Ask celebrated sommelier Esmé Groenewald about her favourite food and wine pairing and she’ll tell you it’s a Chardonnay paired with fish and chips.
For 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.
Groenewald 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 Franschhoek (Roca Restaurant, October 9), Johannesburg (Tsogo Sun Hyde Park, October 16), and Durban (The Beverly Hills Hotel, October 31). Tickets are available from Webtickets.
We asked 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 in high school, so let's just say I have paid my dues. No lady wants to give away her age. 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 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 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. Forget searing acidic, malt vinegar, what’s wanted with fresh fish and chips is a good glass of zingy, dry, fruity white wine. For once that old adage of never drinking red wine with fish holds true. When considering a dinner menu that incorporates wine and fish, it has always been thought that your choices had to be extremely limited to a flaky white fish and a dry white wine. While dry white wine and mild white fish do make an excellent pairing, there are many additional combinations that are just as mouthwatering and complex to the palate. Even light, fruity reds, with less tannin, usually taste unpleasantly metallic, or tinny, with battered fish and crispy chips