Robert Hughes is feeling pretty chuffed. The owner of the Penhelig Arms hotel in Aberdyfi, Gwynedd, has just scooped his first wine award. Actually, make that two wine awards. As well as winning this year's Wine List Pub of the Year, he has picked up Wine Pub of the Year in the revamped Les Routiers Guide.
With good reason, too. He has more than 300 wines on his list, 40 half-bottles and 30 wines by the glass, and he has introduced virtually everybody in the pretty Welsh estuary village to the delights of Viognier, Albari¤o and even Mexican Nebbiolo.
"I've always had a thing about wine," he explains. "It started back in the 1970s when I was working for Sainsbury's. Then we used to save up our money, come up to London and blow the lot in the Dorchester or the Savoy. Even when I go to London now, I still spend a bit on wine."
Hughes prides himself on his low mark-ups. "Actually, I don't have a particular mark-up policy - I just look at a bottle and decide."
Prices are reasonable, to say the least. Hot Italian producer Ca dei Frati's Lugana is on the list at £14.90 (elsewhere it's as much as £10 dearer), while 1990 Pommery is offered at £60 a bottle. Do they drink much Champagne in Aberdyfi? "Oh, yes, we sell a lot of Champagne," confirms Hughes. The house bubbly is Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs, at £4 a glass.
Talking of wines by the glass, Hughes reckons that a turning point for his business was the installation a year ago of a Verre de Vin preservation system, which allows him to sell an ever-changing line-up of about 30 wines by the glass, which he offers in two sizes (175ml and 250ml).
What are people drinking? "Everything," Hughes says, "though quite a lot of my customers leave the choice up to me." France may dominate the offerings on the list, he reveals, but sales of French wine do not. The reasons why lie in his selection of wines by the glass from all corners of the vinous globe, from Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc (Shaw & Smith, £16.90) to Marlborough Chardonnay (Jackson Estate, £17.90) and Salinas Pinot Noir (Gary's Vineyard, Testarossa, £45).
And what's with the Mexican Nebbiolo? "It's very good, actually - it tastes just like a Barolo," Hughes says. It is available from Tanners Wine Merchants, if you're wondering - LA Cetto 1996, which Hughes lists at £17.90 a bottle.
"One thing I have noticed is how many Italian wines I'm selling at the moment," Hughes adds. "And not just Pinot Grigio and Chianti - we sell huge amounts of fish here, and quality Italian whites, such as Gavi di Gavi, go exceptionally well."
What's next for his list? "Parts of Argentina are really exciting me at the moment," he says. "I haven't got enough from there on the list. And Portugal - I need a closer look at that."
A rum deal
London bar Six Degrees has walked away as the winner of Bacardi Rum's Create a Capital Cocktail competition. Bacardi invited more than 80 bars and mixologists to participate (using its Carta Blanca rum as the base), while punters voted for their favourite drink.
Representatives of the leading eight bars from this selection then took part in a grand shake-off, with bartender Merlin Griffiths of Six Degrees landing the top prize with his Six Degrees of Sun (Bacardi rum, Cointreau, passion fruit pur‚e, sugar syrup and lemon juice, garnished with a physalis flower). Cicada's Mikael Isaksson came second with his Cicada Kick (rum muddled with fresh lime, sugar, chilli, cucumber and coriander).
Somerfield senior wine buyer Angela Mount has had her taste-buds insured for £10m, giving her the world's most expensively insured body part - after J-Lo's bum.
Mount was responsible for increasing wine sales at the supermarket chain by 15% last year, and the figure is growing year on year, the company reports.
Mount's taste-buds are now in a class with celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson's tongue, which he hopes to insure for £500,000 (see Table Talk, Caterer, 4 December, page 20), and critic Egon Ronay's taste-buds, insured for $400,000 (£230,000).
Meanwhile, the folks at Finlandia have finally found the winner of the UK Finlandia Vodka Cup 2003 after a year-long search and three semi-finals. Step up Kevin Armstrong from London's Match Bar group - his three cocktails generated an overall mark that beat Carl Wrangel from London's Market Place and Angus McGregor of the Montpelier Group in Edinburgh.
"My idea was to create a set of cocktails that are simple, effective and could easily be replicated in bars or at home," Armstrong says. "I wanted the drinks to work well together as a collection, rather than make three individuals, so they were all similar in colour." He wins a trip to Finland and a place in the International Finlandia Vodka Bartender of the Year 2003 final.