Home News > June 2024 > In focus: SWA’s extra awards

In focus: SWA’s extra awards

What has always set the Sommelier Wine Awards apart from other wine competitions is its singular focus on judging wines for the hospitality sector. Its ‘by the on-trade, for the off-trade’ mantra means that all our judges are sommeliers (or their job involves buying for and curating wine lists), and they therefore know exactly what on-trade venues are looking for when it comes to wine selection.

Their combined experience covers all types of venue too, from gastropubs to Michelin-starred restaurants, which is why you’ll find medal-winning wines at a wide range of price points and styles on our list. This knowledge also means they are uniquely placed to pick out wines in the competition that are delivering that bit extra.

As part of the judging process, each judge has the opportunity to put forward any gold medal-winning wines they deem to be worthy of an extra award – that’s By-the-Glass, Pub & Bar and Critics’ Choice awards. These nominations are then discussed within the judging team, and we end up with a select group of winners in each extra awards category.

When it comes to By-the-Glass awards, our judges are looking for well-priced wines that would make perfect single-serve listings. Of course, with wine preservation systems becoming more commonplace in venues, price is less of a factor these days, although it’s worth noting that our By-the-Glass award winners were all priced under £30 this year.

Awards went to three still wines and three sparkling wines, with an “excellent and seductive” Ribera del Duero Tempranillo from Emilio Moro and two sub-£10 whites (Calmel & Joseph’s Languedoc Chardonnay and a “beautiful example” from Rioja Vega) on the still front. Alongside two Champagnes (an “exceptional value” NV from Brimoncourt and a “food-friendly” 2015 vintage from Pierre Mignon), the sparkling line-up featured an English Blanc de Blancs from Fox & Fox, which was described as “elegant, with lovely toasty spice”.

Wines at any price point can receive a By-the-Glass award, but when it comes to our Pub & Bar extra awards, value for money is the key consideration. While you’ll find a comprehensive range of fine wines on the Sommelier Wine Awards Gold List, there are plenty of lower-priced value options on there too – and it’s these wines that we ask our sommeliers to consider for a Pub & Bar award. They should be easy-drinking, food-friendly wines that really over-deliver on quality for the price.

Somewhat surprisingly, in a category that typically has a strong showing from the likes of South Africa and Chile, the six winners in this category this year all came from Europe – and they were all white too. France was represented by a white Burgundy from Louis Jadot, and Spain’s Ramón Bilbao took an award for its early-harvest Verdejo (from Rueda), as did Gaia’s “easy-drinking” Notios from Santorini. Our judges found “lovely varietal brightness” in a German Riesling from Peth-Wetz, while the two lowest-priced winners both hailed from Italy and were praised for their food friendliness.

To be in with a chance of receiving a coveted Critics’ Choice award, a wine simply has to stand out from the crowd. How our judges interpret this is up to them and is why our Critics’ Choice selection is always pleasingly diverse. These wines might offer something a bit different or unusual, they could offer extraordinary quality or exceptional value, or they could just be an outstanding example of a particular style of wine. Whatever the reason, they made an impression on our sommeliers.

In all, we welcomed 22 extra-special wines into the Critics’ Choice hall of fame this year. These ranged from a great-value, food-friendly Sicilian white from Fabrizio Vella at £8.82, right up to Laurent-Perrier’s £150+ Grand Siècle No.26 NV, which had “a big personality” and “fantastic texture” according to judges. The list of Critics’ Choice wines covered a range of styles, with reds, whites, still and sparkling – and fortified – all represented, at an average price of £34.05. It’s also worth noting that five of our Critics’ Choice wines received a By-the-Glass or Pub & Bar award as well.

France and Spain took home the most Critics’ Choice awards this year (six each), with France’s Edmond de Rothschild and Dopff au Moulin, and Spain’s Ramón Bilbao (with two on the list) and Cuatro Rayas among the winning producers. Elsewhere, it was a strong showing for Italy, with a Barbera d’Alba Superiore from Pedemontis that “ticked all the boxes” and a “top-class” Brunello di Montalcino from San Polino among the winners. From the New World, we had a “complex and balanced” Riesling blend from Robert Sinskey Vineyards, and Stella Bella’s “soft Cabernet” from Margaret River.

Sparkling wines winning Critics’ Choice awards included several Champagnes – a “lively, bright” example from Slovenia’s Istenic, and two cuvées from Austria’s A-Nobis, both described as good Champagne alternatives.

Special mention to Valdespino, too, which received two Critics’ Choice awards for its sherries – a “wondeful, rich and elegant” Pedro Ximénez and a “well-orchestrated” oloroso VOS.

At the end of the final day of judging, all 22 Critics’ Choice wines were brought together for a final tasting, carried out by a team of head judges and judges. From this, they chose our trophy winners, which included the Sparkling Wine of the Year, House Wine of the Year and the highly sought-after Overall Wine of the Year trophy. The winners will be announced at Imbibe Live and in our July newsletter, together with the Merchants and Producers of the Year awards.

For details of all the wines winning extra awards this year, including tasting notes, visit sommelierwineawards.com and search by medal type.