Life has a great way of dishing out a taste of one’s own medicine.
Take restaurant wine lists. These are guaranteed to get me grumbling, especially if the list has obviously been compiled by one of the wine distributors, without care being taken to put interesting wines onto the list (actually, drinkable would be a good starting point). I get really irritated if there is price gouging (like the Crystal Towers Hotel selling Warwick’s First Lady for R190), or if the restaurant doesn’t make an effort to get enjoyable wines onto the list at around R100 per bottle.
From November, Dish is taking over the restaurant at Theatre on the Bay. I’ve been involved in all aspects of the re-launch, but the one job I definitely wasn’t going to let go of was the wine list.
To simplify my task I restricted the selection to wines that (a) are from wineries that have been clients of Dish, or (b) are produced by family connections, or (c) are connected by friendship. These criteria leave several products that will come under consideration for future lists.
To begin, I selected three wines from Cloof, partly because they are brands I created, but mainly because they offer excellent value. Then I did something very uncharacteristic, in that I selected four wines that fall under the Distell umbrella. This vast producing wholesaler is seen as a monster by the majority of its smaller competitors, and its low-cost export products may well have contributed to price ceilings for South African wines in some markets. However, with the exception of the tobacco industry (yes, I know there may well be ethical considerations there), Distell has been one of Dish’s biggest customers over the years.
The most important issue, though, is that their portfolio extends way beyond the commercial brands. Within the Cape Legends stable (think Lomond, in particular) there are some fabulous wines. And, because their distribution costs are not only in-house, but also amortised across millions of cases of other products, their selling prices in many instances are very reasonable.
Alchemy of Gold is Distell’s campaign for marketing top-end brandy, and we’ll have five of their premium products, some of which will sell for less than the rot-gut tequila that gets sold in nightclubs.
Dish has catered for the nuptials of two Louw siblings at Diemersdal, from whom we have an elegant Pinotage and a Chablis-like unwooded Chardonnay.
The Arabella Shiraz (our house red) is made and marketed by my uncle, Stephen de Wet, and cousins, Jamie and Nicky de Wet.
Then, there are three fabulous wines we already had in stock – Cape Point Vineyards Semillon 2007, Chocolate Block 2007 and the Joostenberg Noble Late Harvest 2005. Mulderbosch Chardonnay gets a wild card ‘friends’ call-up.
We’ve kept the pricing as reasonable as possible, bearing in mind that our overheads have to be covered by one sitting per night only. It truly is quite sobering to spend a little time with the spreadsheets outlining the viability of a restaurant; it’s clear that wine sales are an important component of the mix.
I’m tempted, once we get going, to do a reserve list of a dozen, or so, Sauvignon Blancs. I may not drink that much white wine, but that doesn’t stop me recognising the excellence of this category. And, apart from anything else, pre-theatre diners in summer will be looking out over the ocean as the sun is setting. What better way to toast the end of the day than a glass of refreshing Sauvignon ?
A list of five whites, five reds (three of each available by the 150ml glass) and one champagne-method sparkling wine, is likely to leave some disappointed diners, especially as I haven’t included any ‘comfort-zone’ type products (think Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir or Beyerskloof Pinotage). While the list is – inevitably – my choice, I hope that the exclusion of such wines isn’t seen as a judgement of individuals’ taste. All I ask is for open minds on the part of diners, who will certainly be paying less for wines that I have no hesitation in recommending.
I look forward to having a taste of my own ‘medicine’ when the Sidedish Theatre Bistro opens!