New Restaurant Wine List Competition Launched

In the same week the Diners Club Wine List Awards are announced, a new competition is launched.

by: Cathy Marston | 23 Sep 2011

The Top 100 SA Wines has announced a new extension to their brand in the form of a Top 100 SA Wine List Challenge. Owner Robin von Holdt says the aim is to become recognised as the premier judged wine list event in SA “Top 100 will provide a benchmark annual event that sets the standard for all future wine list competitions and rankings.” In keeping with the Top 100 SA Wines competition which boasted a stellar range of very qualified judges, the Wine List Challenge will be judged by a panel of 4 well-known sommeliers and one Cape Wine Master who edits a wine and lifestyle magazine which immediately differentiates it from Diners Club which is judged by mainly wine judges and journalists.

Its other main point of difference from the existing competition is the way the scoring is conducted. According to Robin von Holdt “ For the first time there is now a wine list challenge that defines and communicates how the judging takes place. It is clear and precise and there is no ambiguity. The advantage to establishments entering the Top 100 Challenge is that they will know why they succeeded, as well as how to apply themselves in order to gain a future higher ranking. This marks the end of subjective and speculative competitions where no one is clear about their ranking, nor how to improve their position.”

Now many people’s first response to this is – do we really need yet another competition? Well, in this case, I think we probably do. My article on the Diners Club Awards last year is, I believe, still relevant this year too, although they have added local wine list expert, Nikki Dumas to their judging panel. Because of the restrictions on entry (you have to accept Diners Club cards in order to qualify), I think it is perfectly reasonable to have an alternative competition which is open to all. All the details – and there are plenty! – are linked here. But here are some points and my thoughts about this new competition.

1.    Costs. Unlike Diners Club, this one charges up to R678 for entry with a further R1,130 if you are included in the Top 100. This is the same model as the Top 100 Wines competition and to be honest, I don’t really have that much of a problem with this. I guess people will enter if they think they have a good list and if they don’t, then they probably won’t – which (as I understand it) is pretty much the case for Diners Club anyway. One good thing I have heard from wineries regarding the Top 100 Wines competition is that there has been a good level of marketing and coverage year round, and this is also promised for Wine List winners as well, making the costs seem far more reasonable.

2.    Scoring. The scoring system is extremely comprehensive and detailed, however my one criticism of it would be that it would be useful for restaurants to know what you need to score to achieve the different levels. In particular, I would like to know the minimum amount of points you need to score to get an award of any sort. Robin points out that this may deter people from entering and that their list may still do well on the Good Value scale, even if it doesn’t rate one of the other four levels.

3.    Good Value Consumer Judges. This is an interesting addition and brings a useful dimension to the awards. The lists will be judged on the main criteria by the five ‘professional’ judges and then, if it ticks additional boxes in terms of low mark-ups, wines under R100 etc, it will be passed onto a further panel of Consumer Judges to be considered for a Good Value Award. For most diners out, this will probably prove the most informative and useful element of this Challenge.

4.    Who will enter? As with any new competition, this is the question on everyone’s lips. The scoring and the entry form seem to be heavily skewed towards rewarding the very finest of fine dine establishments and hotels – simply because very few restaurants can afford the staff, the stock levels, the overseas wines, the glassware, the storage conditions required to score maximum points. Nevertheless, the Good Value element to the competition does offer a way of rewarding smaller establishments with good lists and I suppose that if an establishment spends money on all those elements listed above, it is only fair that this is recognised in competitions.

Following the barrage of criticism earlier this year for his wine competition, Robin is bracing himself for another round with a wry smile! But, as with the Top 100 SA Wines, this Challenge has some new and different elements to it which it is good to explore. There are plenty of partnership opportunities between the Top 100 SA Wines and the Top 100 SA Wine List restaurants, and when Robin adds in his wine touring slant as well (which should be operating this coming season), the brand becomes a useful tool in attracting and directing overseas visitors. As with the Top 100 SA Wines competition, I feel this is a bit of a ‘work in progress’ and I will not be surprised to see tweaks and changes for next year. But it’s different, it’s new, it’s got possibilities and it’s got somebody who’s prepared to put his money where his mouth is and try to make a change in the industry. And simply on that level alone, I look forward to seeing this Challenge add a useful dimension to the South African dining out scene.

A press release sent out to restaurants today now gives approximate scores needed to qualify for an award. This is an important change in terms of restaurants choosing to take part in the competition because now they can use the detailed breakdown of points to determine their chances of success before committing any money - a much fairer scheme and a welcome improvement.

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