Serving great wine by the glass
10 March 2016
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Jenny Crwys–Williams : In the recent Diners Club Wine List of the Year Awards, a handful of restaurants nationally won the coveted Diamond Award for a truly exceptional wine list. One of the few Diamond Award winners was the Table Bay’s Camissa Brasserie. I’m chatting to Charl Theron, Assistant Food and Beverage Manager.
Charl, I was just going through ‘wines by the glass’ and I can see why people fell for it. Because it’s a very broad list. Instead of being a rather warm list with virtually no choice whatsoever and house wines dominating. I don’t think there’s a single house wine here is there?
Charl Theron: Look we do have our own Table Bay Captain’s Table red and white wine. We actually blend with a winemaker called Rikus Neethling. He basically does that every two years or so. Then we sit on a panel and then we would actually blind tasting on certain wines and we blend our own wines.
The rest of the wines, like you very correctly said, there’s quite a wide variety from different regions, by the glass. That was also one of the criteria that Diners actually gave to us when we actually designed the wine list. We actually worked around that for them.
JCW: Do you think that helped you? Clearly it did help you?
CT: The information that they do put out before you actually enter, they give you as much information as possible so that you can obviously work with that. also, when we went for the awards ceremony, JP actually highlighted a lot of things that would be required for the net competition coming up in the years to be. Vintage being one of them. The representation of different districts and regions and obviously your Sauvignon Blanc’s and your Chardonnay’s and where it’s originating from. With the next two years in mind, we will obviously plan around that and just improve our wine list even more.
A good description is important
JCW: I think they were also hugely interested in the descriptions of the wines. I’ve just been going through the descriptions of some of the wines. I’m just taking a stab at this one and let’s go to the Stellenzicht Stellenzicht. You give the wine of origin, which is important.
You describe it as complex red blend made of 47% Cab etc. Have aromas of crushed leaf, pencil lead, black pepper and violets with an impressive freshness and elegance. A promising earthy complexity, finished with a soft mouth feel. What they wanted is not for you to copy from John Platter’s Wine List of the Year Award, but to actually do the writing yourself. Did you actually do the writing as well Charl?
CT: Some of the writing we did do, like I said now, with JP’s advice that he gave to all the people that was present at the awards. He did mention that in the years to come, it will be a little bit more critical on what you actually are putting there as descriptions.
That specific description I worked with a winemaker because the Stellenzicht, 1997 Stellenzicht, it is a wine that’s no longer available to trade. Guy Weber, the winemaker from Stellenzicht actually organised that wine for us to buy in from him. We sat with him and obviously went through all of that and then we did the description for that wine and some of his other wines as well.
JCW: I think the other thing that is worthwhile commenting on is that the wine list itself is not too huge. I mean it’s significant in terms of size, but it’s not too huge. Because I think say for tourists who come into the country, I think they want to see the range of the wines that you’re giving out at the Brasserie. But they actually don’t want to be intimidated by a wine list that actually just makes them feel slightly doff and for locals as well. It’s comprehensive, but it’s not excessively extensive.
CT: That is correct. What we tried to do is also per cultivar, we just limited to about four or five. So that, like you’re saying, not to confuse the international clients. But also so that it’s easier for most of the wines to sell. So that there’s more like an entry level, a medium priced level wine and then obviously your more up-market one that would start from over R500 a bottle.
What we’ve also done this year with our wine list is some of the old wines that’s coming off the previous wine list. We’ve designed a bin-end listing to try and move the stock, but also to provide our patrons with better value for money wines, but also well-known wines that we’ve added on.
Wine by the glass allows you to sample good wine
JCW: I’m just looking at what I can get by the glass. For instance, I can have a glass of Taittinger quite happily, it’s going to cost R290, given that the bottle is R1 450. That doesn’t seem to me to be too desperate and maybe that’s just what you do. You start the meal with it.
If I wanted Taittinger Rosé it’s R330. If you’re celebrating something, that’s not going to break the budget too much. I think quite a lot of thinking has gone into this. I know you’ve got to balance the books at the end, but quite a lot of thinking has gone into this to entice people in to buy by the glass. Because ultimately, buying by the glass is more profitable for the hotel is it not?
CT: It is, and it’s also to try and get people to enjoy a good glass of wine with their meal. Some of those wines, well actually most of my wines on my glass listing, you can actually pair up with meals as well. If a guest doesn’t want to buy a bottle, if it’s just a single patron, then we can also offer them a good glass of wine with their meal.
Like you said very correctly, if you start off your meal, maybe if you want to have canapés, then you can start off with your champagne. But there’s also good white wines to start with the starters. Then your slightly heavier reds to go through with your main as well as our dessert wines that you can pair up with your dessert on the menu.
JCW: Of course dessert wines, it’s another matter isn’t it? You can keep them quite happily overnight in the bottle with the cork in, without the wine itself deteriorating.
Keeping the wine in it’s ideal state
CT: Correct. We also do have a wine preservation system on the site, so that also helps us a lot when we do open a bottle of wine. We can seal it so that the wine doesn’t oxidise. That it doesn’t deteriorate and affect the taste at the end of the day. The client, after you’ve opened the wine, they know that they’re always going to have a fresh product that’s going to come to their table, as if the wine has just been opened.
JCW: There’s this wonderful new machine that I think has just been brought into South Africa, I think it’s an American machine. A doctor is behind the invention and there’s a needle and you put the needle into the cork and something or the other happens, but actually the cork is drawn out. You can put it back in again and the wine remains absolutely 100% the way it was when it was first opened and you can do this on multiple occasions. Are you going to invest in that?
CT: We would look at something like that, but like I said, we do currently have a wine preservation system. The system would be due for an upgrade pretty soon. We would be going over, there is an Argon gas solution as well. We inject the Argon gas into the wine and then it doesn’t oxidise that much. That is something that we would do in the next, I would say maybe year or in the next six months.
But currently the system that we have, it actually sucks out the air and any CO2 or anything that might actually oxidise the wine. We’ve got that in place, but yes, moving forward, your solution that you spoke about, it’s something that we could be interested in.
A celebration of South African wine
JCW: If I look at this wine list and I’m coming from abroad, I think it’s mostly a celebration of some outstanding South African wines. Not all of them at the expense of end of the market. It’s just a broad choice really of celebratory South African wines.
CT: Yes, we try to keep our wine list as South African as possible, to tie up with our restaurant’s theme in Camissa, which is quintessentially South African dishes that we do. Also the wines that we’ve put on there, being South Africa, we try to find a couple of them that is quite unique. That you don’t find on any given wine list. Just to make a difference and a different offering for our international patrons and guests when they come through.
Also, we like to have a story behind our wines. Most wines that we list on our wine list, they do have some form of a story behind them. So yes, like I always tell people, we like to tell stories. We do have the whole story about the Table Bay and how it actually came in existence. We also like to do that with our wines and the meals on our menu.
JCW: If I was settling down to have your warm banana delight, flamed bananas. Just in case anybody is listening to this and they want to get really hungry. Flamed bananas with vanilla bean ice cream, toasted hazelnuts and brandy snap with sauce, made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum and banana liqueur. I think that’s quite a difficult one to have a dessert wine with. What would you pair that with?
CT: We’ve actually got two wines that could pair up quite nicely with that, the one being the one has got the dried apricot, honey and hazelnut on the palate already. Then always a good dessert wine to pair up with something like that would be the Thelema Vindel which is just R70 a glass. Which I think is very good value. Because of the muscat grapes in there, it will also give you that citrus undertones and apricot on the palate. So that would actually pair up quite nicely with that banana delight.
Great reception from patrons
JCW: How has this wine list actually gone down with your customers?
CT: Since we implemented it, we’ve had quite a good increase in wine sales. We do sell a lot of wine at the hotel in the Brasserie specifically. But also through our training and what our management has done now with the staff.
Where we do a wine of the week. It’s actually gone down very well and some of the winemakers are really, they’re very positive about it. They’re also involved in the training that we do with our staff. So yes, I think it’s gone down very positive and we’ve had some great sales from it.
JCW: Do people actually ask if they can take the menu rather than stealing it and go and say that it’s the most fabulous guide to drinking different South Africa wines. Because it is the most amazing guide if you put it together like that.
CT: Our guests, they just appreciate the fact that it’s well-rounded and there’s an offering for every person on there. I do think that, like I said, it’s well-rounded. So a lot of people will find something that they actually enjoy on it and it’s for all our guests.
JCW: I would nick one of these wine lists and work my way through it because I think it’s absolutely lovely. What did you guys do to celebrate, when you knew you’d actually got the Diamond Award?
CT: We got a bottle of bubbles from the awards ceremony, so we had a glass or two of that as a team. Just to celebrate, for all the hard work we’ve put in.
JCW: All the tasting, all of that sort of stuff which to many people is not hard work at all, it’s just an absolute delight. Very creative, putting the list together. I just wanted to say congratulations to you and obviously to the team. Good drinking and good eating at the Camissa Brasserie at the Table Bay hotel. Charl, thank you so much.
CT: Thank you kindly Jenny and thank you for your time.
JCW: Many thanks, bye-bye.