The doors of restaurants and bars up and down the UK might be closed due to Covid-19, but there is still much work going on behind the scenes to make sure they are ready to burst back into life as soon as they are allowed. That’s what the new ‘UK Wine List of the Year’ awards – co-hosted by The Buyer and Star Wine List – are all about. The chance to to celebrate the best sommelier and wine buying talent in the UK and the work they continue to do with their suppliers to create and manage some of the best wine lists in the world. Here’s how you can enter the 2021 awards – including a special Lockdown Wine List of the Year category.
The Buyer is pleased to have linked up with Star Wine List to launch the ‘UK Wine List of the Year’ competition, which is now part of Star Wines’ international awards, sponsored by Austrian Wine, with key category winners going through to the grand final to be held in Vienna in May.
It does not matter how many Michelin stars or awards you might have, the UK’s best restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels remain frustrated they have to stay closed as the UK enters its third national lockdown.
But even if they are shut, their influence is in no way diminished as wine producers all over the world continue to work, with their UK suppliers, to ensure their wines are on their lists as and when they can re-open.
Even during the topsy turvy months of lockdowns and tiered re-openings in 2020, we saw how important it was for restaurants and bars to be ready, with all their systems and drinks lists in place, to maximise sales for the weeks and months that they could open their doors.
It’s why The Buyer has teamed up with Star Wine List to launch the UK Wine List of the Year awards. To give any outlet that is shortlisted the chance to shout out wide and loud that they are ready and waiting to do business when they can.
“These awards are designed to both celebrate but also help the best wine restaurants and bars make the most of the wine lists they have created,” says Richard Siddle, editor-in-chief, of The Buyer. “We want to do what we can to help the on-trade bounce back the best it can from all the Covid-19 lockdowns and we hope these awards will shine the light on the best restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels and the wines and producers they sell.”
Kirster Bengtsson, founder of Star Wine List, added: “We know things are tough for the on-trade at the moment, but we have seen around the world how these wine list awards can make a real difference both to the outlets, but also their staff and all the amazing sommelier and wine buying talent they have. We hope to do the same in the UK and help the on-trade come flying back when it can in 2021.”
The competition is also part wide of Star Wine List’s global event that has seen similar awards being held in other key countries and cities during 2020, including Hong Kong, Macau and the Nordics and coming up in 2021 in the Netherlands, Germany, Shanghai, New York and Switzerland. The winners in the main categories will then have the chance to compete in the Global Final to be held in Austria in May, in partnership with Austrian Wine.
The timings for the 2021 UK awards might be tight – with all entries needed by January 31 and an awards ceremony on February 22 – but the winners and finalists will be released just in time for a potential re-opening of the on-trade going into spring and Easter.
Judged by sommeliers
What potentially sets these awards apart is the fact they are judged by some of the world’s most awarded and respected sommeliers, including a number of former past Best Sommeliers in the World.
For it is one thing getting your wines on to a restaurant or bar’s wine list, it is another thing to convince a sommelier to sell them.
The fact the winners and finalists have been selected by such a prestigious panel of sommelier talent makes just reaching the shortlist an accolade in itself. The UK judging panel is chaired by by Star Wine List’s UK ambassador, Ruth Spivey, and include:
- Arvid Rosengren, 2016 Best Sommelier of the World
- Paz Levinson, Best Sommelier of Argentina and the Americas
- Pascaline Lepeltier, 2018 Best Sommelier of France
- Raimonds Tomsons, 2017 Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa
- Marc Almert, 2019 Best Sommelier of the World
- Lu Yang MS, Best Sommelier of China.
How it works
As well as running the global competition, Star Wine List also works with leading sommeliers and on-trade experts in key cities globally to compile what they see as being the most influential bars and restaurants that are famous for their wine offer – which is Ruth Spivey’s role in the UK. All those outlets are automatically entered into the competition.
Any other restaurant then has the opportunity to put forward their list, free of charge, to be considered across a number of different categories.
Wine suppliers and distributors are also able to nominate and put forward restaurants they work with that they believe should be considered for an award. Category sponsors can also nominate bars and restaurants.
The Judging Criteria
All wine lists are assessed independently by the judging panel who will mark them based on:
- Their depth and diversity
- Value for money.
The jury’s votes are then added up to decide the finalists and the winners.
Each competition around the world has a number of categories that are the same – to help determine the global winners – but are also open to their own individual awards to reflect the tastes and styles of wines being sold in that particular country or city.
The global categories are:
- Grand Prix
- Best Austrian Wine List, presented by Austrian Wine
- By the Glass
- Special Jury Price
- Best Short list
Additional UK specific categories
California Wine List of the Year
Justine McGovern, UK co-director of the Institute, says: “When Richard told us about the ‘UK Wine List of the Year’ awards, we jumped at the chance of being involved. Anything that we, as the California Wine Institute can do to support the on-trade we are happy to get behind. We are so looking forward to finding out which restaurant will win The California Wine List of the Year award and are delighted to be involved with The Buyer and Star Wine List on this excellent initiative.”
Lockdown Wine List Category, sponsored by Bibendum
The UK awards will also include a special Lockdown Wine List category, sponsored by Bibendum, to highlight, recognise and reward those outlets that have changed their usual drinks lists in response to Covid-19 and the various restrictions imposed on them.
We are looking for those restaurants, bars or pubs that have devised special lists throughout 2020 to allow them to continue to trade be it through takeaway, delivery or online sales. We also want to hear the story behind how those changes were made and the response the outlets have had from their customers. It might have meant starting up your own e-commerce channel for the first time, started doing home deliveries, or running a takeaway drinks service from your outlet.
Any initiatives introduced in direct response to Covid-19 are eligible to enter.
“March 2020 lockdown was the biggest post war challenge faced by the on-trade sector,” says John Graves, on-trade channel director at Bibendum. “As people tore their hair out about the situation, others adapted very quickly and used strong local reputations and their skills as hospitality operators to make the best of what they had.”
He adds: “We are delighted to support the Wine List of the Year awards, a strong rebirth of the wine trade is vital for us all, and great wine lists will be at the heart of this.”
German Wine List of The Year, sponsored by Wines of Germany
We have also teamed up with Wines of Germany to highlight those outlets that have made Germany a key part of their overall list, or may have introduced a specialist section to promote the different styles and regions from Germany that pair so well with different types of cuisine.
Wines of Germany says: “This is an excellent opportunity for us to support the on-trade, which is so important to Wines of Germany, at such a difficult time.”
New Zealand Wine List of the year, sponsored by New Zealand Wine.
Chris Stroud, market manager for Europe for New Zealand Winegrowers, says: “New Zealand Winegrowers is delighted to support The UK Wine List Awards with The Buyer and Star Wine List. Traditionally the on-trade has been very supportive of New Zealand wines and we are pleased to recognise that by sponsoring the Best New Zealand List category. New Zealand wines are very versatile and stylistically fit well on wine lists and match with a wide range of cuisines from around the world and we hope that restaurants entering this category are able to showcase the diversity New Zealand offers.”
Anyone looking to enter any of the categories can do so by emailing your list with a short explanation about how it has been put together to email@example.com including the name and address of the venue and your contact details. Closing date for entries is January 31, 2021.
If you would like to discuss nominating or sponsoring a category then please contact Richard Siddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Awards and Grand Final
The awards ceremony for the UK Wine List of the Year will be held online on February 22. Further details about how to take part will be released in due course.
The winners will then qualify for the Global final of Star Wine List of the Year which is to be held in Vienna in May 2021, hosted by Austrian Wine. One sommelier per venue will be invited to the Grand Final. The winner of the Austrian wine list category will also get an all-inclusive invitation for one sommelier to go to Vienna for the event.