From the Judge's Table: Insights from Christopher St. James Sommelier at Esquire, chicago

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15/04/2024 Mastering Wine's Symphony: Insights from Christopher St. James at Sommeliers Choice Awards

In the drinks industry of Chicago, Christopher St. James stands out as a luminary in the world of wine. Starting his career in a quaint bistro-style restaurant named 'Income Tax' in Edgewater, St. James recounts a pivotal moment when a chance encounter with a wine atlas and Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” ignited his passion for enology. His journey from a curious visitor to the lead floor manager and sommelier at Ella Elli reflects a profound dedication to mastering the art of wine service and knowledge. It’s a narrative of growth, driven by mentorship and a deep-rooted love for wine that has helped him carve a niche at one of Chicago's top dining establishments, Esquire.

Christopher is participating as a judge in the 6th edition of the Sommeliers Choice Awards. SCA is now open for entries, wine brands looking to elevate their presence in the on-premise sector are invited to participate before the April 24 deadline

As a seasoned sommelier, St. James brings a unique perspective to the esteemed Sommeliers Choice Awards (SCA), a platform that distinctively integrates professional sommelier insights into its judging process. According to St. James, what sets the SCA apart is its commitment to aligning with current market trends and consumer preferences. The awards focus not just on the traditional excellence of wines but also on underrepresented varieties and regions, broadening the educational and appreciative horizons of consumers. Inviting brands looking to grow awareness in the on-premise sector to enter before April 24, the 6th edition of this wine competition is now open for entries. It’s a unique opportunity to present wines to America's top sommeliers at a time when the benchmarking of wines for on-premise channels has become more critical than ever.

Christopher James emphasizes the complexity of wine judging, noting the intricate balance required to evaluate typicity, quality, value for money, and packaging. He acknowledges that maintaining objectivity, especially in assessing typicity — the truest expression of a wine’s varietal and regional characteristics — is one of the most challenging aspects due to its subjective nature and the evolving styles of wine regions.

Highlighting trends in the wine industry, Christopher James points out the growing popularity of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines, particularly among health-conscious consumers like Gen-Z. He also notes a surge in the demand for lower-alcohol and non-alcoholic wines, alongside an elevated interest in well-crafted mocktails.

For smaller or emerging wineries, Christopher James believes that winning a medal at the Sommeliers Choice Awards can be transformative. Such recognition not only boosts brand visibility and credibility but also opens up substantial marketing and networking opportunities in the competitive wine industry.

The feedback from judges like Christopher James is a cornerstone of the SCA. Aimed at providing constructive insights, this feedback helps entrants refine their offerings. By focusing on objective qualities rather than personal preferences, the feedback fosters improvement and innovation in winemaking, helping brands align more closely with market expectations and quality standards.


With the Sommeliers Choice Awards setting a benchmark for understanding which wines would make compelling additions to wine lists, the detailed score breakdown and direct feedback mechanism are invaluable for any winery looking to excel in the on-premise market. Each panel in the judging process includes a master sommelier, ensuring that every wine is assessed with the highest level of expertise and fairness. This rigorous approach guarantees that each awarded wine not only meets but exceeds the expectations of on-premise buyers and sommeliers, making these accolades highly coveted in the wine industry.

The 2024 Sommeliers Choice Awards results are out! View the results here.