Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Best Sommelier of SA Finals

We are continually impressed by the progress our local sommeliers are making and it was good to see that ten of them, many of whom we interact with regularly, had reached the semi finals of the Inaugural Best Sommelier of South Africa competition this week. We were invited to attend and watch the final three contestants compete for the title at The Taj hotel on Monday this week. And what an arduous competition it turned out to be. It was won by Gareth Ferreira, a South African currently working at a wine-focused private club in London (67 Pall Mall) as Assistant Head Sommelier under the tutelage of Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn. Gareth has therefore qualified to compete at the Best Sommelier of the World competition which will take place in Mendoza, Argentina, in April this year. Here, he will face more than 55 other candidates in a bid to win the title ‘Best Sommelier of the World’. Currently held by Paolo Basso from Switzerland, the Best Sommelier of the World is only awarded every three years.
To quote SASA (South African Sommeliers Association " Acknowledging and rewarding the best professional working in the South African hospitality industry, it was open to all SASA members with relevant work experience and tenure in South Africa."
We both qualified as potential sommeliers when we graduated with our Cape Wine Academy Diploma in 1996, but we never intended to practice, instead we opened our wine and food shop and spent the next 9 years tending to our customers’ wine needs at home.
These magnums of Veuve Clicquot, who were sponsors,  became part of the competition later
Neil Grant is Chairman of the SA Sommeliers Association and acted as Master of Ceremonies for the finals
There were 10 members of SASA who reached the semi-finals: Gareth Ferreira, Joakim Blackadder (Hoghouse), Manuel Cabello (Ellerman House), Jeanette Clarke (Ex-Amino), Spencer Fondaumiere (Burrata), Denis Garret (Benguela Cove), Marlvin Gwese (Cape Grace), Ralph Reynolds (Karibu), Jean Vincent Ridon (winemaker and consultant), and Roxan Waldeck (Delaire Graff ) Here they are awaiting to hear who were the final three
And they were Gareth Ferreira, Joakim Blackadder and Jean Vincent Ridon
We were then told of the five tasks each contestant would be put through and also the fact that their overall presentation, style and demeanour would be judged. Each contestant had to perform all five tasks on e after the other. The first task was to serve a bottle of a Sparkling wine to a table of four
The second task was to come up with a wine pairing for each course on a menu set by Chef Harald Bresselschmidt of Aubergine Restaurant and Auslese. This is the menu
Here is Gareth Ferreira making his pairing suggestion to judges Higgo Jacobs, Harald Bresselschmidt, Hans Aström (manager of Klein Constantia and Best Sommelier of Sweden 1986). He presented a list of mainly foreign wines and seemed very knowledgeable about them
The third task was to decant and serve a bottle of very old red Alto Rouge wine. These Non vintage wines were made by Pieter du Toit between 1959 and 1983.
The wine had to be poured into a decanter from a cradle using the candling method. The lit candle is held behind the bottle as it is poured gently into the decanter and shows up any sediment, which should not go in to the decanter.
Here Joakim Blackadder carefully removes the foil of the bottle. The cork in his bottle crumbled badly due to age
Gareth used a prong to remove the old cork, very sensible as they were very old and fragile
He also was the only one to use a funnel
Gently pour in to the decanter
And then very gently into the glass. All the wines were tasted by the sommeliers before they were served in case they were faulty. Some asked permission to taste
Every movement was watched, and scored. It was a very tense competition
Gareth pouring the wine
Task over, on to the next
The audience came from the wine trade and the media and there were other sommeliers
On to the fourth task please
Identify one white wine and one red wine, four minutes each and then five spirits in three minutes in total. This one had them a bit foxed. The white wine was Bon Vallon from DeWetshof. Gareth came closest to guessing it by choosing a Chablis. The spirits were also quite difficult. A wooded Grappa, a clear Absinth, a single Malt Scotch whiskey, Grand Marnier and Midori melon liqueur from Japan.
Jean Vincent Ridon describing the white wine as he examines it
Joakim Blackadder tasting the red wine
The judges listening and looking intrigued ? impressed? at the conclusions
Gareth Ferreira talking about the red wine
And he alone identified the Midori
Task five was to look at this list of wines and spot the mistakes. It does require quite a lot of international and local wine knowledge.
And just when they thought they were finished they were required to do another test. To pour equal amounts from one magnum of Veuve Clicquot into 18 champagne flutes and finish with no wine left in the bottle. And all in four minutes. And no topping up of glasses was allowed, just the initial pour. No one quite succeeded. This takes a lot of experience of pouring large portions of wine
Each had his own strategy
This was Joakim Blackadder putting the glasses in one row
Gareth Ferriera poured very carefully and came close. He finished in time
Jean Vincent Ridon had his own methods but took a little longer than allowed.
Our reward for watching was being allowed to drink the Champagne. We needed it. There was a short wait while the judges conferred and chose a winner
Lovely canapés were served
50 spice chicken nuggets
The prizes await the winner
At last the announcements made by Neil Grant and the awards were presented by Michele Chantome. Joakim Blackadder in third place
Jean Vincent Ridon came second
And the winner is Gareth Ferreira
The top three with the judges
The judges with members of the SASA committee
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016

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