Wine List Confidential Awards 2018
Listed below are the winners of this year's awards, which were kindly supported by the Portuguese Cork Association, along with AXA Millésimes, through their brands, Disznókő (Tokaji), Quinta do Noval (Port) and Pichon Baron (Pauillac). We would also like to thank cork producer Amorim for supplying the cork frames for the awards certificates.
Best Wine List for Service – SEVEN PARK PLACE
The first award went to London’s best restaurant for wine service. Service is of course crucial to the drinker’s experience, and considers the quality of the staff, glassware and many other elements that directly affect the serving of wine.
Now, while there were a number of places that could have walked off with this award in 2018, one restaurant really wowed the WLC team.
Notably, this restaurant – and hotel – has 26 covers spaciously dispersed over nine tables, and all of the wine selections – over 1000 lines – may be ordered via room-service to the 56 bedrooms.
In short, this place, with a drinks offer curated by sommelier, Gonzalo Rodriguez Diaz, is really a five-star, residential wine destination.
Best Wine List for Originality – DUDDELL'S
This award celebrates a list that really stands out as being both brilliant and different. Such a list should champion lesser-known varieties or producers, and should be assembled in an innovative, brave or creative way. In short, it is a place that must challenge our idea of what a wine list should look like.
And our winner certainly does that. Head sommelier, Konrad Tadeusz Lassota interprets and codes wines according to ‘a fivefold conceptual scheme found in traditional Chinese thought’, and uses headings such as Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth to segment the wines.
You have to go there and test it for yourself, but it’s certainly original, and wonderfully complements the exceptional Cantonese cuisine at this great new addition to the London on-trade.
Best Wine List for Value – HUNAN
‘Value’ is a really important aspect to the Wine List Confidential ratings systems that focuses on the pricing of drinks. It doesn’t mean that the wines have to be cheap, but they must offer a fair price relative to the quality of the dining environment, and the outlet’s competitors.
In particular, WLC rates tempting cash margins on fine wines, and, with that in mind, this year’s winner is a long-established Pimlico dining room that boasts a brilliant drinks list, which, it quite rightly bills as ‘fine wine at a fair price’.
Best Newcomer – HIDE
Next we had an award for London’s Best Newcomer. This award was given in association with Château Pichon Baron and for that reason was presented by Fiona Campbell, who manages the communications for the Port house in the UK, on behalf of AXA Millésimes, the group that owns Pichon Baron, along with Quinta do Noval, two of our sponsors of the Wine List Confidential Awards.
So hotly anticipated was this new entrant to London’s wine scene that we almost had to delay the publication of this year’s Wine List Confidential guide just to include it.
A collaboration between Evgeny Chichvarkin and Tatiana Fokina, minds behind the nearby Hedonism Wines; chef, Ollie Dabbous (a protégé of Raymond Blanc), and mixologist, Oskar Kinberg, along with head somm Piotr Pietras, it was bound to be brilliant.
Thankfully, it is. Bursting onto our website just a few weeks ago, it contains an incredible selection of gems from 1889 Yquem to Pétrus 1949, and access to 6000 wines at nearby Hedonism’s wine shop.
Biggest Riser – THE RITZ
This award has been designed to draw attention to a London restaurant that has risen the most up the Wine List Confidential rankings, year on year.
Already a great place to drink wine, following a major revamp, this year’s winner has shot up the charts, and can now claim to be one of the very best lists in London.
Such a performance comes thanks to head somm Giovanni Ferlito – who, it should be noted, has added a surprising number of 'hipster' wines to this bastion of traditional dining and drinking.
Best Restaurant – BONHAMS
With an increasingly diverse set of wine-focused establishments in London, from pop-ups, to bars, pubs and now wine-clubs, we felt it was important to single out a restaurant that offers the ultimate wine experience.
This had to be a place open to everyone that was focused on fine food, but importantly, had wine as central to its brand.
And, in 2018, the winner, despite stiff competition, was clear. Benefitting from the expertise of two Masters of Wine, and a brilliant head sommelier, this is the place to drink accessibly-priced, expertly-chosen fine wines, with, it should be stressed, outstanding food.
Rising Star – PIOTR PIETRAS
This personality award was given in association with the Portuguese Cork Association and was therefore presented by chairman of the organisation, Carlos de Jesus, who came over from Porto for the ceremony.
Our recipient this year really has shot up through the ranks of the London sommelier scene at a remarkable rate to become one of the most powerful people in the capital’s fine dining and fine wine drinking sectors.
Originally from Poland, our rising star achieved great things in his home country before landing on our shores, joining Corrigan’s Mayfair, then Maze, and after that, Launceston Place – and, this year, Piccadilly’s Hide. A lover of cider and great Spanish and Australian reds, this is an open-minded man with diverse tastes. Just don’t give him a bottle of Gavi – he just doesn’t get on with Cortese.
Sommelier of the Year – JAN KONETZKI
This award was given in association with Quinta do Noval and, like our award for best newcomer, was presented by Fiona Campbell, who manages the communications for the Port house in the UK, on behalf of AXA Millésimes.
Our award this year went to a talented, respected sommelier who is also a huge personality. He was born in Germany, and rose to prominence in the London restaurant scene at fine dining icon, Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road.
More recently, he was plucked from this high-profile post to take up the position of wine director at Le Dame de Pic London and also of Ten Trinity Square Private Club – an establishment for wine loving businessmen.
He is a man of knowledge and great style, who admits that if he wasn’t a sommelier and wine buyer, he’d be a tailor. Immediately recognisable, and highly-rated, he made an extremely worthy Wine List Confidential Sommelier of the Year.
Best Wine List of the Year – 67 PALL MALL
Although this was already a remarkable place to drink wine, a major revision and expansion to its wine offering at the start of this year has secured its position as London’s best wine list.
Indeed, with as many as 800 wines by the glass, all served by Coravin into spotless Zalto stemware, this is not just London’s best place to try and enjoy wine, but, we believe, the planet’s ultimate outlet for sampling fine wine.
While it is a club, due to a recent expansion, this is not an inaccessible establishment – in fact, it’s on the look-out for more members. And, the only criteria for joining is a love of wine.
Wine List Confidential Awards 2019: Profiling the winners
Judging was conducted at hospitality members’ club Trade in Soho back in April, with the panel including the likes of WLC‘s author, Douglas Blyde, Alice Lascelles from the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine, Lucy Shaw, editor of the drinks business, and food and drink influencer Clerkenwell Boy, who was amassed almost 200,000 followers on Instagram.
Best-By-The-Glass Offering – 67 Pall Mall(in association with Coravin)
With by-the-glass becoming an essential part of any wine list, 67 Pall Mall was described by one judge as “like a candy shop for wine lovers.” Another said: “The scope of the list leaves you breathless with excitement. It gives you an opportunity to taste those legendary wines – if you've always wanted to taste a First Growth, you can.”
67 Pall Mall boasts over 800 wines by the glass, including the likes of Latour 1961, Harlan Estate 1997 and Sassicaia 1985, as well as an amphora-made Sangiovese and even the odd orange wine.
With 17 full-time sommeliers and a multitude of perfectly polished Zaltos, it is the worthy winner of the Best By the Glass Award. Among those collecting the award were head sommelier Terry Kandylis, marketing manager Stephanie Westcott, wine logistics manager Paul Richards, marketing director Xavier Giamattei and founder Grant Ashton.
Best for Champagne – The Greenhouse(sponsored by Champagne Brimoncourt)
London is extremely well served for the finest in fizz, with many lists boasting a huge variety, from rare growers’ labels to the biggest bottles of the most famous names. One of the judges said of The Greenhouse’s sparkling offer: “The Champagne list is insane! Krug Grande Cuvée by the glass. There is so much of interest here – lots of single vineyard and old vintages but some great grower Champagnes too.”
Another judge commented: “Their whole approach to Champagne is extremely food-friendly – you’re unlikely to leave there without trying at least a glass with your meal.
With bottles in the cellar such as Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1966, The Greenhouse demonstrates its breadth in the Champagne category. The restaurant boasts over 3,400 bins and is part of Lebanese restaurateur, Marlon Abuela’s portfolio, which also comprises Kyoto inspired UMU, The Square, members’ club Morton’s, Marc Patisserie and Bakery and OW Loeb Fine Wines.
Collecting the award was sommelier Andrea Zarbetto.
Best Micro List – Top Cuvée
A wine list can be celebrated for its breadth, but also for its brevity, simplicity and lack of clutter. Top Cuvée’s approached demonstrated that less can definitely be more, with its short, punchy list.
One judge said of the winner: “Love it, such a great place, very knowledgeable team, not too expensive. Interesting, different, all the things the younger generation want to drink”.
Another said: “The food here is really good too – don’t really want anyone else to find out about it!”
With the wine list rarely running over one page, the aim is to push “people to try new things including some of the stuff I assumed would be challenging, but because the list is so small, they will try it,” Top Cuvée’s founder Brodie Meah told Wine List Confidential author Douglas Blyde.
Best English Wine List – The Coral Room
English wine is increasingly being championed by restaurants across the capital, which shine a light on the country’s distinctive fizz. Judges said of The Coral Room’s offer: “A very well-curated list, quality first, cocktails which make it more accessible, done by region, and a great-looking list.”
Housed within the walls of the Bloomsbury Hotel with the decor masterminded by Martin Brudnizki, The Coral Room owes its wine list to the world of Anne McHale MW (pictured above left). Focusing on homegrown wines in a rotating by-the-glass selection of six sparklers from small vineyards, the wine list is supplemented by a further six pages of English wines by the bottle.
Best Looking List – Hide
Last year’s Best Newcomer award recipient, Hide, once again impressed the judges in 2019. While the quality of wines listed is important, often the look and feel is just as important to the casual wine lover. A good looking wine list entices customers in, making them want to explore the list and discover some hidden gems. It should also reflect the restaurant itself, both its ethos the personality of the people who work there.
Judge’s described Hide’s winning tome as “quite different, with lovely attention to detail. It’s well laid out and not cluttered.”
Accessed via leather-wrapped tablets, the list devised by head sommelier, Dmytro Goncharuk, opens with the words, “a corkscrew, a glass, a memory”. The interactive format allows the list to be updated in real-time according to what is in stock in wine store Hedonism, to which the restaurant is connected.
Best Hybrid Wine Bar / Merchant – Authentique
With some well-established and also plenty of new faces appearing in this category, hybrid venues are really making their mark on the capital as venues adapt to the current market. Feedback shows that customers respond and engage with this informal way of learning about and tasting wines.
Judges plumped for Authentique’s list which they described as “really well done and beautifully curated,” with a wide-ranging Champagne selection from magnums.
Authentique, which doubles as both a wine bar and shop, aims to take guests on a “journey of Franco-fun,” through France and French-speaking countries including Algeria, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco and Switzerland.
The team comprises Alexandre Bal, former head of marketing for Nicolas UK and senior sales executive and buyer for Yapp Brothers, Amaury Levisalles, formerly of La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Mathieu Sevagen, formerly of Nicolas UK and Majestic, and Thomas Guidez.
Best Sustainable List – Levan
In another hotly contested category, Levan impressed the judges with its list that is ‘full of interesting information, well described, really makes you want to go there.”
Another judge added: “You need to tell stories to communicate sustainability and this list does it; tasting notes included.”
Levan imports many of the wines it lists itself, including a large selection of Jura wines, or “Jura varieties from around the world”.
Co-creator of Levan, Mark Gurney, told Wine List Confidential author Douglas Blyde: “I’m just as excited about discovering new young winemakers as I am about drinking old vintages of dusty Burgundy.”
Best Iberian Wine List – Bar Douro
This year the judges decided to assess the lists featuring Spain and Portugal as one category. Bar Douro was commended for the “exceptional depth” of its list, as well as the use of maps to help people understand the regional flavour profiles.
One judge commented: “Portuguese wine which isn’t port is still quite a new thing to many restaurant goers, and with these reasonable prices and wealth of information, this is a great introduction.”
Adorned with pretty blue and white Portuguese tiles, Bar Douro in Flat Iron Square is the brainchild of Max Graham (picture above left) whose father Johnnie founded Churchill’s Port in 1981. The list features the likes of Churchill’s Reserve,14 LBV, 10-Year-Old and vintage ‘97 – all available by the glass – as well as an exclusively Portuguese table wine list.
Graham says of the list: “We endeavour to show the very best the country has to offer, from less accessible reserves through to natural wines and more experimental projects at the vanguard of Portugal’s wine scene.”
Best Italian Wine List – The River Café(in association with the Consorzio de tutela vini DOC Venezie)
London is extremely well-served with both Italian food and wine, making the competition in this category particularly strong. Italian stalwart The River Café’s list was described by the judges as “hard to beat.”
“The top names are there but also smaller producers and places; done by region, and priced reasonably. There’s a real understanding of where the wines are coming from and their winemaker stories,” the judges added.
With over three decades of being based on the banks of the Thames, The River Café and its founders Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray have helped launch the careers of chef alumni, Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The Italy-dominant list includes the likes of an Etna Rosso (Ciauria, Pietro Caciorgna) and Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria (Donnafugata).
Collecting the award was sommelier Milena di Francisco.
Rising Star – Melody Wong (Yopo)(sponsored by Amorim)
The Rising Star award recognises the brightest and freshest talent working the floors of London’s top restaurants, bringing their fresh outlook to wine lists and their personal touch to the customers they serve. This year’s winner, Melody Wong, has been credited with revamping the list at Yopo to include standout wines from the southern hemisphere, with South American and South Africa getting equal billing.
Speaking to Wine List Confidential author Douglas Blyde about her aims, Wong said: “I want to offer amazing value and bring energy into modern dining.”
During her tenure, she has been busy amassing a selection of 250 bins with South American favourites including the “fantastic, approachable” Intipalka Syrah from a Peruvian oasis (Vinas Queirolo) which she likens to a St. Joseph, “but more fruity”.
Sommelier of the Year – Kelvin McCabe (Frog by Adam Handling)(sponsored by Quinta do Noval)
In what was possibly the most hotly contested category, judging proved that London has no shortage of sommeliers providing both great wine but also great service with their own signature style. This year, McCabe impressed with his sheer force of personality, with one judge describing him as “a very cool character. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a restaurant.”
Another added: “McCabe dispenses nuggets of wine knowledge with such enthusiasm, it feels like he is intimately acquainted with each and every grower.”
McCabe was inspired to apply for the role at Frog by Adam Handling after seeing the menu. “I thought ‘this is scary, outside my comfort zone, and what I need’,” he told Wine List Confidential author Douglas Blyde.
Before joining the Frog group, McCabe had chalked up stints at Roka, Zuma and Gilgamesh. Collecting the award on his behalf was Kevin Dupont (below).
Most distributed red wine – Sassicaia(in association with Wine Picker)
A new category this year, this award, and the one below it, were the only ones to be determined not by judges but by a computer. Presented by Josselin Guibert of virtual sommelier Wine Picker, the award analysed wine lists from over 500 restaurants and pubs in the capital to find those with the strongest foothold in the London trade.
The winner here, Tenuta San Guido’s acclaimed Sassicaia, is distributed in over three times more London establishments than its nearest competitor and is listed by almost a quarter of restaurants analysed.
Collecting the award was Nicolas Clerc MS of Armit Wines.
Most distributed white wine – Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc(in association with Wine Picker)
With the wine wine category witnessing severe competition, with pubs proving key drivers, it was New Zealand and LVMH’s Cloudy Bay that came out on top.
Best Value List – Rex Whistler
Moving onto the awards based on the scores determined by this year’s Wine List Confidential guide, we have the first category of best value. ‘Value’ is a very important aspect to the Wine List Confidential ratings systems that focuses on the pricing of drinks. It doesn’t mean that the wines have to be cheap, but they must offer a fair price relative to the quality of the dining environment, and the outlet’s competitors.
Rex Whistler was praised for showcasing wine producers at the top of their game at arrestingly good prices. Indeed, such is the appeal of its brilliant range, which includes an unrivalled selection of half bottles, it basically says ‘Drink Me’.
Most original – Diogenes The Dog
Diogenes The Dog stood out this year for a list that is both brilliant and different, championing lesser-known varieties and producers, and assembled in an innovative and creative way. A wine bar in Elephant & Castle named after the Greek philosopher who championed the idea of living a simple life, free from possessions, judges described it as “the very definition of original”.
Wine List of the Year – Frog by Adam Handling
And finally, we come to the Wine List of the Year. Knocking 67 Pall Mall off its perch was Adam Handling’s Frog in Covent Garden, the top-rated restaurant overall with an average of 98.4/100 on the guide’s key measures of value, service, range and originality.
Author of the guide, Douglas Blyde (pictured above left), described Frog’s list as “an exhilarating, democratic, innovatively compiled offering.” Divided into categories including ‘esoteric – unusual and lesser-known varietals and regions’, ‘celestial – wines of organic and biodynamic principles’, ‘reflections – a homage to classic varietals and regions in newer places’, ‘mavericks – producers who made a difference and dare to be different’ and ‘no skool like the old skool – fine, rare and vintage’, Blyde was charmed by what he referred to as an “impeccable, non-discriminating list” “with massive personality, celebrating huge swathes of the globe”.
The work of Kelvin McCabe, who also picked up this year’s award for Sommelier of the Year, the list is carefully curated to pair with dishes by Masterchef: The professionals finalist Adam Handling, with ingredients often hailing from the restaurant’s West Sussex farm.