The Nelson Hospitality Association held a celebration of all things excellent in the industry every two years before the industry was severely impacted by the Covid pandemic. At the celebratory dinner awards were handed out to the best front-of-house person, the best barperson, best security professional, best young chef, best chef and best restaurant among others and I was invited to judge the best beverage list award for several years.
When it comes to judging anything the process has to be clear, even if the final award winners come down to the personal choice of the judges, I set up a process that ensured the Best Beverage List was able to be won by any hospitality business. I judged the various lists based on suitability for the venue (be it a bar or fine dining restaurant), the selection of non-alcohol drinks as well as alcoholic drinks, the inclusion of local wines, the selection of drinks available by the glass, the design and readability of this list and finally my perception of how much effort was put into crafting the list.
If you print a wine list in black print on a red card then you will go straight to the bottom of my class, and probably will end up wearing a dunce’s cap too. Black on red is one of the hardest colour combinations to read, especially in the dim lighting of a restaurant, and owners need to present something that can be read, not just something that has cool design features.
The last factor is important because many beverage companies offer to prepare the wine lists for venues and these can be very good beverage lists, but it’s the owners and bar managers who put a lot of effort into crafting their own lists that really stand out.
One venue that never entered the local beverage list competition is Hopgood’s & Co Restaurant & Bar, owner Kevin Hopgood told me that while they are really proud of the things they do to create a great dining experience when it comes to local awards he doesn’t want to enter everything, and the beverage list is one he chooses not to enter.
That doesn’t mean the Hopgood’s & Co beverage list isn’t very good, in fact, it is world-class. They were recently shortlisted for the Best Designed Wine List at the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2022. To put this shortlisting into perspective others on the same shortlist are Mesa in Macau, China; House of Tides, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Lazy Bear, California, San Francisco, USA and Astrid & Gaston, Lima, Peru.
One other New Zealand venue has been shortlisted too, Charlie Noble in Wellington is entered in the Most Original Wine List category. The World of Fine Wine Awards have entries from all around the world and include some of the finest bars and restaurants.
So how much effort goes in to designing a world-class wine list? Hopgood’s & Co owner Kevin Hopgood told me they put a lot of focus on getting their beverage list right, not only do they have to offer diners a decent selection, the wines need to be able to pair with dishes they serve as well as being affordable. “If we get it right then the right wine will enhance the food we serve and vice versa, the food you’re eating will affect the flavours of the wine so we try and make sure we offer something that will pair with our food and that people will love.
“We are approached almost daily by wine reps and winery owners who want us to put their products on our wine list, some of the wines are very good and would probably work nicely with the food we serve but we simply can’t put every wine we like on the menu. If we did our wine list would be a 50 page book and we would need huge storage space for the stocks we would need to carry, so it just isn’t practical.”
The design of the wine list is also important, as evidenced by the fact there is an award for this at the World of Fine Wines Wine List Awards, “people need to be able to find the style or variety of wine they’re looking for easily, but also be tempted by things they may not have tried before, by getting the design right we should be able to make it difficult for diners to choose from an enticing selection” and that’s one of the things Hopgood’s puts a focus on, enticing diners to try something new.
“We want to have interesting and rare wines on our list, we are incredibly lucky to have a few wineries who are prepared to sell us library stocks of aged wines, having a properly aged wine can really enhance the dining experience.”
Because Hopgood’s & Co is also a bar they have an excellent selection of spirits, beers and cocktails too. Kevin says “We have a cocktail specialist working behind the bar so people can drop in for a lovely, freshly crafted cocktail or craft beer and have some food from our bar snacks menu if they don’t feel like a full meal. People often come in early for a drink before they have dinner so we try and make the whole dining experience one people can really enjoy.
“We want people to relax and have a great time while they enjoy the food that comes out of the kitchen, our chefs love making tasty and innovative small plates to go with drinks at the bar.”
The winners of the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2022 will be announced at a ceremony to be held in London on the 12th of September and if Hopgood’s & Co win, or not, just being shortlisted for the prestigious awards is something to be incredibly proud of and to celebrate. https://worldoffinewine.com/