Monday the 11th January 2016 saw a first in the South African wine industry. The Sommelier Association of South Africa (SASA) launched their first Best Sommelier competition at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town.

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The purpose of The Best Sommelier SA Competition is to acknowledge reward the best professional sommelier working in the South African hospitality industry. It was open to all SASA members with relevant work experience and tenure in South Africa.

SASA launched the Best Sommelier of South Africa Competition as part of its on-going bid to raise the standard of beverage service in the local hospitality industry. The competition tests the art of the sommelier, not just wine knowledge or the ability to recognise a wine when tasted blind, but the ability to engage the client, the technicality of the service, the knowledge of all beverages, and food and wine pairing.

This first competition saw competitors of a very high standard take part. They all are extremely knowledgeable and Best Sommelierexperienced.   The 10 competitors were Gareth Ferreira (67 Pall Mall – a wine-focused private club in London), Joakim Hansi Blackadder (Hoghouse) who finished as second runner-up, Manuel Cabello (Ellerman House), Jeanette Clarke (Ex Animo), Spencer Fondaumiere (Burrata), Denis Garret (Benguela Cove), Marlvin Gwese (Cape Grace), Ralph Reynolds (Karibu), Jean Vincent Ridon (winemaker and consultant), also the first runner-up, and Roxan Waldeck (Delaire Graff)

An experienced panel put the competitors through their paces. The panel included Deputy General Secretary of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) and the President of the Sommeliers of Morocco, Michèle Aström Chantôme; Best Sommelier of Sweden 1986, Hans Astrom; and SASA Chairman, Neil Grant. Several of the questions asked over the course of the day were set by The Best Sommelier of the World 2010, Gerard Basset MW.

The competition was tough. All 10 contenders took part in the morning to whittle them down to 3 finalists.  They were assessed on blind tasting, a theory exam and a practical exercise of aerating and decanting a wine.  After lunch the 3 finalists were announced and they had to perform 7 tests – each with a tight deadline: (and not just in front of the panel but with another 40 spectators

  1. Presenting and pouring a bottle of Cap Classique
  2. Pairing an intricate and extensive menu with wines
  3. Opening a rather old bottle of Alto Rouge and aerating & decanting it.
  4. Going through a wine list with errors and pointing them out
  5. Talking through a white and red wine blind and describing as much as possible about them. This was closely followed by a blind tasting through a set of varied spirits
  6. Quiz – they were shown images and had to describe and recognise them – from people to wineries, to strange-looking medical devices!
  7. Pouring a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Magnum for 18 glasses ensuring each gets the same amount… and no going back to fill up any!

Announcing the winner, Gareth Ferreira, Grant said the judges’ decision was unanimous. “With such a strong line-up competing for the title, the judges expected to make tough decisions at every point, heats and finals. It was exceptionally close but, in the end, we agreed wholeheartedly that Gareth Ferreira deserved the title.

“Thank you and well done to all the competitors, especially runners up Jean Vincent and Joakim; your collective knowledge and experience augurs well for the future of the South African hospitality industry. And, of course, congratulations Gareth. It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch you work,” said Grant.

Gareth will now represent South Africa at the prestigious Best Sommelier of the World competition taking place in Mendoza, Argentina, in April this year. The Best Sommelier of the World is only awarded every three years. Here, Gareth will face more than 55 other candidates in a bid to win the title ‘Best Sommelier of the World’.

Sponsors of the event included Veuve Clicquot, Nederburg, Reciprocal Trading, Riedel Glassware, The Taj Cape Town. SASA’s media partner is wine.co.za

From The Bermar Collection South Africa(Le Verre de Vin – the wine preservation system of choice for many sommeliers), we wish Gareth all of the best in Mendoza in April. Twin Pod Bar BC404_in situ_resealing_220220

Contact us today for more information to see how you can incorporate Le Verre de Vin’s affordable preservation technology into your establishment today, offering you, as a sommelier, the option of making the wine drinking experience even more exceptional!  Call us on 021 788 9788 or email us at