Interview: Spencer Fondaumiere – manager and sommelier at Burrata restaurant

June 4, 2015
by Christian
in Opinion & Analysis
with 2 Comments
Burrata's Spencer Fondaumiere.

Burrata’s Spencer Fondaumiere.

How did you become interested in wine?
On my first visit to Cape Town from Kenya, I went wine tasting as a thing to do for a tourist. I was fascinated by how much was going on in a single glass, how each variety was unique. At the time I only knew of two wines, white and red.

Where did you study to become a sommelier?
I first studied through the Cape Wine Academy and then WSET. WSET is incredibly comprehensive and is the only internationally accredited wines and spirits course. If one can get to the end of WSET then they are well on their way to a great understanding of wine.

What do you love most about your job?
Quite honestly, drinking wine. I am fortunate in my position I get to taste a lot of wine and interact with the people that make or sell it.

Do you travel a lot for the job? If so, what’s your favourite destination and why?
Not nearly as much as I would like. I quite like the Hemel en Aarde valley.

What do you consider the fundamental principles of food and wine matching?
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules to pairing. Good sommeliers can create the most unusual pairings. I think probably the most important factor is balancing the weight of the food and wine. If you can get that in balance, then you are generally on to a decent pairing.

What do you like most in a wine?
It is probably cliché but complexity – when every sip tells a different story

Which wine do you think is most versatile with food?
I think Pinot Noir has a lot of flexibility

What is your favourite food and wine combination?
Again probably cliché but a well-prepared sirloin with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Do wine ratings and scores matter?
Absolutely, you can’t have competition without a scoreboard. Everybody aspires to be the best and if there is no medium to assess that, then it becomes a free-for-all with everyone claiming superiority.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Without a doubt when you talk customer into trying something different, something they ordinarily wouldn’t drink and he loves it.

And the most frustrating?
Armchair wine experts who wants to tell you about everyone they’ve met in the industry and every wine they’ve ever drunk.

Which variety or style of wine do you think is most underrated?
I think Cinsault made well it is such a fantastic wine – fruity but not without structure. It pairs quite nicely with a variety of foods and is easy to drink on its own.

How important is the glass you drink from?
It is critical. The devil is in the detail. Without question the right glassware brings out some of the best characteristics in a wine.

What is the South African wine industry getting right and what’s it getting wrong?
I think there is a lot the industry is getting right. The general standard of wine is quite high and if you know where to look, you can find truly excellent wines. What’s wrong is that the great wines are not in your face. Aside from a few high-end restaurants, most establishments have very much the same wine lists. Wines that do well and win awards internationally are nowhere to be found on the average wine list. The same applies in retail – the bottle stores and supermarkets all stock very much the same selection of average wines. The average South African is not exposed to the best wines produced in the country.

How do we get more South Africans to drink wine?
Wine is a lot more complex then beer or many other beverages. It does require a measure of education. If more people understood the wine tasting ritual and what to look for in a good wine, it would be a lot more enjoyable to them.

Any interest in owning your own vineyard and winery one day?
No ways. Far too much work.

Fondaumiere is a member of the South African Sommeliers Association. Burrata restaurant is in Woodstock, Cape Town. To find out more, click here.

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  1. WayveJune 7, 2015 at 12:09 pmReply

    Great answers, some interesting and valid points you brought up.
    It’s always lovely to have another persons view on something that one does on a day-to-day basis

  2. Mark EdwardJune 6, 2015 at 6:03 pmReply

    I agree with the point about the great wines not appearing on the restaurant wine lists. There is nothing wrong with a good bottle of Rupert & Rothschild classique, but when it is the only choice of decent Bordeaux blend, time after time, you get the feeling that the restaurants are all owned by a beer drinkers.

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