Gareth Ferreira, the ‘Best Sommelier in South Africa’ and number 15 in the ‘World’s Best Sommelier’ competition, shares his industry journey and plans for the future with us during an interview…

Firstly, congratulations on your latest, outstanding achievement! Please share with us how it felt to be bestowed the title of ‘Best Sommelier in South Africa’?

Thank you! Yes, I was very proud of the achievement, although I work in the U.K. now, I still feel that I have a part to play in the profession back in South Africa and therefore took the decision to fly back to take part in what was a well organised competition with a very high standard, so I was really pleased to finish on top.

An achievement like this takes the highest level of dedication and passion. Please tell us a bit more about your participation in this competition and the preparation for a competition of this level?

I have been taking part in competitions for a while now; I don’t think you need to be a competition winner to be a great sommelier, but I do think it teaches you humility. To showcase your knowledge and skills under a great amount of pressure is very different to doing it at work – it pushes you to study, to taste and practice and perfect service skills. I put in thousands of hours studying, practicing blind tastings and on the service side I practiced with work colleagues, as they tried putting me under the same pressure one would expect in a competition environment.

Your career in wine started abroad, but it seems that throughout your career you’ve always found your way back to South Africa. Tell us a bit more about this journey of yours into the world of wine?

Yes, I really got into wine while I was working in the USA as a waiter and bartender. I remember the sommeliers at the hotel and always thought to myself that they knew so much about this great beverage, wine, but it was only back in South Africa that I got my first chance to work as a sommelier. I had a very supportive Managing Director at The Saxon Hotel, Mr George Cohen, whom I can’t thank enough as during that time I also had the opportunity to work with Francis Krone who really lit the passion. Thankfully I’ve had the chance to travel and work in amazing places, under great sommeliers like South Africa’s very own Nicholaś Murcott at The Burj Al Arab in Dubai and now a sommelier legend, Ronan Sayburn MS, at 67 Pall Mall in London.

You travel quite regularly and must have seen some spectacular places. Which country is on your list to visit again in the near future?

I’m hopefully going to Hungary in a couple weeks to visit the historic Tokaj region – I love the wines both sweet and dry and it feels like you really only get to know a region when you visit it. Other places I love visiting, other than the great French wine regions, is Portugal. I have been twice now and think the Douro Valley is one of the most amazing places on earth. Spain is on the bucket list as well.

We would love for you to share some of your favourite restaurants from around the world, with great wine lists…

There are so many great wine lists. I’m more familiar with wine lists here in London and it’s hard to pick ones in particular, but I love going to places with great concepts focusing on particular regions or countries that are clear, easy to read, have wines on them that are chosen with a reason, have hidden gems and of course fair mark-ups.

When you dine out, what do you look for on a wine list in a restaurant?

It does not have to be big, smaller wine lists often have more thought put into them and usually the wines are rotated more regularly. I love wine lists that show older vintages of wines, wine lists that are compatible with the food on the menu and again wines at reasonable mark-ups.

How did you come to know of De Toren wines?

De Toren is a name synonymous with quality. I always knew about the wines, I had them listed in South Africa when I was working there and was just always confident in recommending them, I always received great feedback from local as well as international guests that wanted to try the best wines South Africa had to offer

What is your favourite De Toren wine and why?

I would have to say the De Toren Fusion V, a classic New World Bordeaux blend with great intensity, but more importantly balance. I think it’s a wine that can be enjoyed young, but needs seven to ten years in my opinion before you really will see the class.

What is the perfect meal to pair with this wine and why do you think it works so well?

I think great cuts of beef are always going to be a winner, but certainly lamb and venison sounds appetising too.

What are the four things that one should consider when selecting a South African wine?

Compatibility with the restaurant or menu, price point for any wine not just South African wine, the quality of the wine according to this price point, balance, intensity and ageing potential, but I think what it ultimately comes down to is, will I be able to sell this wine and will my customers enjoy it and remember it…

We are honoured that the De Toren wines will soon be listed on the wine list of 67 Pall Mall Private Members’ Club. Please tell us a bit more about your job and what you love most about it?

I love having the chance to introduce people to new wines and see their enjoyment of it. I have the rare opportunity to taste some of the finest wines in the world every day and not many people can say that. This industry has so many great and interesting people working in it and meeting them and sharing stories is amazing. 67 Pall Mall is the first of its kind and to be a part of the opening of a place that so many people are talking about is something special.

It seems you never slow down; your career is going from strength to strength. Where to next, is the ultimate goal to become the World’s Best Sommelier?

Well that would be nice!!! I finished 15th in this year’s ‘World’s Best Sommelier’ competition in Mendoza, which was a great achievement considering 61 of the world’s best sommeliers were there. I am really working hard to achieve the Master Sommelier diploma, an exam with an extremely high standard and the ultimate qualification in the profession. It’s a long journey to achieve it and I’ve been studying pretty much for the last six years, going through all the levels – I have now passed the practical section of the Masters exam and will need to take the theory and tasting section for a third time in August.

Gareth, we wish you all the best on your future endeavours!