We value every single entry in SWA, of course we do. But every year some merchants stand out from the crowd, picking up large numbers of medals. So if you’re looking to improve your list of suppliers, this is the place to start.



Sam Thackeray and Valerie Lewis

Enotria has picked up a host of Merchant awards in SWA down the years – Old World, New World and Great Value Merchant of the Year, to name just three. Yet oddly, given its clear all-round strength, it’s rarely been seriously in the running for the overall Merchant of the Year award. Until this year, when it left competitors trailing in its wake. Its winning margin was one of the biggest we’ve ever seen in this competition, with more medals in every category than any of its counterparts, plus a lot of Food Match and Critics’ Choice awards. In the process, it became only the second-ever merchant (after Bibendum last year) to pick up more than 50 places on the Gold List – this competition’s equivalent of the four-minute mile. Its success was founded on a truly inspirational performance from its French producers – nearly half its 54 Golds and 69 Silvers came from France, with top medals from Burgundy, the South and the Rhône. The Loire, in particular, racked up hatfuls of awards. Of the main French appellations, only Bordeaux and Champagne were under-represented, and if your entire French selection came from these medal winners, your customers would be delighted. Italy (unsurprisingly), California and Argentina were all well represented, too – but this was a really powerful performance from a stand-out winner.



Andrew Bewes

This was another good year for Hallgarten & Novum. Having picked up the European Merchant of the Year in 2018 with 28 Golds, it cemented its credentials again this year with an improved performance. Of its 35 Gold medals, 28 were from Europe. But this award wasn’t just about numbers – as much as ‘how many’, it was about which wines did well. Along with a lot of good ‘classic’ European Golds from places such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti and the Rhône – the kind of wines that most venues need and sell on a daily basis, there were top medals from less-famous places as well, such as Setubal, Tenerife, Macedonia, the Basque country and, of course, Greece, where Alpha Estate really shone. If we had a criticism it’s that we’d maybe have liked to see more wines entered under £10, but if you’re eager to explore quality wines of Europe, these guys should be on speed dial.


Robert Mathias and Jamie Avenell

After winning overall Merchant of the Year in 2017 and 2018, Bibendum couldn’t sustain the pace for a third year on the trot. But it should be pleased to pick up New World Merchant of the Year nonetheless. This competition sees strong competition in Europe in particular, and it’s striking how uninspiring many of our entrants’ portfolios are once it comes to the New World. But the work that Bibendum has done here over the past few years really stood out. No other submitter managed to pick up Golds from seven New World countries. It was a powerhouse performance – made all the more so by the way in which it mixed established classic styles such as Mendoza Malbec, Barossa Shiraz, Margaret River Cabernet and Otago Pinot Noir, with what we could call emerging classics: Leyda Sauvignon, Washington Syrah and Canadian Cabernet Franc. Indeed, the Critics’ Choice winning Cab Franc was one of the standout wines of this year’s competition.



Georgina Bickers

Boutinot has form with this award. For many years when it wasn’t winning Merchant of the Year, it would pick up the Great Value gong. In the past, it’s sometimes had to share it with other submitters who also did well in terms of value for money. But this year, it had it all to itself – and quite rightly. Value for money has been getting harder to find in this competition, as have cheap wines in general. We’ve never had so few wines under £10 ex VAT sent in. And of all our main submitters, nobody came close to matching the North-West’s finest when it came to five-star wines at two-star prices. Three-quarters of its medal-winning wines were under £12, an astonishing number of them comfortably under £10. Europe’s the bedrock of what it does, so if you’re after price-fighting wines from France, Spain and Italy in particular, there’s nobody better, as its By The Glass and Perfect Pub Partner awards testify.



Jon Sabido

We don’t necessarily give out the same Merchant Awards every year in SWA – they’re driven by outstanding performances, not by pre-set categories. And this is a new one, given to a merchant who we felt had done particularly well this year with the classic wine styles on which most restaurant lists are based. Given such a description, it probably comes as no surprise to you that the recipient is Matthew Clark. The company is a one-stop-shop for venues all around the country who want to be able to fulfil all of their wine needs from one supplier – and that’s what we saw here. English fizz, champagne, Chablis, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Sancerre, Châteauneuf, Albariño, Rioja, Argentinian Malbec, Chilean Carmenère… they picked up top medals for all of them. It was a wide-ranging selection of ‘cheap and competitive’ and ‘expensive and deservedly so’. The only gap? Pricier areas of Italy. Fine if you want Sicily and Etna Rossos, not so good for Tuscany or Piedmont.



Rebecca Leigh and Verity Milns

It’s not that long ago that Liberty Wines won our overall Merchant of the Year award for a terrific performance across the board. Since then, it’s won gongs for Europe and, last year, New World Merchant of the Year. And this year was even more specific. As in 2018, it did particularly well with the New World, but digging deeper revealed a truly exceptional effort from two countries, in particular: Australia and New Zealand. They were the bedrock of Liberty’s medal haul, accounting for almost half of the merchant’s Golds and a third of its Silvers. There were 16 Golds from Australia and New Zealand, and they covered most of the key styles, from Marlborough Sauvignon to Otago Pinot, and Eden Riesling to Rutherglen Muscat. It’s extremely unusual to see such a dominant contribution from this part of the New World, and for this reason it justified our creation of such an award.



James Laird and Leo Addis

If it’s rare to see big medal numbers from some countries, it’s commonplace for Italy. Many merchants send in large numbers of the country’s wines, so this award is given out almost every year. In fact, to be more specific, it is given to Eurowines almost every year. This was the London outfit’s seventh such award in a row. It was close, though. Its total medal count was slightly lower than last year, and as a result, it only pipped Enotria to this gong by a couple of medals. The price increases of the past couple of years were visible here, too: last year well over half its medals were under £15, this year it was around 45%. That said, this was still a good performance. As mentioned earlier, we had huge numbers of Italian wines entered this year, so to pick up medals from Sicily and Sardinia to Piedmont and the Alto Adige in the face of such stiff competition was impressive.



Michelle and Akos Forczek and Mélodie Konforti

Top Selection has developed from a ‘good small player’ to a ‘good medium-sized player’ in this competition, shifting from Boutique Merchant of the Year to Fine Wine Merchant of the Year in the process. It picked up the latter for the first time in 2018, and did so again this year. Yet the make-up of its winning wines seemed subtly different. Whereas last year was more about beautiful examples from classic fine wine regions, this year what impressed our judges was the ability to unearth great wines from unusual places. So as well as Mosel Riesling and the now regular Golds for Lequin Colin in Burgundy, we saw places on our Gold List go to a Bull’s Blood, a £50 Mendozan Pinot Noir and a £20 Moroccan rosé. That so many of the unusual entries picked up top medals is testament to the palate of the buying team. There’s everything here from ‘classic’ to ‘quirky’ – united only in its excellence.