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Home News > February 2020 > Christine Parkinson shares her wisdom ahead of the SWA judging days

We caught up with head judge of the Sommelier Wine Awards, Christine Parkinson. Ahead of SWA judging dates we wanted to get Christine’s take on one of the big trends unveiling this year, and after almost 20 years as former head of wine at Hakkasan Group we were keen to find out how to craft a wine list with personality.

As head judge of the Sommelier Wine Awards, what keeps you coming back year after year?

Two things keep me coming back: firstly, after judging at SWA I have a good idea what’s going to turn up on wine lists in the coming year. It’s a terrific snapshot of what’s available, and always very revealing. Secondly, I love meeting and catching up with everyone. It’s a very sociable event!

 

What makes SWA different to other competitions you judge at?

Everything at SWA is about the on-trade: the judges all work in the on-trade, and the wines are all intended for use in the on-trade. No other competition is this relevant or this focused. SWA really is where we find out the wines worth listing for the coming year.

 

What category are you most looking forward to judging?

There’s no answer to this: I look forward to them all, as you never know where the surprises will be! Ask me again after the judging…

 

You were recently a speaker on the panel of our sell-out Industry Matters event, where the topic at hand was the no and low category. What are the biggest challenges for no and low wines?

This is complicated because there are really two separate categories: de-alcoholised wines, and wine alternatives. These are not the same thing at all, which is very confusing for consumers. On a more fundamental level, it’s really tough to produce a decent no or low wine, or wine-like drink. There are very few good ones so far, so it’s a challenge to find them.

 

No and low spirits are currently riding the wave of success, do you foresee the same happening for no and low wines? If not, why?

I think that no and low wines will catch up, but so far they have lagged behind. There are definitely some stars, but a lot of the products simply aren’t good enough.

 

What would you say is the best approach when selecting no and low wines for a drinks menu?

Taste with food! The most effective way to sell these drinks is alongside the food menu, so it’s vital to find products that taste really good with the food you serve.

 

What are your top tips for compiling the perfect wine list?

Put the guest first! That means the list has to be both interesting and helpful. Give options at every price point, give descriptions of at least some of the wine, tell stories if you can, and don’t make the list too big.