Boschendal Wines

Sommelier Series: Q & A with Kobus Van Zyl

Tell us more about yourself.

 I was born on a wine farm in Bonnievale so it seems that working with wine is in my DNA!  After studying at Stellenbosch University I went to Ireland and was fortunate to work in premium venues and five star hotels where first-class products and superior service were the name of the game.  This is where I was exposed and educated on wines from around the world.   On my return to South Africa I started working at The Four Seasons Westcliff in Johannesburg and currently I am at the Mesh Club and Mix Bar in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

How did wine grow into such a passion of yours?

I was a bartender for many years and wine was one of the areas I had to school myself in.  There is a lot more to learn about wine than most other drinks categories so I ended up focusing more and more on wine.  You can quickly become an expert on Vodka but wine is a different world – there is so much to learn –  and this intrigued me.

Describe a typical day in the life of a sommelier.

Every day is a school day.  Nobody ever knows everything so you have to keep educating yourself. Daily routine includes checking the cellar, checking up on equipment like glassware and educating the team.  Training is crucial component to a successful wine program.  Guiding your guests to a fine wine or a perfect pairing is the pleasant result of a well curated wine program.

Favourite Boschendal vintage of all time?

I’ll break the mold here and say a non-vintage.  I am a big fan of the MCC Brut as it is consistently good.  If I have to go with a vintage, the Elgin Chardonnay 2015 made a proper statement.

What characteristics make for an excellent wine? 

Understanding and care. Understanding the varietal, the terroir and then treating it in a way that creates an excellent wine.  No matter if it is large volumes or single barrels – care needs to be taken during the entire process.

What you refer to as your ‘career highlight’ so far?

I am fortunate that there has been many.  A rather peculiar highlight was being asked to step down as the Irish Whiskey Tasting champion after winning 2004-2007 to give others the opportunity to win!  When you remain positive you take a lot of positives out of providing good service and a good product to your clients.

  How does one qualify to become a sommelier in South Africa?

A lot of people think owning a corkscrew is enough to call themselves a sommelier.  It has been the topic of debate recently.  There are outstanding and knowledgeable sommeliers in South Africa and I understand why they get irritated when people casually announce themselves as sommelier.  Self education, training, WSET and Cape Wine Academy is the way to start, then there is more work after that to ensure you understand wine as a professional.  It is a long journey before you can claim to be a professional sommelier.

Is this a career you think more young people should consider?

I have seen many people put in hard work educating themselves on wine successfully.  It can really open doors for you on a global level.  I think it is an excellent career choice and it is also so rewarding and so much fun learning about all the wines out there.  I also know a lot of people in the industry that are very keen to help and guide young people to a career with wine.

Why do you think South Africa is so good at wine production?

We produce quality wines – whether new and exciting or unconventional.   There are many, many South African wines that can compete with wines from traditionally favoured areas.  We have Chardonnay that can challenge Burgundy, Rhone and Bordeaux blends.  The diversity in South African wine is currently contributing to its success, it however needs to be managed respectfully in order to ensure a globally recognised South African identity.

Why do you love the Boschendal Nicolas?

It is a very well balanced wine I am keen to see how wine lovers will react to it.  Balance is key in life and I think with the right serving temperature the Nicolas could be a firm favourite in both winter and summer.

What would you pair the Nicolas 2016 with?

The Nicolas 2016 is an extremely versatile wine – I love pairing it with meat though.  The last bottles I opened was at a braai with lamb chops simply dressed with thyme and rosemary with olive oil and marinated pork neck.  It worked a treat with both.  Our chef at Mix Bar recently paired it with a lamb rump dish and it was an exquisite pairing.