Wine lists are fascinating. Some are daring, others are safe. Some look for a combination of well known brands and exciting up and comers. Some are only Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Sauv. Some make you want to walk out and never return, others make you want to never leave.
How important is a restaurant’s wine offering?
It’s an interesting question, with an answer that likely depends on the occasion and the desired audience, but it’s safe to say that most high-end restaurants take a lot of pride in the wines that they offer their guests.
The on-merit list
Take Bertus Basson’s various Stellenbosch restaurants, for example. Bertus is a big wine fan and he personally puts a lot of time and consideration into choosing the wine he offers his diners. His lists are usually quite extensive and wines are chosen for their quality and their ability to pair with the food options on the menu. Similarly, the by the glass options are likely to be fresh, versatile and pair well with a variety of different dishes.
For Bertus and other top chefs, the quality of their wine lists is just important as the meals that they create. While for winemakers, featuring in the restaurants that they admire is both a big compliment and good business. It means that their wines are available to diners who are interested in quality. This translates to visibility as well as sales, which brings us to the type of wine list that is perhaps less celebrated.
The paid-for list
There’s another type of dining establishment that recognises the value to wine producers of appearing on their list, and seeks to benefit from that.
Some restaurants – typically franchises and bigger chains – require payments or rebates from producers for the honour of appearing in their restaurants. This has a few implications. For starters, it usually rules out smaller, artisanal producers who don’t have the margins (or the budgets) to engage in this practice even if they wanted to. It also often means that the quality and integrity of the wine list is compromised.
These places don’t have the same respect for their wine offering, but they do have targets to hit, so they wield their power and influence to create a new revenue stream and potentially alienate wine lovers.
Right or Wrong?
Interesting debate. It might be argued that restaurants that adopt this practice are able to pass on savings to diners that don’t really care about wine. If they do, then there’s perhaps nothing wrong with it. After all, if you care enough about wine, there are plenty of options available to you. One thing is for sure though, when you don’t value your wine offering, then questions should be asked about the rest of your business.
In South Africa, Naudé Wines currently features proudly on the lists at Test Kitchen, Chef’s Warehouse, La Colombe, Wolfgat, Spek & Bone, Overture, One&Only, Skotnes, Marble, DW11, Saxon, Mosaic and a number of others. We are grateful to all of these fantastic restaurants (who do not charge producers for the privilege) and cannot recommend them highly enough.
From next month, we’ll visit some of these great spots and take you to some of the International restaurants that feature our wines.