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Home Winners > Winners 2013 > HOUSE WINES: Red

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House Wines: Red

After a hugely impressive 2012, House Reds were far more inconsistent this year, with two dozen good wines and far too many truly shocking entries


While the actual numbers of House Red entries held up (unlike the vintage-affected whites and rosés), the quality this year was nowhere near as good as last year, and the number of top medals took a tumble. Where there were 10 wines on the Gold List in 2012, this year only four made the grade.

As usual, the majority of entries were European, and as usual, our tasters were looking for ripe fruits, with bubble gum or carbonic maceration a total no-no. ‘You couldn’t drink three glasses of those wines,’ said The Pass at South Lodge’s Marco Adreani. And obviously, glass-after-glass drinkability is essential for wines that must be as much at home behind the bar as they are in the restaurant.

Oak didn’t kick in until the £5 level – and it was generally a lot better done than in the past. Few tasters complained about over-chipping or clumsy wood. Instead the problems were (as you might expect) simply ones of, well, cheap wines.  

‘Too many were fucked up,’ said Athila Roos of The Arts Club, with a haunted look in his eyes. ‘Very few of them had the right structure – unripe fruit, no balance. There weren’t many you could drink a glass of.’

‘We found some medal winners, but it was like pulling teeth,’ said another judge after a particularly unruly flight that added issues such as brett and acidification to the usual over/under-ripe fruit and stringy tannins discussion.

The wines that did pick up medals were chosen not just because they were well made, but also because they had mass-market appeal. ‘Most people have to like your house wine, so it can’t be anything too strange in terms of production or producer,’ said Irina Atanasova from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen.

If that sounds like a blueprint for One Direction-type wines, well it was. Young, fresh and fun was fine – but wines that were trying too hard to be cool, with an incongruous oaky sneer were removed. ‘At this price you don’t expect complexity,’ sighed Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson. ‘But you do want enjoyable fruit that’s well held-together.’

Not only did fewer wines accomplish that description this year, but prices were higher too. For the first time in the Sommelier Wine Awards our tasters found no House Reds under £4; there were two last year, and three the year before that. Which, if you’re looking for a £15 price point on your wine list, makes things decidedly difficult.

‘A real challenge with the house wine is that the quality really needs to reflect the price structure, so each step up has to deliver that much more,’ said Enigma 88’s Michael Moore.

The most expensive Gold-Listed red this year certainly managed that. Bodegas Borsao seems to produce extraordinarily good wine for the price year after year, and it thoroughly deserved its Critics Choice and Food Match awards.

‘From a house wine, I want something that’s fresh, so that you can have it with everything and people will want another sip.’
Marco Adreani, The Pass at South Lodge

‘House reds should be easy drinking, for that second glass at the bar without needing a glass of water or a steak.’
Louise Gordon, The Rib Room

‘There were some very good wines for the money. Any restaurant should be able to pick a house wine from the medal winners.’
Nigel Lister, York & Albany

‘The house wine is a reflection of your property so it has to really deliver.’
Mark Thornhill, The Cricketers, Witney

andrea briccarello @briccarello
I’m off to the SWA 2013. I’m looking forward to some rich reds to warm me up @ImbibeSWA