Diamonds are a waiter's best friend


This Friday is a RED LETTER DAY for SA wine: the Diner’s Club Winelist Awards for the Capes (both Western and Eastern but nothing for the Northern) will be unveiled at the Westin Grand in the Mother City. At the same time, the Grand Platter Pundits will congregate to blind-taste a collection of contenders nominated sighted for that guide’s ultimate accolade, a five star rating, undoubtedly the most valuable commercial rating on the SA wine scene. Good luck to Johan (Kruger) and Bruwer (Raats) and let’s hope the wines of Kevin (Arnold) make the tasting this year.

dc Diamonds are a waiter's best friend

Back with wine lists, the importance of such competitions was highlighted be receipt of a press release from another grand hotel, the Grande Roche, vouchsafing that they have just trousered a Best of Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator for having “one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.” They are the only restaurant in SA to receive this honour, so good luck to them.

Of course judging the wine offering of a restaurant on the basis of its wine list is a bit like rating a chef on an e-mailed list of ingredients. Nothing beats an in-situ inspection. Like my Sunday experience of being told by a sommelier that Ouma se Wyn from Weltevrede was made from Pinot Noir. Alas, Ouma’s wine is white, it’s Oupa that’s red and anyway he’s a medley of fortified Muscats. But the coconut pannacotta was so fine and the chef so embarrassed (his blush was pure Vosne Romanée), I’ll leave being pedantic to my anoraque friends.

What Diners Club did get right was appointing Catherine Boutell Coakley as lead judge in their 100% Cape-based panel. The day job of CBC (and her retired Canadian academic husband) is training waiters and wine stewards, which makes her initials most appropriate. Although it’s to be hoped that the more robust features of education at the hands of Irish Christian Brothers have been superseded by more enlightened methods.

Three days is all it takes for CBC to transform an unemployed person into a knowledgeable wine steward so perhaps Wines of SA, the exporters’ association, who have embarked on an ambitious scheme of their own to train 2010 sommeliers in time for the 2010 World Cup, can include her among the service providers headed up by the imaginatively named Let’s Sell Lobster.

After all, the top Diners Club rating for a wine list is a Diamond Award (the ranking goes Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond) and Black Diamonds are terribly fashionable these days. Alas, diamonds in general rarely have much use, apart from looking expensively pretty, confirming the De Beers director’s after dinner comment that the company trades at the expensive end of the sex industry.

But Anne de Courcy’s recent biography of Tony Snowdon (Snowdon, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), the husband of the late Princess Margaret who drank a lot of wine and Famous Grouse while still alive, had a novel use for his: getting celebrity friends to initial a mirror in his London pad with a diamond as stylus. Rather like they used to do on the window of Simon Barlow’s Schoongesicht manor house in Stellenbosch. How much better if all these diamond awards translated into qualifications people could use to earn an honest crust. Now there’s something to drink to!