Zimbabwe, more than South Africa, is not readily associated with wine culture, how did you overcome limited exposure to wine to reach sommelier status?
I wasn’t exposed to wine in Zimbabwe which is predominantly a beer drinking nation. Wine was revealed to me only when I moved to South Africa. My palate and understanding of wine evolved as I got a taste of the different styles of wine from different wine regions.
Moreover, once you stopped being limited to a few wine styles, a whole new world opened to you! What would you say to someone who is stuck on one variety, like Merlot?
If you absolutely love Merlot, for example, and only Merlot, then go ahead and drink it. In the craft of pairing wine with food, with all of its guidelines, rules, conditions, and exceptions, it is always acceptable to match your favourite wine with anything on your plate. If, however, you want the opportunity to experience marriages of food and wine that seem to be made in heaven, you may want to find a substitute for your Merlot now and then. The process of pairing food dishes with wine is to enhance the dining experience.
Are there rules to this enhancement of your dining experience?
There are no rules around wine and food pairing! Chefs now travel the world, and they work in different restaurants and get to experiment with new cuisine. Similarly, winemakers also experiment with different varieties in other countries, where terroir provide a specific style and taste to the wine. As sommeliers, we get to merge these two evolving worlds, but it is a world which is continuously changing at the hands of creative chefs and winemakers. If, as a sommelier, you limit yourself to rules you will never be able to introduce diners to the limitless complementary tastes of wine and food matching.
What is your secret to merging these two worlds, then?
When creating a pairing menu, you have to consider a couple of elements; the temperature of the dish, as well as the sweetness, acidity and texture. After you’ve worked through the menu with the chef, you need to do the same with the wine selection to spark new and exciting pairing combinations.
Which dish, currently on the menu at Signal Restaurant at Cape Grace, would you pair with the Bellingham Bernard Series Pinotage?
I would recommend the bacon wrapped Ostrich with truffle and cauliflower purée served with smoked quinoa and dressed in blueberry jus. The lean game bird wrapped in bacon compliments the fruit-driven wine structure and the savoury truffle and cauliflower purée compliments the dark berries found in the Bellingham Bernard Series Pinotage.
That sounds delicious, and a bit adventurous too! Are diners becoming more interested in trying interesting wine and food pairings?
Wine preference has definitely changed over the last few years – more consumers prefer dry style wines. Guests have generally become more adventurous, opting for niche cultivars. It’s exciting to see how many diners are steering away from the typical wine choices and are now open to trying new styles and varietals.