About the Sommelier Wine Awards
The Sommelier Wine Awards is a wine competition with a difference. Britain’s only on-trade wine competition, it focuses entirely on wines aimed at the on-trade. Since it started in 2007 it has grown to become the first point of reference for the UK's on-trade wine buyers as well as the key competition for wines trying to increase their presence in hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants.
The SWA judges all serve or buy wine for their venues in the on-trade, or are leading on-trade consultants. Wines with general distribution in the high street are not permitted to enter, except for sparkling and fortified wines, or merchants' online-exclusive wines.
But what makes this competition so distinctive?...
How does the Sommelier Wine Awards competition work?
All the wines are tasted blind and by category – say, Chablis or New World Pinot Noir. Around a fifth of entries receive a Commended classification, with roughly half of entries making it through to the Round 2. Here they are considered for medals: Bronze, Silver and, the ultimate award, a place on the Gold List. At this stage, those red wines that need to ‘open up’, whether due to youth or the style of the wine, are aerated and served in a decanter.
What’s the Gold List?
This is the defining feature of the Sommelier Wine Awards. The objective of this competition is not simply to hand out a lot of medals, but to put together a kind of ultimate wine list for the UK on-trade – the Gold List – from about 2,500 wines sent in. This list (around 300 bins this year) covers everything from great value wines to trophy quality bottles, from must-stocks such as Pinot Grigio or Rioja up to more esoteric handsells. It is, in short, just like a real wine list.
Who are your judges?
Drawn from all sectors of the on-trade – hotels, bars, restaurants and pubs – our judges include Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, and all are involved with either buying or serving wine, or consulting to the industry. See our cast of stars here.
What criteria do the SWA judges use?
The same that you would use: food-friendliness, versatility, typicity, personality – and, importantly, value for money at whatever the price. If wines are ‘tight’ or young and expensive, in the final round, they are decanted before tasting.
And what is the role of the Gold List Coordinator?
This is an ‘overseeing’ position for the final round of judging, with Hakkasan’s group wine buyer, Christine Parkinson, keeping a handle on all of the wines that are put forward by the tasting teams for places on the Gold List. Aided by Drinkonomics' Christopher Coooper as her deputy, she makes sure that we have no gaps or duplications, and that all price points are covered.
Does food come into it?
Of course! As well as food-pairing being ever-present in the minds of the tasters while they are judging, we select 30 or so Gold-Listed wines to be judged again in a taste-off round featuring 12 key restaurant dishes. The winners pick up our Food Match Trophies.
Any other special awards?
Yes. The Critics’ Choice Trophies are given to wines that our tasting teams simply fall in love with, whatever their price or style; our By The Glass and Pub & Bar Trophy winners are great value, versatile wines that would be great on their own or with food, whatever your venue. The Merchant Awards and Producer of the Year awards are given to those submitters who have done particularly well in certain key areas.
Finally, senior judges will decide on the ultimate trophies, the Wines of the Year: Best Wine in Show, House Wine of the Year, Fine Wine of the Year, and Gastropub Wine of the Year.
Can I try the winning wines?
Obviously, you can call in samples from the UK Suppliers (see our Supplier Directory). Or come along to the Imbibe Live event on 3-4 July 2017 at Olympia, London. There will be an impressive range of award-winning wines, including many on the new Gold List;
What the submitters say...
“The Sommelier Wine Awards has become a very important competition for us in recent years. We are on-trade specialists, so the profile these awards have acquired with the decision-makers in the on-trade has helped us sell more wine through this channel.”
David Gleave MW, managing director, Liberty Wines
“I can’t wait for the 2017 awards! The strategy, timings and other awards were communicated quickly and the entry sheet is one of the easiest to fill in of the wine awards – this makes it so much easier!”
Judith Nicholson, assistant wine buyer, Matthew Clarke
“We were thrilled to be recognised by the Sommelier Wine Awards. It helps us to show – via the people whose palates really matter to the on-trade – that we are making the kind of wines that they need to be ordering. SWA’s credibility with that audience is second to none.”
Ben Smith, communications director, CYT UK