We might not be collectively travelling to many of the world’s most famous cities and eating and dining out in their finest restaurants at the moment, but that does not mean we can’t highlight the great talent that work in the kinds of outlet that allow the best wine producers and their wines to shine. Which is why it’s so timely that Star Wine List is taking its awards around the world to shine the spotlight on the best wine restaurants in key cities around the world. The Buyer is also delighted to be partnering with Star Wine List to establish a new Wine List awards in London. Here Krister Bengtsson, founder of Star Wine List, explains how it is going to work.
Star Wine List has teamed up with Austrian Wine to take its Wine List awards around the world over the next year.
How are things with you and how has Covid-19 affected you in Sweden?
We are healthy but the disease has affected many. Work-wise: Star Wine List is very busy. But even though we haven’t had a lockdown, the hospitality business is of course suffering due to restrictions and people staying home.
And for Star Wine List? What have you been doing?
We slowed down for a bit with our expansion to new cities as they were in lockdown, but recently we have sped up and launched guides to Sydney, Seoul, Warsaw, Talinn and others. There is not much traveling going on, but when wine lovers go back on the road, we will have a better network for them. We are very excited to open Mexico City and Bangkok soon.
You have just announced you are taking your awards programme global over the next year. Can you first talk us through how your awards work – why they are different to others?
Star Wine List of the Year is really our celebration of great wine lists and the teams behind them. We have run them four times in the Nordics and the reception has been amazing. The big awards where you pay to enter don’t really touch the local markets, at least not around here in Scandinavia, whereas we invite all venues to be part of our event. We choose categories that we think are fun and relevant and have partners as sponsors. Then we have an international sommelier jury who independently vote for the finalists and winners.
What are you doing different this year – the international aspect?
We have had demand from sommeliers in many countries so we said, let’s go. It’s a terrible year for the trade, but we see that we can bring some positive vibes and shine the light on the great work the sommeliers and restaurateurs are doing in spite of the crisis.
Which countries and cities are you going to be hosting it in?
First ones out the door are Finland on August 31 and Denmark September 1. Both will be in co-operation with their sommelier associations and held during their national sommelier championships in Helsinki and Copenhagen respectively. We often work with the sommelier associations, and hope to do it in more countries.
We have a list of a dozen primary places that we are working on, but let’s say for now that UK, Netherlands, Hong Kong and New York are on that list.
How will it work in practice – how will people enter and how will it be judged?
Venues that are listed by Star Wine List are entered automatically and free of charge, providing we have the wine list. All other venues are welcome to enter as well. The international sommelier jury (currently Marc Almert, Paz Levinson, Pascaline Lepeltier, Raimonds Tomsons and Arvid Rosengren) chooses their favourites considering width, depth, originality and value.
Do individual country winners then go to a world final?
Exactly, just like the Eurovision Song Contest, except perhaps with slightly less fancy outfits. On May 28 2021, Austrian Wine will host a Global Final in Vienna with us, where the national winners are invited. (All-inclusive for the winners of the category Best Austrian List!) It’s the day before VieVinum in Vienna and we hope to make it a celebration of the world hopefully going back to normal by then.
Have you made contingency plans in case you cannot hold these events?
On May 4 this year we held the Star Wine List of the Year Sweden event completely online and made the most of being online. We had the entire jury with us in the show, as well as partners in different countries and the winners. In effect, we could do more than if we had had a “normal” event. So we will push ahead and simply adapt to the situation. In some places it will be physical events. In some perhaps online. In others, hybrids.
You can check out the Swedish event here: https://www.facebook.com/starwinelist/videos/3025119467525919/
What are your thoughts on how the on-trade is going to come back and recover around the world?
In a normal recession, people go out less. This time you have the virus as well. It’s a very serious situation, and we see that some cities that have opened up have then gone back to lockdown. A vaccine or some kind of immunity are the only lasting solutions, but people miss going out as well. It will certainly be a smaller industry and a lean year or two.
Any good ideas and innovations that you have seen from restaurants and bars that stand out during this time?
The creativity has been amazing, from great take out wines at places like Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in New York, to half-priced food menus at Djuret in Stockholm and even an outdoor cinema at Baur-au-Lac in Zurich – with the sommelier world champion Marc Almert preparing a special wine list for it. Hospitality people are not used to being idle, they will find ways to work and serve guests.
Who do yo think will be the winners in the year ahead – what will operators need to concentrate on?
Stockholm and Sweden have been an interesting case as we have restrictions but never went to lockdown. There is no bar service, fewer seated guests, distancing etc. We see that the restaurants who have real relationships with their guests – good neighbourhood restaurants and classics like Sturehof who have survived a century before – are surviving. Venues who were struggling before shut down quickly. And with work from home, the business district venues are suffering, as well as bars and nightclubs of course. Before the crisis, anything could work. Now you will learn which ones had real relationships with guests, plus which ones were creative in a relevant way.
How do you see drinks lists – there is lots of talk of a need for smaller, focused lists – is that a problem for Star Wine Lists?
Certainly a lot of venues around the world have been selling out their stocks to survive so many are starting from scratch again, we see that even with venues who were finalists in Sweden in May. That’s life. There was already a trend for smaller lists before this happened, and we can expect it to continue.
But despite our name, Star Wine List was never just about having big lists. Our main critiera to include venues in our guide is this. If a wine lover comes to our city, which venues would we bring them to? It’s all the way from small natural wine bars to bistros and fine dining. Many of them don’t even have a wine list.
Imagine if Anselme Selosse opens a wine bar in Avize, has no list at all and serves the wines out of terrible French bistro glasses. Would we list it? Most likely, but only after visiting it.
- If you would like to find our more about Star Wine List and how its world awards are going to work then you contact Krister Bengtsson on firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Buyer is delighted to be a partner for Star Wine List in the UK and will be working with the team to help promote and bring both the UK and world awards to life.