Sommelier, more than a sexy French Phrase

Friday, 31 July, 2015
Contrary to popular belief, a Sommelier is not an inhabitant from a small African country, as the pronunciation of the word might lead one to believe.

The actual definition of this French word is “A wine steward working in fine restaurants specialising in all aspects of wine service. Their main work is in wine procurement, storage, wine cellar rotation, and providing expert advice to customers. The Sommelier works with the culinary team to pair wines and foods.”

The concept of Sommeliers has been around for hundreds of years. Some research would suggest that the Ancient Greeks were first to employ “sommeliers” for their symposiums. The word symposium actually means, “drinking together”. Today it is becoming a specialist field and a real employment option for somebody with the right palate.

The SASA (South African Sommelier Association) have identified this as a need and have created several programmes to grow their pool of Sommeliers. One such initiative is the SAWTC (South African Wine Tasting Competition), a competition not limited to Sommeliers only, but open to anybody wanting to enter the wine industry.

As Neil Grant, Chairman of SASA notes, “the more formally trained sommeliers we have, the better for the industry. We are facing a demand/supply crisis, with more upmarket restaurants than seasoned wine experts.”

Winterhalter, a German-based wash ware firm, gave 20 young and dynamic wine stewards the chance to compete in the Cape Town leg of the SAWTC. The best Western Cape provincial wine tasters could end up representing team SA at the World Blind Wine-Tasting Championship in France in October

It was only appropriate that Marlvin Gwese from the Cape Grace Hotel made it into the overall top four and gained selection for the National finals taking place in Cape Town in September, where he will face the best palates of Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal.

Marlvin, who originally wanted to study Information Technology, was ecstatic. His love affair with wine started in 2009 when he commenced employment at the Table Bay Hotel, but in 2011 moved over the Cape Grace. It was here where he was able to really fine-tune his palate.

This is only the beginning and hopefully Marlvin is the first of many fine Sommeliers to follow.

“A natural great palate memory, and a talent to remember flavours are often more useful than a deep theoretical wine knowledge, and it was great to see emerging wine lovers like Marlvin, perform very well at this difficult challenge. “ said Jean-Vincent Ridon on behalf of SAWTC

If you go back to the Greeks and Romans, they talk about all three – wine, food and art – as a way of enhancing life. Thanks to South African Sommeliers Association, South African Wine Tasting Championships and Winterhalter for restoring the equilibrium. We will watch Marlwyns progress with baited breathe and drink to the success of this wonderful initiative.