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Wine Tips from Top SA Sommeliers & Sommeliers Selection Judges

Three of the country’s leading Sommeliers give their top wine tips – and share their favourite food and wine pairings – ahead of the Sommeliers Selection tastings this month.

Says Xolani Mancotywa, who works at the hospitality consultancy Chenin Noir and who has been a sommelier at top South African and international restaurants: “My favourite food and wine pairing depends on the mood, time of the year and the company I am with. Today I happened to be in a Prosecco and chorizo pasta mood!”

Tongai Joseph Dhafana, internationally celebrated sommelier from La Calombe, wine judge with his own successful wine label Mosi Wines and board member of the BLACC Cellar gives advice to wine buyers: “If you are looking for young wines to drink immediately, look for fruit that is well balanced with its acidity. If you are looking to buy wine to age, then try a bottle before you buy a whole case to check its acidity, tannins and structure to ensure that it will age well.”

Chantelle Gous who works with the Singita Premierwine Direct team reveals: “One of the most satisfying moments doing wine service one evening was when I recommending a De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc to pair with a passion-fruit coated pork cheek. I could see the scepticism from the guest (who was not very familiar with Chenin Blanc and least of all SA Chenin Blanc) and wondering how a Chenin Blanc would work in this pairing. The match worked very well and the guest demanded that I go and get a piece of pork cheek to taste it with the Chenin Blanc.”

The three were part of the judging panel for this year’s Sommeliers Selection, the only South African wine competition blind tasted and judged solely by a panel of South Africa’s top sommeliers, in categories fashioned around the perfect varietals for a restaurant wine menu and to accompany food.

This year more than 400 wines from the country’s top estates entered the contest, with the winning wines, beers and gin coming from more than 60 farms. Stand-out wines for 2019 include the Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2018, Plaisir de Merle Grand Plaisir 2014, Idiom Bordeaux Blend 2015, Villiera Wines Tradition Brut NV, Peter Falke Wines Méthode Cap Classique 2013 and, in the craft beer category, the Cape Brewing Company’s Mandarina Bavaria IPA.

These – and many more – can be sampled at the Sommelier Selection 2019 tasting evenings being held this month in Johannesburg and Durban.

Mancotywa explains what attracted him to the profession: “It was curiosity. I once was in a class for white wines and the students said they smelt asparagus and green pepper – this is what hooked me as I did not believe one could get scents of food in a glass.”

His top tip: “Drink what you love and never be bullied by a sommelier or wine professional who wants you to purely spend on price. It is why people should attend Sommeliers Selection. There is exposure to a wide range of wines which have been expertly placed into the accompanying categories. From price to a quality spectrum, there is an option for all. Real sommeliers do not choose wine based on pricing only. The categories are testament to this.”

Gous reveals some latest wine trends: “There is an exciting increase in the light red wine category – wines such as Cinsaut, Grenache, Pinotage and Pinot Noir and lighter-styled red blends showing bright red fruit, crunchiness from skin contact and attractive perfume. This is a refreshing transition as these wines offer good pairing partners to food, the lighter style is suited to SA’s warmer climate and it can be enjoyed slightly chilled for lunch. A variety such as Grenache is also more drought-resistant and offers a solution to not only the recent drought pressures in SA, but also to the overall global warming realities. It is exciting to see some experimentation with white varieties such as Verdelho and Palomino in SA – both also suited to warmer areas and adds a nice element of citrus and white stone fruit to wines.”

Why does she believe it is important to pair food and wine: “I personally did not grow up with wine and food paired – this is a world that opened for me when I started working in the hospitality industry. It is also something that I love to experience especially when travelling in Europe where it is such a part of their daily life. I often come across this culture when serving European guests in particular – wine would never be ordered without deciding on their dinner first or alternatively, dinner would be selected to fit the wine choice.  Ultimately it is about achieving balance and promoting the best components from both – the food and the wine. Neither of it can be enjoyed to its full potential by being overpowered by the other. Often you have a magical moment where the food and wine not only complement each other, but enhance the entire experience and create a wonderful sensorial experience.”

The Sommeliers Selection tastings take place this month at the following venues:

Venue:  Pool Deck, Tsogo Sun Hyde Park
Date:      Wednesday, 16 October
Times:    16:00-18:00 – trade only
18:00 – public admitted
21:00 – doors close
Tickets:  R100pp or R175 for two (no persons under 18 permitted)

Venue:  The Beverly Hills Hotel, uMhlanga
Date:      Thursday, 31 October
Times:    16:00-18:00 – trade only
18:00 – public admitted