How did you become interested in wine?
My interest was sparked in 2010 shortly after I started working at Londolozi Game Reserve. A brand ambassador from Villiera was visiting and did a presentation on MCC. His enthusiasm and explanation on how bubbly is made – right down to how a muselet resembles a dog muzzle – was admirable and got me thinking more about wine as a lifestyle and culture rather than just another alcoholic drink.
What do you love most about your job?
Interacting with guests from all over the world. I get to share knowledge about South African wines and in turn learning more about international wines.
What do you consider the fundamental principles of food and wine matching?
My basic rule is: Does the combination taste good? If yes – well done, if no – try again. I’m not a stickler for the rules of food and wine pairing and often get the beady eye from guests when I start pairing red wines to chicken and fish.
Which wine is most versatile with food?
I’d have to say Chardonnay. Chardonnay in itself it such a versatile grape and comes in so many styles. When it comes to pairing with food, there’s a version for almost every dish, even for those Mozambican Prawns lathered in Peri Peri where a full bodied Chardonnay with a bit of residual sugar works well.
What is your favourite food and wine combination?
Grilled kabeljou with Hollandaise paired with the Springfield “Wild Yeast” Chardonnay 2011. Kabeljou is a rather delicate fish and can be easily overpowered by wine, thus an unbaked, lighter style of Chardonnay works well. While the Springfield “Wild Yeast” Chardonnay is unbaked, it’s had 100 days of lees contact which gives ensures it’s not too light-bodied and complements the Hollandaise wonderfully.
Do wine ratings and scores matter?
No. Although each year I can’t wait for Platter’s to be released. But I like to think of it more as a guide than taking it as the holy word.
What’s the best and worst part about interacting with customers?
My best is when guests refer to South African wines as the best in the world. I believe we are now producing some of the world’s best wines so when international guests acknowledge this, it puts a smile on my face. My worst? I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to explain that Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault and not a different style of Pinot Noir!
Which variety or style of wine do you think is most underrated?
Cabernet Franc – it makes such beautiful fragrant single-varietal wines but not many producers make it.
How important is the glass you drink from?
It doesn’t matter that much as long as it is a wine glass! My favourite is a Bordeaux-style glass – it has a lovely tulip shaped bowl, perfect for swirling and concentrating aromas towards the nose. Other than that I’m not too fussy – it sure is nice to have a specific Riedel glass for each variety but not essential.
If you are not drinking wine, what are you drinking?
I can easily sip on an ice-cold refreshing gin and tonic on a hot summer’s day – Hendricks with a cucumber stick, please.
Who do you especially admire within the wine industry?
Ken Forrester – Chenin Blanc has come on in leaps and bounds thanks to him.
What’s the South African wine industry getting right?
I love the experimentation that’s going on a the moment – the constant drive to identifying what grows best where, the influx of young wine makers with experience from abroad and the application of new techniques and technology.
And what’s it getting wrong?
We aren’t doing Pinotage any justice. I believe it is such a wonderful variety and there are some superb examples out there. But there are some which are manipulated to reflect heavy coffee and chocolate notes and I believe that these are harming the reputation of Pinotage.
How do we get more South Africans to drink wine?
More education for the general public. Especially in areas such as Gauteng and Mpumalanga. People who grew up in the Cape are more exposed to wine whereas people from Mpumalanga are more akin to grab a brandy and coke than a glass of wine. The more we expose people to good quality wine the more they will buy into it.
Drake is Procurement & Controls Manager by day and sommelier by night at Londolozi Game Reserve. She is a member of the South African Sommelier Association, formed to help uplift and promote the service of wine.