Wine has become an integral part of the Dolci Café dining experience since the restaurant first opened four years ago.
The popular Craighall-based Italian establishment – run by Chef Jackie Righi-Boyd and her husband, wine aficionado Clayton Boyd – recently unveiled a new wine cellar which features not only well-known labels but some hidden gems.
Boyd explains why he thinks wine lists are part of the whole restaurant package and his favourite food and wine pairings.
How has your wine list evolved since you first opened?
When we first got our liquor license, we were still only serving breakfast and lunch, so our wine list reflected the lighter food offerings and a higher percentage of white and rosé wines rather than red. At that stage I was more focused on recognition than adventure. So I chose more than 60% of my list to be brands and wines that most people were familiar with. As we started to expand, we kept those well-known wines on the list but also started exploring smaller boutique wineries and interesting cultivars. I discovered Wildehurst Chenin Blanc, made by winemaker Sheree Nothnagel, the Glenwood Estate wines from Franschhoek by DP Burger and Moyo’s Sauvignon Blanc from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to name a few. I also added Italian and Portuguese wines to the list. Cost was still a real factor though as we had only just started serving dinner and we didn’t want to scare off people with too many pricey wines. It is only in the past 12 months that we’ve had the freedom to really start playing in all depths of the wine arena. So our latest wine list features wines ranging from R150 to R1 200 a bottle. We recently completed a temperature-controlled wine cellar in the restaurant which will allow us to keep some vintage wines at a constant temperature as well as fun and funky wines. With a larger customer base, we can now offer a larger selection of wines and something for all palates.
Why do you believe a restaurant wine list is so important?
We all need to eat but we don’t have to do it in a restaurant. Part of going out to a restaurant to eat is the whole experience, and wines play an integral part. I feel that at a restaurant you want to be able to taste things that you don’t have at home, and by having different wines on the list, and someone who can talk about them will enhance that experience and taste. Offering customers a chance to get out of their comfort zone and drink a wine they haven’t heard of, and that alters the flavours of their food positively, is why a varied wine list is important. It allows the restaurant to play with flavour profiles. The same food with two different wines can taste very different.
How often do you make changes to your wine list?
The main wine list is only changed once a year; however, we run specials and offers throughout the year of wines not on our list. We have been approached by Strandveld wines to run a special promotion with them in July this year. The promotions allow us to sample the wines, and to see what the customer response is before we decide if we would like to put it on the list or not.
Do you believe in pairing food and wine?
Pairing wine and food is fantastic and definitely something I play with on a personal level. It is much harder for a restaurant, as people will often choose their wine before their meals. Likewise, they will often choose a bottle to share on the table, and then choose to eat very different meals. When I can, I speak to the table and try to guide them to a wine style rather than a cultivar, so I can help them select something for their personal palate and a wine that will go with all the meals on the table.
Do you make suggestions to your customers?
As often as I can, and for those customers who want to engage about wine. There are many customers who know what they like and order straight away, or don’t really care, and order just a white or red with no distinction. We try to cater to all types of wine drinkers.
How do you get people to try the not so well-known labels?
I don’t always make it to a table before they order their wine. Often the bulk of the customers arrive within 30 minutes of each other and so while you try to talk to them all before they order, it is not always possible. In those cases, I will often see what the customer has chosen to order and then talk to them about other wines on our list similar to their selection. I’ll try and influence their selection for their next visit, not their immediate choice. If I engage a customer about wine, I’ll try and find out their preference in wine style and see if we have something different or interesting on our list in that style. I don’t always try and sell the wine, sometimes I just want to let the customer know about the different wines we have so that next time they’ll look at the list a little closer, instead of going back to their familiar favourites.
Tell what you think are the hidden gems/your favourites on the Dolci Café wine menu?
We have some wonderful wines that are not widely known. Too many in fact to list them here. I personally enjoy red wines that aren’t too heavy or high in alcohol; the Antica Vigna Valpolicella is a favourite of mine. Imported from Italy and only R270 on the menu it is one of the best quality versus price wines on our list. Perfect for lighter meats (veal, chicken or pork), or even a mixed meat and cheese platter. If you want something very special, the Tamboerskloof ‘Meevaller’ Mourvedre 2012 is something that should be tried. The farm doesn’t make a pure Mourvedre normally, but a barrel was kept back and aged. Eventually they tasted it and were so surprised, they bottled it as a pure cultivar, rather than use it in blending which is what they usually do. As a result, there are only 16 cases that were bottled, and only four of those cases came up to Johannesburg. We are the only Gauteng restaurant with this wine on our list, and there are only 18 bottles left. The farm has said they have no intention of making this wine again, so once those 18 bottles are done … that’s it … there’s no more!
What is your perfect pairing?
We have wonderful Italian bubbly on tap in the restaurant. This is a light easy drinking, lower alcohol, sparkling wine in the prosecco style. For me, a beautiful meat and cheese platter on a warm afternoon, with a glass of the vino frizzante bianco is just sublime. It transports you right out of suburban Johannesburg and into the Italian countryside.
Anything else you would like to add?
With wine there is no real right or wrong. It is there to be enjoyed. If you have a refined palate and expensive tastes, then great. If you prefer cheap and cheerful, that is okay too. We all have different palates and, as such, we can all enjoy different wines.
Dolci Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays. The address is Shop 6, Lancaster Village, 28 Clarence Avenue. Craighall Park, Johannesburg. Telephone: 010 900 2274.
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