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Wine list of the year - another flawed competition?

The Diners Club wine list - is the competition all it's cracked up to be?

by: Cathy Marston | 20 Sep 2010

The full list of the winners at Diners Club wine list of the year awards is published today. Entries were up by a pleasing 10% overall indicating increased interest on the part of restaurants to improve their wine offering to their customers. In addition, chairman of the judges, Dave Hughes, commented on the increase of wine by the glass and also entry-level priced wines, something which he attributes to the current economic climate.

Overall best restaurant wine lists in the country went to two Western Cape venues, Zachary’s Restaurant at the Pezula Hotel & Spa in Knysna and Bosman’s Restaurant at the Grande Roche in Paarl. The Western Cape also snaffled up the best Platinum Winelist which was won by The Turbine Hotel & Spa in Knysna and the best wine steward for Glenroy du Plessis at Bosman’s.

Absent friends?
According to Whale Cottage blog, several of the most prestigious restaurants in the Western Cape were not mentioned in the awards indicating that they either didn’t enter (perhaps because a condition of entry is that you have to accept Diners Club cards even though they charge a much higher merchant rate than other credit cards) or weren’t placed. The list includes Rust en Vrede, Bizerca Bistro, Overture, Cape Colony at the Mount Nelson and the Bombay Brasserie at the Taj Hotel amongst others.

Areas of expertise?
In addition, I think it is also worth looking at the specific areas of expertise of the judging panel. With the possible exception of JP Rossouw (and his speciality is writing about restaurants rather than running them) the panel was made up of highly respected and proficient wine writers, wine tasters and wine makers, none of whom (as far as I’m aware) have any first-hand experience of running a restaurant, compiling a restaurant wine list or even working within the retail sector at all.

Sponsored wine lists (where a big corporation pays a restaurant to list a large number of their wines) are a scourge of our country and whilst most people can spot a Distell wine list at 20 paces, I wonder how many people could identify a Meridian-sponsored one, or Vinimark, Cape Legends, DGB or even some of our smaller distributers? The fact that they had to co-opt Gawie Marx, GM of the Grand Roche (one of the overall winners,) onto the panel suggests that they realised their shortcomings, albeit too late to augment the judging panel with people from the retail sector.

What’s the answer?
Firstly, let me just say that I don’t wish to suggest that any of the awards given out aren’t fully deserved by the restaurants who’ve attained them, that the judges aren’t excellent at what they do or that there has been any ‘foul play’ whatsoever. I just think that the flaws in this competition are stopping it from fully benefitting the industry in the way it should.

In an ideal world, there should be no restrictions on entry whatsoever. The judges should come from a variety of backgrounds, including retail, restaurants, hotels etc (people who spring to mind include ex-sommeliers Arnold Vorster and Mia Martensson and ex-Balducci GM, Nikki Dumas for starters. And me, an ex-restaurateur and previous winner of several Platinum awards – I offered my services this year, but alas, to no avail!). It may also be good to try and include some judges from outside the Western Cape as well (there may well be particular quirks or requirements of the restaurant trade in Durban, Johannesburg etc of which WC judges are unaware). And finally there should be some way of positively rewarding those restaurants who do make an effort - at one time, Diners Club offered 0.5% discount on their rate to all award-winning restaurants which actually did make entering the competition worthwhile. Something of a similar nature would be good if we are really going to drive standards upwards and improve the wine lists in this country.

Read more on: cathy marston

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