Diners Club Winelist banner Whale CottageThe Diners Club Winelist Awards for the Western Cape were held at Shimmy Beach Club yesterday, saluting the restaurants in the province, and the standard of their winelist content and presentation. Bushman’s Kloof won best Winelist in the Western Cape.  During the course of this week the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal awards will also be presented.

A judging panel, led by wine judge Dave Hughes, and consisting of Winnie Bowman, Nikki Dumas, Fiona McDonald, and Christine Rudman, evaluated 208 winelists nationally, and 100 from the ‘Cape‘, a province which has not existed for years!  Diners Club threw the Western Cape and Eastern Cape into one ‘Cape’ pot in reporting on the results and in handing out the awards yesterday!  A substantial number of Western Cape restaurants did not enter the competition this year, down from 96 entries last year to 80 this year.

Odd was the choice of venue, being the Bar section of Shimmy Beach Club, which did not have Diners Club Pongracz Whale Cottageenough parking for the attendees, some walking for more than 1 km to get to the venue.  We were welcomed with a glass of Pongracz, and the food was very meagre, being macaroni cheese croquettes and sushi!  There was not enough seating for everyone, in a room which had some round tables, a few chairs and couches, but had no presence in making this function special for the award winners, compared to the venue used at the Vineyard Hotel last year.  It also was not a finalist for the Winelist Awards! Very odd was using Anna Trapido as the MC, not generally known to the local restaurant wine stewards and sommeliers, in being the editor of the 2015 ‘Diners Club Rossouws Restaurants‘, which will be launched at the end of the month, with its listing of 5-star restaurants (a change on the maximum 3-star ratings awarded in the past), and other star categories as well as casual eateries.  Anna seemed uncomfortable in the role, and one Diner Club Winelist Anna Trapido Whale Cottagewonders why JP Rossouw, the new Publisher of the Diners Club publications (including the Platter’s Guide), did not do the honours, being present.  The acoustics were poor in the venue, so we did not hear everything, especially as the central piped music was not switched off while the function took place.  Odd too was the critical feedback by Anna to the restaurants present about their winelists, accusing them of being sticky and showing wear and tear of the pages inside the lists; the glassware not matching the quality of wines served (a plug for Riedel without mentioning the brand); lack of spellchecking; amendments made by hand when vintages run out; and not enough options made available to non-drinkers and designated drivers!   Lee-anne Shepherd, head of Marketing at Diners Club, also criticised our local restaurants, saying that she had spent the last week in our region, and had experienced good and bad service, which she hoped would improve next year when she returns!  The criticism felt like Big Brother Johannesburg trying to tell the Western Cape how to run their restaurants, when it is the restaurants of our province which are far more successful in all respects than those from Gauteng!

From a PR perspective the criticism did not go down well, especially as it contrasted widely with that of Hughes when he spoke about the winelists he and the panel had evaluated, containing more non-wine brands, and craft beers in particular.  Wines by the glass have increased on winelists too.  Hughes said: ‘Each year we see the standards increase and are further impressed by the entrants’.  Hughes said that no top-end restaurant could afford to not work on improving its winelist, as they would be overtaken by those restaurants that improved their expertise and innovation.  Hughes was diplomatic all the way, saying that despite times being tough, the panel did see improvements to the winelists generally.  Hughes praised his panel of lady judges, saying that they ‘are more nosy than men’!

A total of 74 South African restaurants received Diamond Awards for their winelists,  of which 31 went to Western Cape restaurants – the competition organisers did not know the border of the Western Cape province, placing George, Wilderness, Plettenberg Bay, and Knysna in the Eastern Cape!  The Diamond Award is the highest accolade, with a total score of 91% or higher; the score for a Platinum Award is 81 – 90%; Gold Awards reflect a score of 71 – 80%; and a Silver Award 61 – 70%.  The wine lists were judged on the basis of four elements:  content (35%), balance (25%), suitability (15%), and presentation (25%).

The Western Cape Diamond Award restaurant winelists are (31):  Blowfish Restaurant, The Girls, Lanzerac, Abalone House, Diners Club Winelist Indochine team Whale CottageRust en Vrede, B’s Steakhouse, Bushman’s Kloof, Kitima, Seafood at The Plettenberg, Zachary, La Cantina at Fancourt, Henry White’s at Fancourt, Aubergine, Indochine at Delaire Graff (photograph, last year’s Newcomer List award winners), Myoga, Planet Restaurant, Wild Peacock, The Square at the Vineyard Hotel, Signal at Cape Grace, Greek Fisherman, Meloncino, City Grill, Barrydale Karoo Hotel, Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, Ellerman House, Marine Hotel, Karibu, Bombay Brasserie, Den Anker, Azure at the Twelve Apostles, and Pigalle.

The Platinum Award winelists in the Western Cape are (19): La Pentola, Madikwe Hills Private Game Reserve, Cattle Baron (the 6 branches in the province), French Connection, Planet Bar, Lemonbutta, Hussar Grill (all 7 Western Cape branches), Harvey’s, The George Restaurant, The Wild Fig, Bientang’s Cave, Grootbos, Andros Hotel, Flavours at the Devon Valley Hotel, Buffelsdrift Game Reserve, Chatters, Jonkershuis, and Mint.

The Gold Award winelists in the Western Cape are (22): Hunter’s Country House, Zinzi, Tsala Tree Top Lodge, all 13 the Col’Cacchio outlets, Rick’s Café Americain, Alba Lounge, Equus at Cavalli, Mezepoli, The Turbine Boutique Hotel, and Fabio’s Ristorante.

The Silver Award winelists in the Western Cape are (8) : Makaron at Majeka House (what a shock outcome, given that they are located in the Winelands, are an Eat Out Top 20 shortlist restaurant, have a sommelier, and received a Diamond Award last year!), Quay 4 in Knysna, Hildebrandt, Bertha’s, Quay 4, Upstairs at Quay 4, Surval Boutique Olive Estate, and Black Marlin.

Diners Club Winelist Croquettes Whale CottageInteresting is the number of top Western Cape restaurants which did not enter the Winelist Awards, including Le Quartier Français, Pierneef à La Motte, Haute Cabriere, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Delaire Graff Restaurant, Tokara, Overture, Jardine at Jordan’s, Waterkloof, Terroir, Bosman’s, The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck Club, Dear Me, Camphors at Vergelegen, Burrata, La Mouette, The Restaurant at Diners Club Winelist Sushi Whale CottageNewton Johnson, Springfontein Eats, and The Kitchen at Maison.  Many restaurants are linked to wine estates, which promote their own wine first and foremost.  Top 5 star hotels such as the One&Only Cape Town, the Table Bay, Queen Victoria, Steenberg Hotel, The Alphen, and more were visible by their absence.

Yesterday’s function for the Diners Club Winelist Awards did not match the image that the card company is trying to project, in being top wine and restaurant guide publishers, and did not reflect the standards of excellence it sets for the Diamond Award Winelist winners!

POSTSCRIPT 14/10:  Anna Trapido and I chatted this morning, and she assured me that she does not live in Gauteng, nor is she pro Gauteng restaurants.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Tel (021) 433-2100, Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook:  click here