Monthly Archives: July 2018

BACKGROUND TO SAWi WINE LIST AWARDS

A great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. – David Lynch

‘Most restaurant wine lists are praised and given awards for reasons that have little to do with its real purpose, as if it existed only to be admired passively, like a stamp collection. A wine list is good only when it functions well in tandem with a food menu. – Gerald Asher

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”- Robert Mondavi

Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s most respected wine writers, recognises these kinds of awards as the sommelier’s chance to shine: ‘Great chefs get stars; great wine lists get less attention’.

As Johnson alludes too, wine lists do not receive the attention that they deserve. In the SAWi World of Fine Wine it has become something of priority for all the reasons as set out about the wine list awards on this website.

Many of us when sitting down in a restaurant have the habit of first taking the wine list and scrolling over the prices depending on the wine category we fit into (as a personal behavioral attribute):
– social drinkers who normally go for the cheapest wine;
– basic wine drinkers who rather choose a label they know and also won’t spend much;
– conservative traditionalists (snobs) who normally do not know what a good wine is but, mostly targets middle-of-the-road bottles, while also being influenced by price;
– wine enthusiasts who are experimenters and adventurers who want to know what a good wine is and are keen to learn more and therefore ask questions first;
– connoisseurs going after higher end wines to impress and enjoy the experience with others.

So, what’s the problem? Well, let the penny drop. Do you allow yourself to order some other appetizing drink first until you have decided what to eat if you really want to experience how food and wine can complement each other? As it stands, it could well be argued that the majority of restaurant wine lists are of little help to let patrons discover their taste preferences of wine and as a result to exit their comfort zones and try something new. The list must satisfy all the needs for lunch or supper and celebrating events. It should obviously also fit the food menu.

Then again, the wine list may be as good as it gets but, in top establishments, should be backed up by a well-trained sommelier or wine-stewards that knows wines and could engage and provide valuable advice based on a guest’s food preferences. Once served, these experts should share more information about the particular selection (that is if patrons are interested to know). In other words, their mastery should be put to good use in engaging enough with patrons.

WINE LIST EXPERIENCES

‘See if any of this sounds familiar: You’re in a restaurant that takes wine very seriously, one where a thick, leather-bound, 25-page book arrives with great fanfare–and a thud–at the table. If you’re in a group with no discernible host, who picks it up? Ideally there’s a wine geek in the mix to take charge (fraught with its own perils, not least of which is listening to that person). Otherwise it’s a game of hot potato–one that few diners want to play anymore.

That’s tough for me to accept. I’ve spent the past decade working as a sommelier in restaurants with supersize wine lists, but I’ve come to realise that my acquisitiveness appeals to only two types of customer: the aforementioned oenophile, a guy (it’s usually a guy) who’s just as likely to bring in his own bottle as he is to order something from me, or the fellow sommelier, also usually a male nerd, whose childhood affinity for, say, baseball cards morphed into a fascination with oxidized, skin-fermented white wines from Slovenia.

But when it comes to typical drinkers, I’m under pressure to edit things down. As one friend put it: ‘I don’t come to your restaurant to read a book’. I learned the less-is-more, one-page approach to wine
lists rather than just buying anything that had been my MO for much of the previous decade. I had
to make each choice count. I was curating rather than collecting. The result reads like a menu rather than a list, which is the whole point; the idea that a great cellar must be a ‘deep’ one is on the way out.

It’s tough to downsize. Sommeliers don’t really ‘do’concise. Much as I have come to love parsing the differences among Barolos (and acquiring as many vintages and producers as possible), it’s my job to find a perfect, textbook Barolo for the person who’s never tried one. Because on any given night, I deal with greater numbers of neophytes than of fellow connoisseurs and finding wines for them is more difficult–and more satisfying–than jousting with an expert.

So, is the short list a better way to go? If you trust the restaurant, yes. My idea of a great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. While my cork-sniffing brethren and I may hate to admit it, an encyclopaedic list doesn’t really do that. It may be a book, but it doesn’t tell a story’. – David Lynch

COMMENT ON 2018 ACHIEVEMENTS

Cape White and Red Bordeaux and Rhone Blends, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Dessert Wines and Cape Ports again received the highest average point scores.

Shiraz shows the most wines (55) in the GWC, followed by Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cape Bordeaux blends all in the upper forties.

The success of Cape Rhone Red Blends further adds to the stronghold for Shiraz. This blend has certainly much potential to excel further with a wide spread coming from various regions. Grenache is gaining more attention as a single cultivar wine but Malbec is still slow to follow.

Chardonnay, also called the noblest white grape variety, Succeeds in a number of styles, from un-oaked to richly oaked. It remains one of the GWC drivers while being a favourite for blending in Méthode Cap Classic sparkling wines.

Chenin Blanc had very fine performances showing interesting style differences. It shows the same versatility as a leader in blended wines too. This has become a category that are noticeably excelling.

Next to follow in terms of the success table is Cape Red Bordeaux Blends. This cross-regional blend of the Bordeaux type blend in France, acts like Cape Rhône blends, to combine different virtues into a wine which at its best, is greater than the sum of its parts is well exploited locally to be another stronghold here.

Sauvignon Blanc is the third main white wine cultivar and also part of the tradition in defining South African wines. Its
representation in the GWC is less strong than Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, also in points averages.

However, where Sauvignon Blanc does show its metal is in White Wine Rhone Blends in combination with Semillon. This is a category which could convert more wines into the 95+ class tier.

There are other single cultivar white wines also showing up in much smaller numbers like before, including the traditional Cape Riesling and Gewürtstraminer. It is rather Semillon and Viognier that show the potential to see many more wines being ranked.

Other white wine blends combined only have two representative wines in the GWC and seems not yet to attract serious attention as this remains an all sorts category.

Up next is for bragging rights is Pinot Noir which is very terroir specific and particularly excels in the unique Hermanus and Elgin soil types. It once again showed up an exceptional performance.

The top 10 list here seems not to deviate much but for others on the brink of making the rankings almost ready to show true muscle too.

So, what is next? Well, there is no simple definition of a dessert wine but it includes many made from a grape what is called in a state of noble rot. The position of this category here could be expected given the variety of this wine style that all other countries share.

Now to turn to Cabernet Sauvignon which, along with a few other red wine cultivars, used to be in some way the traditional
backbone of the industry here. Today it still fills the biggest portion of hectares planted but happens to have half the numbers than Shiraz in the GWC.

This could partly be ascribed to the fact that like elsewhere it rather does better in red wine blends, although not really as a leading cultivar outside Bordeaux blends.

Merlot shows the same tendency as Cabernet While specifically sensitive to drought and high temperatures, it just seems not to be a meaningful contributor as a single cultivar to the success of SA’s ’fine wine’ story apart from its role in Bordeaux blends.

While Merlot contributes less than half of its production to single cultivar wines, this shouldn’t provide a negative reflection about how good some examples are.

Pinotage is the hallmark of South Africa’s own wine variety. Its vineyards are the 5th most planted grape here. It has in fact the highest average score in the GWC but only 32 wines represented or less than 7% of the GWC wines with a much smaller selection to choose from.

The general name for Cape Blends refers to Pinotage led wine examples and is perhaps the least exiting success story. This is a wine which can be preferred as a personal choice as there are indeed great examples around and the low numbers shouldn’t be merely discarded.

Méthode Cap Classic Sparkling Wines show good growth and is expected that many more will convert into the 95+. However, while there is ample activity in this category, results are bound to improve further.

The list of Cape Port represented in the GWC hasn’t changed much with the position of top contender changing regularly amongst the top three producers who each shows several examples in the GWC.

Brandies are another of the categories to be proud of. Not only does it regularly outperform others being selected as the world’s best. The strongest challenge often comes from own shores.

Media Contact: Izak Smit info@sawineindex.co.za
(cell 0825777037)