Take food and wine pairing to the next level with advice from two pros

Monday, 13 May, 2024
Maryke Roberts
Newmark's Chris Erasmus, head chef, and Marlvin Gwese, group sommelier, share valuable food and wine pairing tips.

Newmark Hotels and Reserves, a luxury hospitality management group, took its food and beverage service offering to the next level a year ago, by appointing two big names in their fields and it certainly paid off. Esteemed chef Chris Erasmus is the group’s head chef and Marlvin Gwese, the group sommelier.

Newmark manages boutique luxury hotels, vibrant city hotels, inspiring safari lodges where conservation, good food, wine, and service are the building blocks. Chris and Marlvin have taken the past 12 months to look at each property’s setting, environment, and people to draw inspiration, to compile food and wine experiences unique and true to each address.

Chris Erasmus drew inspiration from traditional dishes, considering the impact on the environment, involving and empowering community members, using local produce and relying on small suppliers in each of the regions, staying true to the brand’s ethos of authentic hospitality.

Chris has an impressive list of culinary accomplishments to his name. He gained valuable experience under the mentorship of Michelin star chef, Shane Osborn in the UK, as well as at several South Africa’s most esteemed restaurants, one of which led him to work in kitchens in New York, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Salzburg and Rio de Janeiro. He also worked as executive chef at Ginja in Castle Street a couple of years ago.

Chris also owned an award-winning restaurant, Foliage, in Franschhoek for seven years, which translated into a tremendous feeding scheme during the pandemic. He is known for his love of foraging and using every part of the animal in a nose-to-tail approach to food.

As group sommelier, Marlvin takes the lead on all matters related to the vinoteques and wine lists at each of the portfolio’s restaurants. He works closely with Chris to create food and wine pairings that guests will treasure forever. Marlvin and Chris have been called "cuisine brothers", as they quickly become not only colleagues, but good friends.

Marlvin Gwese is a qualified sommelier, who completed intricate training at the Lobster Laduma Wine Project. He also holds a Cape Wine Academy diploma; a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines; and a First Star Cap Classique certificate. He also gained significant experience at some of the Cape’s best-known establishments such as the Cape Grace Hotel and The Liz McGrath Collection, both famed for their wine offerings.

Marlvin also stars in the documentary, Blind Ambition, about four young Zimbabweans who fled their country in 2008 to become wine sommeliers and winemakers in South Africa and participated in France’s World Blind Wine Tasting Championships – against all odds. The film won various international awards.

Chris Erasmus and Marlvin Gwese's food and wine pairing tips

When entertaining friends at a restaurant, Chris says, "without giving too many secrets away…. There are a lot of factors in a restaurant to consider when doing pairings, temperature (room, food, wines), style of food, lunch vs dinner, season, price bracket and so forth."

Marlvin adds that home food and wine pairing differs. In restaurants there are etiquettes with the certain styles of serving, but at home it is more relaxed.

Chris says if you are hosting a dinner at home, summer versus winter; your budget; and wine preference is key here. "The rules are different at home – eat and drink what you like and don’t overthink it."

It is important to not take food and wine pairings too seriously.

CE (Chris Erasmus) and MG (Marlvin Gwese) below:

MR: Where do wooded and unwooded wines respectively pair well?

MG: Wooded wines usually have bigger bodies compared to unwooded wines and pairing wise differs. American oak display more nutty, coconut, butterscotch flavours on Chardonnays and pairs well with rich creamy dishes whereas unwooded goes well with lights salads.

CE: This is a very broad question, depending on the style of wine, type of wood and other factors. Wooded Chardonnay tends to go well with earth and spice.

MR: With what kind of menu or dishes do aged white wines work well?

CE: Complex earthy flavours such as truffle, porcini, and forest floor foliage.

MR: Give me your interpretation of complementary pairing and congruent pairing?

CE: Complimentary is for example lamb with quince jelly, mint and creamy pomme dauphinoise with a Cabernet Franc. Congruent is using more bitter wines such as Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne with acidic dishes such as a coconut Tom Yum soup.

MR: What to pair with spicy dishes?

MG: Usually aromatic style wines like Muscato, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, mostly wines with slight high residual sugar to compliment the spiciness in a dish.

MR: What to pair with sweet dishes?

MG: The wines with high sugar level pairs better than drier styles. The dry-style wines tend to taste drier if paired with a dish that has a lot of sweetness.

MR: What wines to serve with sushi?

MG: Rosé or light-style white wines, like light Pinot Grigio or light Chardonnay. Sushi is delicate and wines with a light body tend to compliment it well.

MR: What role does the acidity, sweetness, saltiness of a dish play on the wine you serve?

CE: Most important is the temperature of the dish – warmer dishes showcase acid where colder dishes will let natural sugars be the star.

MR: When do you serve bubbles? (Welcome drinks, dessert, etc.)?

MG: It is best as a welcome drink, yet it’s the most versatile drink and pairs well with light dishes and also dessert, if its off-dry or doux.

MR: That old story of white wine with fish and chicken and pasta are long gone, but what truth did it hold?

MG: Food and wine have evolved over the years. Chefs are traveling a lot and new grape varietals are pollinated. Usually, it depends on the cooking technique of a dish. Grilled tuna works much better with red wine than white wine. Beef tartare works better with a mineral style Chardonnay. When you do a pairing, you consider other elements in a dish like mushroom, mash, or different purees used.

CE: A classic beef ragout pasta will definitely need a red wine, mostly true for pesto, seafood and cream-based pastas. With fish it all depends on preference, sauce, and sides used.

MR: What are the right temperatures for South Africa to serve wines at? How do they differ from winter to summer?

MG: White wines are recommended to be served just below 12 degrees Celsius and red wines just above 16 degrees Celsius. Summertime red wines are more acceptable just below 15 degrees Celsius – and this is true for mostly lighter styles like Pinot Noir or Grenache Noir.

MR: Is there an order in which to serve wines? Bubbles, then white, then red, then sweet, or can you mix them up?

MG: No, there is not necessarily a specific order, but wines do have an order based on weight. Heavy bubbles could be served after white wines or red wines. Bubbles are preferred to be served first and at a later stage with e.g. red meat as main course.

MR: What role does the shape of the glass play?

MG: The shape of a glass, look and feel, enhances the wine experience, definitely any liquid you consume. The flow on your palate matters. It determines palate weight, sweetness, and saltiness.

MR: Ice in wine, a no-no or not?

MG and CE: This is a controversial issue, but once again a personal preference.

MR: What are the biggest mistakes you can make with a food and wine pairing?

CE: Assuming it will work without tasting the combination.

MR: Any lessons you have learnt over the years that you would like to share?

CE: The temperature of the food is very important in determining what would be the leading taste – colder shows sugar and hotter food showcases acids.

MR: What do you admire in each other?

CE: Marlvin thinks and speaks like a chef with an abundance of wine knowledge. He makes my life easy when it comes to pairing.

MG: Oh God – Chef Chris is a legend; he doesn’t have a boundary when he creates a dish. He is the most open-minded chef.

Maryke Roberts

Maryke Roberts is an award-winning journalist based in Helderberg, Cape Town, specialising in wine, lifestyle and and travel writing. She is also a copy editor and translator. She has lectured on journalism at various high schools and been a guest speaker at international conferences on journalism in education.

Moreover, Maryke is an inductee of the Commanderie de Bordeaux en Afrique de Sud.

She holds a BTech Journalism degree from Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Tshwane University of Technology.

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Chris Erasmus and Marlvin Gwese
Chris Erasmus and Marlvin Gwese

Chris Erasmus, group head chef at Newmark
Chris Erasmus, group head chef at Newmark

Marlvin Gwese, group sommelier at Newmark
Marlvin Gwese, group sommelier at Newmark

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