go – um – nose-to-nose against a panel of four of the world’s most discerning wine fundis during a marathon 8-hour test at Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel.
“This is the equivalent of the World Cup for wine lovers,” said celebrity chef Francois Ferreira.
The Concours International des Jeunes Sommeliers is one of the programmes through which the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs works to improve the standard of wine appreciation around the world – but it’s also a hotly contested competition which demands extraordinary knowledge and skills.
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs - affectionately as ‘the Chaîne’ (it’s pronounced “shen”) is an international association of gastronomy with more than 25,000 members in 70 countries. Its international president, Yam Atallah, says in his welcome address on the Chaine’s web site that, “The distinctive character of our association is to bring together amateurs and professionals from all over the world, whether they are hoteliers, restaurateurs, executive chefs or sommeliers, in the appreciation of fine cuisine.
“The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs also has a goal to encourage and develop skills and 'know-how' of young chefs and sommeliers worldwide through the support of our 'Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs' and the 'Jeunes Sommeliers' competitions.”
“Jeunes Sommeliers are wine professionals of between 21 and 35 years of age,” said Fran?ois, who is the current president of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs South Africa, and who has partnered with immediate past president Allison Rutowitz on the competition’s local organising committee.
“Every one of the finalists who’ll be competing in Cape Town this week has an enormous knowledge of the wine and spirits of the world, and also has a particularly well developed nose and palette – you have to, if you’re going to work at their level,” said Fran?ois.
The competition itself will include an hour-long theory test, blind tastings, practical skills challenges (champagne service, decanting of red wine, glass service, wine and food pairing) and the identification of spirits and liqueurs purely by nose.
The competitors will also be expected to make corrections to deliberate mistakes in a wine list that will feature both famous and little-known products from around the world.
“This is the first time this competition has ever taken place on the African continent, and that’s a huge honour for South Africa, and our local wine industry,” said Francois.
Entries have been received from Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the USA.
But the event won’t only be about the hard work of the competition.
“We’ll be taking the competitors to some of the best wine producing regions in the Peninsula – it’s the perfect opportunity to show off the quality and value of South Africa’s wines,” said Francois.
He said that South Africa’s Jeff Lopes – a twenty-seven-year-old assistant restaurant manager at Johannesburg’s Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas and Spa – secured his place in the list of international finalists by winning both the regional (Gauteng) and national legs of South Africa’s Jeunes Sommeliers competition earlier this year.
And is Jeff one of the favourites for the title?
“I can’t say,” said Francois. “But I can tell you that you don’t get into a competition like this unless you’re very, very good.”
The winner of the 6th Concours International des Jeunes Sommeliers will be announced at a gala dinner and induction ceremony which will take place at the Table Bay Hotel on Friday, 21 September.