Sommelier Wikus Human addresses misconceptions and debunks a few wine myths
How many of you have actually asked for advice ahead of selecting your choice of wine at a fine-dining restaurant? Personally, I always avoid doing so for fear of making an utter and complete fool of myself because my palate may not be as refined to taste all the layered flavours.
While restaurants are closed during lockdown, this might be the best time to understand (and appreciate) the advice of a sommelier.
Head sommelier Wikus Human, the winner of the 2017 Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier competition at the 2017 South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) offers greater insight into his role and how it helps refine the dining experience.
He says, “I’ve had a long-standing love affair with wine. In defining my career as a sommelier, there are two moments that led me to believe that this was where my future lay.
"The first was disgorging a bottle of Le Lude MCC with Paul Gerber, one of the country’s leading Cape Classique makers; and the second driving Kevin from Ataraxia’s bakkie through his vineyards and being greeted as a winemaker (by mistake…). I am now privileged to work for The Marble group at two of South Africa’s top restaurants – Marble and Saint. It’s here I get to engage, and share my love of wine, with almost 800 guests a day.”
He continues, “The concept of a sommelier is a new one to most South Africans. Traditionally they’ve always been present at high-end fine-dining restaurants, predominantly in the winelands. These days, they are regular features in a number of more accessible establishments across the country. My goal, along with other sommeliers who love wine and have made it their career, is to share my passion and knowledge, and to enhance our guests’ overall dining experience.
"Alongside curating the restaurants’ wine list, I love being able to challenge people’s palates and debunk wine myths. My first piece of advice is to just enjoy what’s in your glass and what’s on your plate – don’t overthink it.”
He says the objective isn’t to get the diner to buy the “most expensive, limited-edition vintage bottle of wine” but to have the best experience due to a wonderful food pairing.
Human threw another curve ball by suggesting red wine with fish.
He explains, “For the longest time, the only advice people were given for wine pairing was that you drink white wine with fish, and red wine when you’re eating meat. I’m here to tell you – that is a major misconception. What does pair well, is flavour – what spices does your dish have, how much salt, the fattiness of the protein, and even the sides you’ve ordered all count. It’s not just about the main component.
“My first point of contact with a table of guests is to always ask – what wine do people at the table enjoy, and what are they thinking of eating. This brings me to the first challenge – people usually share wine but order their own food. So, I have to think on my feet about what style of wine will pair well with everyone’s dishes – also, taking into consideration that someone on the table might not like a certain grape varietal or would prefer a certain style of wine.”
He adds, “Beyond red and white, if you’re having something spicy, we’ll recommend a wine that is lighter in alcohol, or if you have something saltier on your plate then a high acid wine will work better. Red meats that are leaner or have no fat, can pair well with lighter red wines – as can fish, while Champagne pairs well with fatty or high protein dishes. There are endless combinations and even the most obscure ones would work best.
The two most important things to look at when pairing food and wine are, firstly what dish you have and secondly what wine you have.”
So the next time you are at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to consult with the sommelier.
Human offers, “It might lead to a great take-away and that’s not intimidating at all.”
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SOMMELIER ON HAND, FOLLOW HIS EASY TIPS:
1) High acid food prefers high acid wines
2) Spicy food prefers sweeter, low alcohol wines
3) Fatty proteins / meats prefer wine with high tannin
4) Oily fish prefers high acid white wines
5) Sweet food prefers sweet wines