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MERCHANT OF THE YEAR AWARDS

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.

BIBENDUM


Michael Saunders

Bibendum has grown into a real force in the Sommelier Wine Awards. This was the fourth time in six years that it’s taken the Merchant of the Year award, and on this occasion it wasn’t even close. It was out in front by some distance. No one came within sample-spitting distance of either its overall medal count – or its 50 Golds – in a fine performance that fully deserved to wrest back the crown from last year’s winner, Enotria&Coe. Bibendum’s success in 2020 wasn’t just about carpet-bombing the competition to pick up lots of medals, however. First of all, the vast majority of its medals were in the crucial £10-£20 area. This, understandably, is the most competitive area of SWA, so to dominate as it did here shows great buying – these are wines that can stand out even in a crowded field. Secondly, its entry was not dominated by one particular producer or country – in fact it was striking how evenly spread around the globe its Golds were. With an Old World/New World split of around 60/40 this was a performance with great wines in every area and no obvious weaknesses. On top of that, there’s the fact that seven of our 12 Critics’ Choice wines came from Bibendum. It’s an extraordinary level of dominance of a section that is impossible to predict – awarded, as it is, purely on the basis of wines that stop our tasters dead in their tracks. It’s proof, if any were needed, that while Bibendum might be a big name there is no shortage of real gems within its portfolio.

 

HALLGARTEN & NOVUM WINES


Andrew Bewes

This was the third year running that Hallgarten has won the European Merchant of the Year in this competition – and it looks increasingly like a merchant that ought to be on the radar of any restaurant looking for wines of real character. Over three-quarters of its 30+ Golds were from Europe, which is similar to last year’s numbers. But whereas 2019’s performance was built largely on ‘classic’ European wines, this year’s was subtly different. Yes, there was champagne, Pouilly-Fumé, Chianti and a hugely pricey but utterly wonderful Condrieu. But many of the merchant’s top-scoring wines this year came from less well-known regions or countries. The downside was that while Bordeaux, Rioja and Germany, for instance, were somewhat lacking, there were plenty of great examples from Georgia, southern Italy, unheralded bits of Spain and, of course, Greece. Oh, and every single somm in the UK should make an effort to try the wonderful Gerovassiliou Malagousia…

 

MATTHEW CLARK


Simon Jerome

Matthew Clark has an up-and-down record in SWA – but 2020 was most definitely an ‘up’ year. It had the second biggest number of Golds (behind Bibendum), and the second highest medal count (ditto) in probably its strongest SWA showing yet. And while it was good across the board, its New World showing was the stand-out feature. If you did nothing but list its 14 New World Golds, you would have a range that ticked off most must-list styles from outside Europe. Everything from price-fighting Kiwi or Chilean Sauvignons, bargain Cape Chenin and Aussie Shiraz, to elegant classics like Eden Valley Riesling and Mornington Pinot. But you’d also find yourself in possession of quirky oddities such as Hawke’s Bay Malbec (who even knew that was a thing) and an orange Chilean Moscatel from Itata (ditto). It was, in other words, a New World range that was both practical and stimulating – a tough trick to pull off.

 

BOUTINOT


Dennis Whiteley

It’s no great surprise to see Boutinot picking up this award again – it’s done so three times in the past four years, and its value for money always stands out. Certainly, the numbers are impressive. Over 80% of its Golds this year were under £14, and 60% were under £10. That wouldn’t be so noteworthy if you were only submitting ten wines into SWA, but it’s a seriously impressive effort when you’re putting in as many wines as Boutinot did. Picking up a Pub & Bar and a By The Glass award just cemented its value credentials. Boutinot is often well-known for its French wines, but the latter was subdued this year. It was (mostly northern) Italy and Spain that together brought in almost half of the merchant’s medals. Look through these winning wines, and it’s amazing how often you find absolutely key styles – Rioja, rosé, Cape Chenin, Chianti and Sauvignon Blanc at sub £8. A fine effort, and proof that Boutinot should be on the radar of any venue looking for wines that overdeliver at sub £40 on a list.

MAJESTIC COMMERCIAL


John Colley and Keith Blessly

Majestic was carving out a deserved niched for itself in SWA as being the king of value, but then the whole Naked thing happened, and it went rather quiet. So it was great to see it back this year – not least because it absolutely stormed the value end of the list. Majestic had a smaller entry than Boutinot, but was doing a slightly different job, which is why we have two winners in this category this year. And talk about amazing prices! Every one of its 26 medals, bar a couple of champagnes and some Loire whites, was under £10. Particularly impressive is the fact that within its Gold and Silver medals it so often ticks off essential wine styles: Côtes du Rhône, Beaujolais, Chianti, Rioja, Pinot Grigio, prosecco, Macon, Aussie Shiraz… these are wines that everybody needs. And few merchants, on this evidence, can provide them at a better price than Majestic Commercial.

 

EUROWINES


Nello Battistel and Leo Addis

Italy is always one of SWA’s biggest categories and it seems to be one that several merchants specialise in, so we tend to give out this award every year. This, incredibly, is the eighth year in a row that Eurowines has won it! Yes, Italy is its speciality, but it’s one it does really well. Despite being a relatively small merchant, it had more medals from Italy than anybody else, which shows there’s some top-class selection – both of estates and wines – going on. It’s strongest in the North – over half its medals came from the North-East or North-West – but it seems to find interesting examples from the centre and South, too. Only Tuscany – on this year’s evidence – seems to be rather quiet. As impressive as the number of medals this year was the pricing. Half of its medals and all but two of its Golds were under £15, which is a better performance than last year.

 

TOP SELECTION


Michelle and Akos Forczek

You wouldn’t, in all probability, go looking to Top Selection for the lower end of your wine list. Only four of its 60+ medals were under £10. But what it has proved in SWA over the past few years is that it is practically without equal when it comes to sourcing top-end wines. Yes, 80% of its awarded wines were over £15, but happily they tend to be in parts of the list where quality rather than price – or, more accurately, over-delivery and character – are the key fa ctors. And, led by the formidable Akos Forczek, there’s clearly some top-class buying at play here. Its Golds this year included some of the best examples of Amarone, Barolo, Riesling (both Mosel and Alsace), Bordeaux, Chablis, Burgundy and Tokaji from this year’s competition. But there were brave new additions, too: a pricey but beautiful Malbec from La Consulta, a Swiss white from Paolo ‘Somm du Monde’ Basso and a cracking Catalan vermouth.

Take a look at our award winning producers.