One of South Africa's most respected experts talks to Grace Wong about his early introduction to wine and the joys of tasting a 200-year-old vintage.
When and how did you become interested in wine?
'I have very open-minded parents, who allowed me to taste wine starting at the age of four; by the time I was 12, I was having wine with my meals. This was normal in our household and I am letting my two young children have wine with their meals too. Our family believes that if children know about wines at an early age, they will grow up to be responsible alcohol drinkers.'
What is your first memory of an outstanding wine?
'At the age of 20, I tasted a bottle of Burgundy - the Clos Des Lambrays 1934. It's like nothing I've ever tasted. It transformed my vision about wines.'
How did you get started in the industry?
'I studied history and literature in college and didn't realise my interest in wines until I started working part time in a wine shop, and then embarked on a trip to France with my girlfriend. That trip altered my career path into professional wine consultancy.'
You've worked as a consultant for South African Airways. Are there any guidelines to follow when composing a wine list to go with pre-cooked, re-heated airline food?
'I've researched the subject of wine taste in the air. The original perception and aroma of wine will change at high altitude due to lack of oxygen. So wines should be based on more aromatic fruits such as red and black berries, and [there should be] a minimum use of oak to neutralise acidity, [so that the wine can] serve as a palate cleanser.'
Why is South African wine relatively unknown?
'South African's best wines are the whites but people usually pay attention to reds. It is harder to sell white than red wines in the industry.'
What international cuisine do you think pairs best with South African wine?
'A combination of Malaysian and Japanese. The richness and spices in Malaysian food and the seaweeds in Japanese dishes work brilliantly with South African white wines.'
What is the best thing you've tasted?
'One famous wine, Vin de Constance 1791, made in South Africa and found in a wine cellar. It didn't taste old or young. I took my glass home with the residuals in it, and the next morning I could still smell the wine. It is so rare - a 1791 in perfect condition. It should go into drinking history. People who produced this wine just couldn't have imagined what would happen to it over 200 years.'