Honours for top wine lists

Drinks: Wines

The great and the good of the pub, hotel and restaurant trade gathered in London this week to discover the winners in Imbibe’s first Wine List of the Year competition, run in association with Louis Roederer Champagne.

With judges having narrowed down hundreds of entries to just 25 finalists, the atmosphere was tense as the overall winners were announced by Imbibe’s editor, Chris Losh.

Certainly, as well as being a night of excitement for the winners and disappointment for those who missed out, it was also a night of surprises. Many of the awards went to venues outside London, and the overall winner of the prestigious Wine List of the Year was not a glittering Michelin-starred eatery, but a Chinese restaurant in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Pub List of the Year was won by The One Bull, from Bury St Edmonds – a lesson in clarity, choice and information.

Neighbourhood Restaurant List of the Year went to The Ambassador in Exmouth Market, London, for the evident love and care lavished on the selection of its 100-bin bistro list.

Roka picked up Ethnic Restaurant List of the Year. In what proved a hard-fought category of skill and imagination, its clarity and user-friendliness really stood out.

Champagne List of the Year was picked up by the Bell at Skenfrith, in Ross-on-Wye, both for a staggering selection of champagnes, and the fun, lively way in which they were presented.

Fine Wine List of the Year was always going to be an exceptionally tight battle, with some truly exceptional competition from the likes of Coq d’Argent and Corrigans in particular. But in the end, the judges thought that the wines from the Cherwell Boat House were not just incredible value for money, but also chosen with real care. As well as good, expensive wines, there were plenty of excellent wines at more affordable levels, too – and again the presentation was excellent.

If the winner of the overall Wine List of the Year was a surprise, there is no question that it was anything but totally deserved. Chee Hui’s submission from the HK House in Stroud was an object lesson in how to put together a tight, well-focused list of interesting and unusual wines that were brilliantly tailored to the needs of both the cuisine and the clientele. His tasting notes, too, were original, informative and intensely helpful.

A ten year labour of love, it’s been put together with a care and passion that really comes across. And perhaps more than any other entry, Mr Hui seems to have understood that a wine list isn’t just about the wines you select – it’s about how you ‘sell’ them to your customers. The presentation was innovative, personal and accessible.

‘There were a lot of really good lists here,’ said Chris Losh, competition organiser. ‘And it’s credit to our judges that they weren’t blinded by bling, but were able to spot people who were doing a great job at every level. Thanks to everyone who entered, and we look forward to even more, and even better submissions next year!’

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Since its launch in March 2007, Imbibe magazine has established itself as the UK’s leading publication for on-trade drinks professionals. Imbibe’s editorial coverage takes in all the main drinks categories, from wine to water, spirits to soft drinks.

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