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Restaurant Wine Lists – 29.08.14

The bi-annual Nelson Hospitality Awards function was held at The Rutherford Hotel last Monday. These awards celebrate excellence in the hospitality industry in the region and cover a wide range of categories; some are judged awards while others are voted for by the public and the industry members. Everything from the best doorman, best bar person, best barista, best chef, best café, best restaurant and everything else associated with the hospitality sector was recognised at the awards.

The Indian Café in Collingwood Street was chosen as the best ethnic restaurant, as having the best front-of-house service person and as the region’s best restaurant by public vote and, based on the reaction of the winners, they are immensely proud of the achievement – well done.

Among the few judged awards is one I have been asked to assess for the last six years or so, the best beverage list. It started out as the best wine list but the organisers and I soon realised that a good drinks list is about more than just wine as a wide range of establishments need to be able to enter for this award.

Rather than being nominated, as happens in other categories, establishments submit their menu and drinks list for judging and as you can imagine entries are received from all quarters, cafes, bars, pizza outlets and fine dining restaurants and trying to sort out a winner from such a wide range of dining styles can be challenging.

So what makes a great beverage list and how do I assess the winner? To make it fair to everyone who enters I have developed a points system for assessing the list, a bit like we do when judging wines. In this case I used a 20 point system with five categories: Choices – 5 points, Suits the venue – 4, Craft beers – 3, Low/No Alcohol options – 3, Overall balance of the list – 5

The Choices section is about having local products on the beverage list so visitors and locals alike get to choose locally produced products as well as having national and international options.

An important section for me is ‘Suits the venue’; is the list appropriate for the venue taking into account things like location (waterfront, city centre etc); is it appropriate for the style of venue (bar, café, restaurant, casual, etc); is it appropriate for the food style? This section helps me put the beverage list into context.

With the huge growth in the craft beer sector I think it is important venues have at least one or two craft style beers available and host responsibility is a significant issue for the hospitality industry and so any drinks list must have obviously available low and non-alcohol options.

Finally the overall balance section covers things like does the list have a short, clear description of the product (wines in particular); what is the overall quality of the product at the price-point; is there a reasonable range of wines available by the glass. This is also where I allocated points for the overall feel of the list – if I am a diner would I be happy with the selection in front of me?

Overall Nelson eateries provide some outstanding beverage choices for their patrons but the list I chose as the winner this year belongs to The Styx Kitchen and Bar on Wakefield Quay.

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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