Gurnards Head, Nr Zennor, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 3DE; 01736 796928; gurnardshead.co.uk
One of the most innovative lists submitted, Hakkasan’s is a great example of approaching the wine list from a fresh angle. Wines are split into categories such as ‘New Classics’, including everything from Stag’s Leap Cab to Grosset’s Riesling, ‘Classic’ (Bordeaux, Burgundies and Rhône), ‘Terroir’ (wines with a sense of place) and ‘Purity’ (great expressions of a grape varietal). It leads to dialogue with the sommelier and customers ordering different wines, apparently. Either way, our judges loved it! ‘The presentation was really elegant and a fantastic selection of wines too,’ said Ronan Sayburn MS.
Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD; 020 7927 7000; hakkasan.com
The Harwood Arms
Not many pubs could get away with serving DP Rosé for £500 a bottle, but the Harwood Arms is in well-heeled Fulham – a factor which makes this mix of affordable and indulgent (two vintages of Dagueneau’s Silex, for instance) totally justifiable. Good tastings notes for all of the wines (not just the pricey stuff), it’s a finely-balanced beast, and the ‘Current Favourites’ section at the start of the list
is a friendly little touch.
The Harwood Arms, Walham Grove, Fulham, London, SW6 1QP; 0207 386 1847; harwoodarms.com
Hawksmoor Seven Dials
Boasting a user-friendly A5 size and clear layout, Hawksmoor’s list ticks a number of boxes, in managing to be both unfussy and intermittently informative, particularly when explaining its ‘Current Favourites’. Question marks were raised about the definition of what exactly ‘Reserve Whites/Reds’ might mean, but on the whole this is an easy list to follow. ‘Good-value, accurate and tidy,’ praised Olivier Marie.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG; 020 7856 2154; thehawksmoor.co.uk
Holbeck Ghyll Country House Hotel
A lot of work has clearly gone into this
list – not just in sourcing the wines, but also in giving the customer reasons to engage with it. As well as a ‘House Selection’ and ‘Fantastic Finds’ (all accompanied by tasting notes), there is – unusually and commendably – a huge selection of half-bottles. While the focus is decidedly on Europe, the New World selection manages to name-check a lot of good producers too. ‘Varied vintages, good prices, clear and clean. I liked it,’ said Ivo Stoyanov.
Holbeck Ghyll Country House Hotel, Holbeck Lane, Windermere,Cumbria, LA23 1LU; 01539 432 375; holbeckghyll.com
This buzzy Brighton eatery is not exactly innovative, but it’s a brilliant example of how to put together a good brasserie list. Thirty wines by the glass, over 25 different champagne houses, and a terrific selection of wines from £25-£40. The list focuses (as you might expect) on France, but every country is sub-divided by region. ‘Straight to the point, precise and well-priced,’ commented Olivier Marie.
In Vino Veritas, 103 North Road, Brighton, BN1 1YW; 01273 622522; invinobrighton.co.uk
Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery, Rockliffe Hall
As you might expect, the prices at this upmarket country house hotel are on the high side. But the list remains very simple, clear, elegant and (despite the exhortation to ‘talk to one of our sommeliers’ on the front page) does its best to explain places and grape varieties in a clear, friendly, no-nonsense kind of way. The New World gets rather short shrift, but this is nonetheless an undeniably elegant wine list.
Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery, Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth, Darlington, DL2 2DU; 01325 729999; rockliffehall.com
Isle of Skye
With over 20 wine flights, this place clearly takes its wine as seriously as its Michelin-starred food. Full tasting notes for every wine, whether in the ‘Standard’ or the ‘Fine and Interesting’ selection, make this a sizeable tome, but it’s nice to see English wine and Scottish fruit wines on a list alongside pricier classics. ‘I liked the wine flights,’ said John Clevely MW. ‘They’re something people will look at.’
Kinloch Lodge, Sleat, Isle of Skye, Scotland, IV43 8QY; 01471 833333; kinloch-lodge.co.uk
This list scores highly for presentation, price and friendliness, making the shortlist for two years on the trot. Wines are split by broad style (‘Crisp and Fresh’ etc), so no reams of French regions, and giving Slovenian Pinot Gris a chance to compete on an equal footing. Tasting notes are helpful, not too long, and it’s clear, consistent and easy to follow. Some of the ‘Fine and Rare’ prices are terrific!
Lazy Lounge, Westpoint, Leeds, LS1 4JY; 01132 446055; lazy-lounge.com
The One Bull
Bury St Edmunds
Winner of last year’s ‘Best Pub List’ is back – and why not? Fifty wines is a bijou selection, but perfect for a town-centre gastropub. Everything but fizz and fortified is available by the glass – at excellent prices and handily separated out by style, not country. In a great touch, each stylistic group is available as a wine flight.
The One Bull, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 1UZ; 01284 848 220; www.theonebull.co.uk
The Penny Black Restaurant
This is a rarity. A 100-bin wine list where every listing is available by the glass or half-bottle carafe, with a decent tasting note to match. It isn’t too cheap (this is Chelsea), but the list is welcoming and helpful. Matthew Clark and Louis Latour dominate, but the upside is Latour’s Echezeaux Grand Cru by the glass (£80 for the 2002 vintage since you ask).
The Penny Black Restaurant, 212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London, SW10 9PJ; 0845 838 8998; thepennyblack.com
Michelin-starred this lovely Georgian country house hotel might be, but the pricing policy on the wine list is admirable. Traditionally presented by region, there are helpful (and personal) comments introducing each section, and the idea of marking a white’s sweetness (1-9) and a red’s body (A-E) is neat. ‘A great selection, it’s well presented and the prices are good,’ said Ivo Stoyanov.
Plas Bodegroes, Pwllheli, Gwynedd, North Wales, LL53 5TH; 01758 612363; bodegroes.co.uk
Porthminster Beach Café
As you would expect, this Cornish beachside restaurant majors on seafood (whites outnumber reds 2:1). What you might not expect is for such a laid-back place to use over 10 suppliers – the result is a lot of good wine between £20 and £30. Simple, helpful tasting notes for cheaper wines, more involved notes for pricier bottles, this list offers a good dollop of personality as well.
Porthminster Beach Café, Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 2EB; 01736 795352; porthminstercafe.co.uk
Rotunda Bar & Restaurant
We must award full marks to this Kings Cross bar/restaurant – the list’s A3 layout manages to combine a wealth of personal touches with choice and information. A terrific by-the-glass selection is accompanied by decent tasting notes and a main list that is split by varietal, which is no small feat. ‘I like the way it doesn’t just tick boxes,’ approved Ronan Sayburn MS. The description of Côtes du Rhône ‘often tasting like bottled narcolepsy’ is worth the shortlisting alone…
Rotunda Bar & Restaurant, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG; 020 7014 2840; rotundabarandrestaurant.co.uk
Sous le Nez en Ville
A list with personality, this does its job brilliantly. Tasting notes for every wine, and highly informative, funny, sometimes controversial musings on wine regions, people and wines. An extremely good selection of Bordeaux makes this a list for the serious wine lover and the novice alike. ‘For me, this has everything,’ said Olivier Marie. ‘Serious vintages, but not too expensive, and informative.’
Sous le Nez en Ville, The Basement, Quebec House, Quebec Street, Leeds, LS1 2HA; 0113244 0108; souslenez.com
The Three Fishes
With all 50 wines visible on one (albeit sizable) sheet, the chance to take in the whole wine list at one glance is spot on for this newly refurbished Lancashire pub. What it lacks in pizzazz of contents it makes up for in clarity and approachability, and doubtless does its job brilliantly. ‘They are really trying to help the customer in,’ said Christine Parkinson.
The Three Fishes, Mitton Road, Mitton Nr Whalley, Lancashire, BB7 9PQ; 01254 826 888; thethreefishes.com
The Wynnstay Hotel
This is a great example of a small middle-ground business (owner Gareth Johns describes it as a ‘mid-market hotel, restaurant and pizzeria in a small Welsh market town’) really going the extra mile. Split up varietally, every wine has a helpful tasting note and a gauge of its weight or sweetness to help customers order. ‘They’ve done many things to make the list approachable – the effort leaps off
the page,’ praised Christine Parkinson.
The Wynnstay Hotel, Maengwyn Street, Machynlleth, Powys, Wales, SY20 8AE; 01654 702 941; wynnstay-hotel.com
Congratulations to the shortlisted venues. See the next issue of Imbibe for the winners.