As a South African Gareth Ferreira, head sommelier at Core by Clare Smyth, is understandably proud of how far his country’s wines have come in the last 10 years. Here he explains why he is therefore so pleased to be involved in the finals of the judging of this year’s Wines of South Africa’s Sommelier Cup competition in South Africa in September. He also gives his advice on what sommeliers need to do to stand out from the rest and stand a chance of winning such a prestigious event.
Taking part in any of the major international sommelier competitions is a key part of any leading sommelier’s career, but what does it take to win one? Gareth Ferreira, head sommelier at Core by Clare Smyth shares his insights.
Gareth Ferreira is ideally qualified to be a member of the final judging panel for the 2019 Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup competition. Not only is he himself vastly experienced as a sommelier he has taken part in most of the major sommelier competitions himself, including being a semi-finalist in the Best Sommelier of the World competition in 2016 and runner up in 2017 in the UK Sommelier of the Year awards.
Ferreira will be joined an esteemed panel of fellow judges at the finals in South Africa in September – including Marc Almert, head sommelier at Restaurant Pavillon, Baur au Lac (and now ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019) and Sören Polonius, trainer and head coach of the Swedish national sommelier team, ‘Swesomm’ and wine director for the Adam/Albin Restaurant Group.
Before then the UK finals will be held on June 10 at 67 Pall Mall,where entrants will be asked to take part in a series of tests to determine which one goes through to the big finals in South Africa.
The London round consists of a multiple-choice exam, blind tasting of three South African wines and short interview with judges, Ronan Sayburn MS (67 Pall Mall) and Greg Sherwood MW (Handford Wines). Entries to the competition are open now and will remain open until June 7. Click here to find out more.
Here we talk to Ferreira about what he will be looking for from the overall winning sommelier, as well as sharing his advice on how to prepare for sommelier competitions and what he thinks about South African wine.
You are one of the judges for the UK competition, why did you want to get involved?
I think the South African wine industry is at its most exciting at the moment and this competition is a great platform for sommeliers to learn more about South African wine and become ambassadors for the wines of South Africa. As a native South African I am of course passionate about the wines of my country and eager to promote them.
What will be you personally looking for from the overall winning sommelier?
Someone who has a great overall knowledge about South Africa and the trends and the producers that are putting South African wines on the map. Someone who has passion for South African wine, but it is, after all, a competition and the sommelier that wins needs to be good under pressure, have a great palate and good service and customer skills.
From your experience taking part in sommelier competitions what advice would you give to sommeliers on how to perform at their best on the final day of judging?
Competitions are always stressful because you expose yourself to any possible weaknesses you have. The important thing to know is you are not alone in feeling the pressure. Take in the experience, learn as much as possible and try enjoy it and have fun.
Preparation is key, the more prepared you are the calmer you will be.
What are your own personal thoughts on South African wine and how it is developing as a whole?
I think we have seen already over the last five to 10 years how the South African wine industry has grown and become much stronger, with young winemaking talent coming through everyday, making exciting wines with character and personality. The diversity of wines now are incredible.
Any particular styles or regions that really appeal to you?
It’s difficult to pick a particular region or style. These days I think you find unique styles and great quality in just about every region. It shows the great diversity and consistency there is in the quality of wine throughout the Western Cape.
What styles of South African wine are you listing at Core?
I have a strong presence of wines from the Swartland. Particularly Chenin and Syrah based blends. Wines that are balanced, elegant and wines which compliment our food really well. It’s amazing to see guests from all around the world recognise some of these producers and order their wines and then, most of all, really enjoy drinking them.
What South African styles and price points do you think work best in the premium on-trade?
I think South African wine really offers great value in the UK market and for London restaurants where prices are generally very high these wines still overdeliver time and time again. Styles that work best are those with freshness, balance and elegance.
What recommendations would you give to a restaurant or sommelier about how they can improve their premium South African offering?
It’s important to go out there and taste the wines first, understand them, and them make your own opinions about them. That will then help you see what would make most sense on the list in terms of price point, style and if it will compliment the cuisine of the restaurant. Like all wines on your list, select the wines for a reason not just to fill a gap.