A good sommelier will enhance your wining and dining
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome to this edition of Old Mutual Live, we head back to Franschoek now, the Grande Provence. We spoke to Executive Chef, Darren Badenhorst not so long ago. We’re joined now by the restaurant manager and sommelier, Khuselo Mputa. Khuselo, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, nice to chat.
Khuselo Mputa: Thank you very much for having me.
BB: Khuselo, I said it to Darren as well, I was looking at the website of the Grande Provence, you guys live in a terrible part of the country, I don’t know how you cope!
KM: No, it’s very difficult you know, there’s too many people around and there’s not enough mountains and it’s really hard!
BB: I love it. It’s a magnificent part of the world, I always say that tongue in cheek, but gee, it’s absolutely amazing. Khuselo, tell me a little bit about the Grande Provence, just from a history perspective. That estate’s been around for a long time.
The history around the estate
KM: The estate has been around since 1694, and on the estate we have one of the oldest manor houses in Franschoek, which I think is second only to Boschendal, in terms of age and that is where our owner lives. Next to that we’ve got the owners cottages, which is part of our luxury accommodation in which you can have the owners cottage as a whole, as one family, take it exclusively, or as a couple.
Have it exclusively, or you can have it as a bed and breakfast where you share the five bedrooms with other people from different parts of the world and you share the communal breakfast room. Then we also have La Provence, which works more as a bed breakfast kind of setup.
BB: It’s absolutely amazing indeed. Khuselo, tell me a little bit about your history into wine. You grew up in a family that wine was always around, it’s always been a part of your life, what was your first memory of wine growing up?
A taste for wine
KM: Drinking it! Definitely would be my first memory would be of drinking it, but drinking it from my parents stock and discovering that certain wines tasted better than others and actually sommeliering for my parents. When parents started putting ice in the wine, those were the people that I put out the worst wines for and those wines were the ones who got all the best wines until my mother stopped me and said, hey, I don’t want to drink wine every day and I was like, but she puts ice in the wine, okay, okay, we’ll drink that, no problem.
Basically where it started for me, and it was always natural that you appreciate things for the way that they are produced and it’s always, for me, wine is always about showcasing what the winemakers intent was and we have a lot of people who tend to want to showcase what it is that they like in wine. But for me, it’s to showcase what it is that the winemaker was intending to make. When you understand that, it’s easy to transfer that information back to the people.
BB: I love it. That I think hits the nail on the head Khuselo. It’s the first time I’ve had someone actually say that to me because you’re so right. It’s about what the winemaker wanted when he put the wine in the bottle and it’s an incredible opportunity that you get to share that with someone years after the wine maker actually made the wine.
KM: Indeed and it’s always interesting to see how many of them actually achieve it and how many people slick the wine down because it’s made in a specific style. There’s nothing wrong with making a wine in a specific style, it’s just that it’s made for that particular person who was making it, for the other people who appeal to that kind of wine. The problem is that everybody believes that the wine that you consume the most is the wine that is the best, which is true thought because if you can drink a bottle by yourself, it’s definitely a good wine.
BB: You grew up in Stellenbosch and got to travel a lot, you’ve worked in various places including various countries as well, but you’re back in Franschoek now. Tell me a little bit about what made you decide to go into this as a career.
KM: I love food and I’ve always loved food. It goes back to home, when my grandmother was in the church, I was helping her cook for the church and that was in my toddler years up to just before being in my teens and I chose after that to be in the food industry. It was either going to be food technology or it was going to be hospitality management. I went into hospitality management after I saw how quickly waiters can earn tips.
Tips for people starting out
BB: Khuselo, let’s give some advice to someone who is possibly just starting their wine journey now. They’re discovering, it’s a very intimidating environment when you first get exposed to it and there’s lots to know and often when you start, you don’t know everything that you think you need to know. What advice would you give to someone just starting out, that they don’t get overwhelmed, that they follow the process at their own time and discover in their own way.
KM: The first one would be to drink within your budget because if you want to take wine seriously and you have a passion for wine, it can get very costly very quickly. Depending on how well you drink and how much you drink, wine can be a very costly passion. But at the end of it, what’s the most important about it is you need to understand what it is that you like about wine and be able to describe it.
A lot of people go too much into the terminology of trying to describe the specific fruit that you are picking up and if you’re going to say, ‘peach blossom’ and I say ‘nectarine blossom’, why don’t we say ‘stone fruit blossoms’ and it’s a generic term for them. Understanding that these are the stone fruits and it can be specific to each one person and we all have different noses and different palettes and we pick up things slightly differently.
Somebody might pick up lemon, somebody might pick up orange, somebody might pick up grapefruit, but these are three citrus fruits and it’s the terminology that confuses a lot of people. Because everybody wants to explain wine in detail and be as good as some journalist writer on wine.
For me, the simplest way to understand wine is acid is important, sugar is important, alcohol is important and the tannin in red is important. When those four elements are well balanced, you generally have a very good wine to drink. Acid anybody can pick up, sugar anybody can pick up, tannin anybody can pick up, which is the same feeling as when you over-brew tea and after that, alcohol is what adds a little bit of heat in the back of the palette.
When it’s too high the alcohol, it also adds a little bit of sweetness to slightly riper wines. It’s when all of those are in balance and you don’t pick up any one component by itself, that you start to realise how well balanced certain wines are and that’s what is the core of wine. If the wine is in balanced, most people tend to agree that it’s a good wine.
Don’t over complicate wine
BB: You make it sound so simple. Often I think people do over complicate things.
KM: Ja, it is complicated when you get a lot further into it. I always say to people, you have categories of wine, which some people don’t like because it’s picnic wine, table wine and what I call ‘thinking’ wines. Picnic wines you will always open and you drink and you enjoy and you don’t expect to have a big discussion about it.
You have table wines which you have a drink and immediately it’s either, it’s ready to drink or let’s leave it on the side and we’ll come back to it when we’re having the meal. Then you get thinking wines where immediately when you take the first sip you sit and go, ‘what is going on in this glass?’ and those are generally the wines that are at the top of the market and are the wines that are made with a lot of passion and a lot of sophistication and need a lot of description coming back and forth from the winemaker, the sommelier and the consumer, to find out whether or not it was achieved.
Those are generally the top end wines which you’ll always be talking about because you want to know, will they last as much as they say they would last, are they as old as it seems to be. It will be wines that you’ll open much older, 20 years and so on and that’s a very small part of the market. But at the end of it, it’s the wine that you drink, that you enjoy and if you can drink a bottle by yourself, it’s a good wine.
BB: Khuselo, let’s talk about pairing and getting the right food with the right wine. You’ve obviously studied it, you’ve got a great palette yourself, but for the average wine drinker, is it vitally important that you do get the right wine for the meal you’re eating or should it just be a case of drink what you enjoy and eat what you enjoy?
The art of pairing wine with food
KM: I’m always torn between those two. I’ll give you two answers. With pairing of food and wind, there is the original pairing which comes from the original regions that were producing wine. You have the regions of France which have been producing a specific style of wine since the beginning of time and they have regional food.
When you look at the food, where it originates from and you quickly have a look at what kind of wine is produced in that area, that is the natural pair for that particular wine. Take Italy and take Chianti, where they make a lot of tomato dishes. Naturally Chianti being the red wine which is made from Sangiovese, coming from that region is a great pair for tomato based dishes.
Then you have the other end where it’s more in the new world where we are discovering flavours from all over the world and you’re wanting to understand what makes a good pairing and what makes a good pairing is the food and the wine not overpowering each other. If you think of oil and vinegar, to make a vinaigrette, it’s an important combination that you get the balance between those two.
When you take a fatty fish or a fatty piece of meat, you need something that’s going to help cut through that fat and balance the flavour in your mouth and when you have a delicate flavour, you can’t go with a full bodied red or a full bodied white, you need to go with something a lot more delicate, but that can accompany the flavour.
Sauce is more important than the protein. A lot of people tend to think that because you are having red meat, you need to have red wine and because you are having fish or white meat you need to have white wine. But if you have a tuna steak with a peppercorn sauce, white wine doesn’t go very well with peppercorn sauce.
So there you need to with a red wine or a heavy white wine and it’s the sauce always that is most important. If you have a steak and béarnaise or steak and hollandaise, you can go with a Chardonnay or you can go with a white wine and that’s where the pairings really, really work.
BB: Brilliant. Khuselo, if people want to find out more and learn more about pairings, where would you suggest they go to get more info?
KM: I’d say the most important part of it would be to know where the wines come from and I’d say the grape varietals, where they originate from. When you have an understanding of the origin of the grape varieties and you look at the food that comes from those areas, you get a very easy way to understand what kind of wines you can pair with what.
Take for example sauerkraut, which is a German kind of cabbage, which is a fermented cabbage, the best pairings for it are Rieslings and Germany and other regions produce Riesling. That would definitely be the best way to go about it. When you understand where the dish comes from and if it is a wine producing region, you’ll have immediately the grape variety produced in that area and then you have a very clear idea of what is the original pairing for this particular dish.
BB: Fantastic, Khuselo thank you so much for your time here on Old Mutual Live today, much appreciated. We look forward to catching up again soon and really enjoyed your insights today. Thank you so much.
KM: Pleasure Brad, thank you very much.