For Esmé Groenewald– a board member at the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) and co-owner of Somm Hospitality – wine shouldn’t be intimidating and food and wine should enhance each other.

Sommelier Esmé Groenewald: Fish and chips!Esmé Groenewald (pictured left), was one of this year’s judges for the highly anticipated Sommeliers Selection competition, the only local contest judged solely by a panel of South Africa’s best sommeliers, in categories fashioned around the perfect varietals for a restaurant’s ideal wine menu. Wines of different varieties, blends and pricing, but stylistically similar, stand alongside each other.

This year more than 400 wines from the country’s top estates were entered into the contest, with the winning wines, beers and gins coming from more than 60 farms with stand-out wines including 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, Cape Town and Durban.

We asked Esmé Groenewald a few questions ahead of the tastings:

What attracted you to the profession?
Like most in the industry, the profession chooses you not the other way around. I love working with people and taking a nice dinner to the next level with service.

How long have you been in the industry and where have you worked?
I started while still at high school, so let’s just say I have paid my dues. I started in high street cafes until I worked in top fine dining restaurants, such as Terroir, Majeka House, The Vine Bistro, The Green Goose to name just a few, and now Somm Hospitality Enterprises.

What does the training involve and what are the attributes needed to become a sommelier?
The training does not stop. You need to keep up with new wines and trends the whole time, so dedication, hard work and discipline are needed. The SASA sommelier certified exam consists of three parts that take the whole day. You start off with a theory exam, then a blind tasting (not just wine, it could be any beverage from anywhere in the world). You end your exam with a practical where you get tested, not only on theory and food and wine pairing, but also on any practical scenario that could happen in a restaurant.
What are some of the tips you can give wine lovers?
My top three: White wine can age wonderfully; the price of the wine does not always indicate quality; do not be scared to try something new!

Why do you think Sommeliers Selection is an important wine event to attend?
This is a great opportunity to see the winners and standout recommendations, mingle with the judges and get to taste the wines with us and the wine farms.

What did you think of the standard of wines entered this year?
The standards have improved by leaps and bounds and this year really excited us as a panel. It was not always an easy task to choose the stand out wines.

Why is it important to pair wine with food?
You do not want the one to overpower the other. They need to work together to enhance each other. It does not help the winemaker or the chef who have put in all the hard work to create a masterpiece for it all to be undone with an incorrect pairing.

What are some wine trends for 2019?
Lighter wine styles and with lower alcohol like Cinsault and Grenache. Sherry is also making a comeback in the international market so I am looking forward to seeing this in South Africa soon.

Your favourite food and wine pairing?
I really enjoy the simple comfort foods in life … a good Chardonnay with fish and chips.

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

 Cape Town:

9 October 2019, Roca Restaurant, Franschhoek. Book Webtickets

Johannesburg:

16 October 2019, Pool Deck, Tsogo Sun Hyde Park. Book Webtickets

Durban:

31 October 2019, The Beverly Hills Hotel, uMhlanga. Book Webtickets

WS