26 January, 2020

Rob Hirst reveals the secret to a great wine list

Rob Hirst reveals the secret to a great wine list

The 2017 Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards are announced on Monday, July 31, so we sat down with the founder, Rob Hirst to discuss just how far wine lists have come in Australia during the 24 years he's been running the awards. 

the drinks association is delighted to support these benchmark Awards as official Trade Communications Partner, via drinks trade magazine.  

The awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the achievements of sommeliers and venues as they enhance appreciation among diners of the amazing wines our country produces.

Grant Dickson, from fermentAsian, which took out the top award in 2016 (pictured above with Rob Hirst, Gourmet Travellery WINE's Judy Sarris and the drinks association's Sandra Przibilla) has noted: “Winning the Wine List of the Year award has legitimised a less-than-conventional, narrative-based approach to listing and selling delicious wine. I’m sure that other sommeliers with a song in their heart and a fierce yearning to tell stories will be heartened by our success and feel more confident in submitting their offering.”

The AWLOTYA judging panel reviews wine lists for many qualities, including user friendliness, the quality of the wines and how well the list fits the style of the venue.

Here's what Rob Hirst has to say about the evolution of the awards and Aussie wine lists:

Why did you launch the AWLOTYAs?

Back in the early 1990’s Tucker Seabrook was working closely with the on-premise trade across Australia and started to see the development of some outstanding wine lists, but the great lists were few and far between and those that were investing in and crafting extraordinary lists were not being recognised.

What is the purpose of the awards?

In 1994 we established Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards to recognise and reward the enormous investment by establishment owners that goes into developing the best quality wine lists (and cellars) and to also recognise and reward the dedicated and talented sommeliers creating those lists for Australia’s restaurants, hotels, clubs, wine bars, pubs, cafes and brasseries – large and small.

Perhaps the major beneficiaries of this ever increasing quality of Australia’s wine and beverage lists are the nation’s hospitality and tourism industries generally and the nation’s more discerning consumers, who demand a wine and beverage offer when dining out that matches the world class standard of Australia’s produce and chefs today.

From a consumer perspective the purpose was to also draw attention to those establishments and sommeliers doing it well and constant feedback from the entrants confirms that these awards have also been influential in raising the public's interest in fine wine generally, and have improved their appreciation of the participating establishments.

How have the awards evolved over the years?

The standard of Australia’s wine lists has risen dramatically, as has the level of talent, knowledge and experience of owners and sommeliers alike. This increased professionalism within the industry has encouraged an even greater commitment to and investment in the cellars and wine lists across Australia.

Now regarded by many as the premier national awards for wine lists across Australia, it could be argued that the Awards have been assisted significantly in lifting the standard of Australia's wine lists over the last two decades – to quote the Chairman of Judges for the first 10 years of the awards, Huon Hooke: “Standards have improved out of sight since the first awards.” And each year the bar keeps rising.

This significant growth in the standard of Australia’s wine lists is paralleled by the growth in interest in sommelier education in Australia – for example WSET and CMS, to name two global options, plus our local TAFE option. With this greater standard of education has come a much deeper understanding of wine, the world of wine and its place at the table. The wine list is the ultimate expression of the sommeliers true knowledge and skill – to quote a recent National Sommelier Champion in China – Ying Guo, “the wine list is the face of the sommelier”!

Encouraging and sometimes leading this evolution in Australia’s wine list scene and the significant lift in the standard of the nation’s sommeliers and wine professionals generally the awards on offer today have grown significantly to over double those originally offered.

Since the awards were launched an average of one additional award has been added each year with each reflecting either a trend in consumer tastes or a recognised need in the industry, including:

Judy Hirst Award

Best Country Restaurant

Best Wine Bar List

The Tony Hitchin Award (Best New List)

Best Small Wine List (50 Wines)

Best Small Wine List (100 Wines)

Best List Of Wines By The Glass

Best Food & Wine Matching List

Best Champagne List

Best Sparkling Wine List

Best Non-Alcoholic Drink List

Best Aperitif List

Best Digestif List

Best Beer List

Best Listing of a Region's Wines

Best Listing Of Australian Wines

Best Listing of ACT Wines

Best Listing of NSW Wines

Best Listing of Queensland Wines

Best Listing of South Australian Wines

Best Listing of Tasmanian Wines

Best Listing of Victorian Wines

Best Listing of Western Australian Wines

Gourmet Traveller Wine Readers’ Choice Award

What defines a great wine list?

Quality is key to choice of wines - having an original and innovative choice, with some mature wines from good vintages, avoiding poor vintages.

It's also important to carefully match varieties and regions, have an appropriate variety of wines by the glass and offer adequate list of aperitifs, beers, spirits, liqueurs and waters/non-alcoholic.

A wine list needs to offer balance of pricing relevant to an establishment, with a mix of domestic and imported wines, regions and wine styles.

Consideration needs to be given to suitability to cuisine, style and image of establishment.

We also need to see the right presentation - including vintages, offering accurate and consistent presentation of information, clear design for easy navigation, pricing, appropriateness and value.

How have dining experiences changed in Australia since the AWLOTYAs were launched?

Australia today offers world-class produce and chefs and establishments to match.

This change has demanded wines and wine service to match and producers and the trade have risen to the task.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in wine lists?

The trends are reflected in the increased competition that exists for the new awards that have been introduced to recognise trends within the trade and with the consumer.