Welcome to the Sommelier Wine Awards 2012
Imbibe set up the Sommelier Wine Awards in 2007, almost as a bit of fun, really. There was no competition that dealt exclusively with the on-trade, so I thought it would a good idea. If you’d told me then that just a few years later I’d be overseeing a competition with almost 2000 entries, that involved co-ordinating 80 sommelier judges over a five-week period I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
But that’s where SWA is at now. Thanks to the wonderful support of the UK wine trade – and a growing number of direct entries from foreign producers – we keep on growing at 25–30% a year. And given that the wine scene here isn’t exactly awash with money at the moment, it suggests to me that we must be doing something right.
That ‘something’ I suspect is our strict adherence to keeping the whole thing focused entirely on the on-trade. Apart from in the fields of fizz and fortified, we don’t accept entries that are available in the mainstream high street, and all of our judges are sommeliers, restaurateurs, wine buyers for pubs or bars, or consultants who operate mostly in the on-trade.
It doesn’t make our life easy, and it probably means that we’ll never get to the size of some of the other wine competitions. But this, as we never tire of telling people, is a competition that’s run by the on-trade for the on-trade.
One of the things I’ve noticed when dealing with sommeliers (and bartenders, in fact) down the years on Imbibe is that they tend to have a healthy disinterest in what the press or commentators think, and are far more likely to pay attention to the comments of their peers.
That, to me, is the beauty is of these awards. All of the medal-winning wines here have been selected by top on-trade tasters; people who are looking for exactly the same characteristics in wines that you are: versatility, food-friendliness, character, personality and, of course, value for money – at whatever price level.
So whatever your venue, and whatever kind of wine you are looking for, there should be a whole swathe of great medal winners in this year’s Gold Book that fit the bill.
Of course, as the competition has grown, it’s required more and more people to help make it work. Big thanks to Céline Bouteiller, who helped attract our many entries; Susanna Forbes for deputising and running the database, and processing the results with far more efficiency than I could ever manage; Chloe Kingham for co-ordinating all our efforts and making sure our judges made it on the day; Obergine, for helping us bring SWA alive online; and the guys at Sensible Wine Services for ensuring the wines turned up in the right order. A big thanks too to Christine Parkinson, for filling the new role of Gold List Co-ordinator with extreme professionalism and good humour.
Special credit must also go to the team at Delfina Gallery who excelled themselves with the hospitality this year, and ensured that, if our tasters went home with purple teeth, they also went home with full bellies.
Finally, I have to put out a very special thank you to Caspar Auchterlonie. Caspar passed away suddenly three weeks after this year’s competition finished, sending feelings of shock, disbelief and overwhelming sadness through the many people who knew him.
Caspar was an ever-present taster, team-leader, and source of help, inspiration and enthusiasm to me since SWA started in a room above a pub six years ago. He was my friend of 15 years, and I will miss him terribly (see here for his obituary).
As, I’m sure, will the dozens of you who tasted with him down the years, and the thousands of readers who were entertained by his unfailingly accurate and often amusing comments in the Gold Book. Caspar contributed a vast amount to this competition, and to helping make the world of wine that we love so much come alive.
Please join me in raising a glass of something special to him – maybe one of this year’s medal winners – and toast a lovely, lovely man, who played a big part in making this competition the success it is now.
Chris Losh, competition director