In this interview, we chat to Wikus Human, the Head Sommelier of Marble Restaurant, situated in the heart of Johannesburg, well recognized as one of South Africa’s top restaurants. Best known for his recent achievement as winner of the South Africa’s Best young Sommelier’ Challenge, Wikus shares his journey into the world of wine with us.

Wikus, congratulations on your most recent achievement as the first winner of the inaugural ‘2017 SA Moët & Chandon Best Young Sommelier Challenge’! How does it feel to have claimed this honorary title?  

The feeling cannot really be described in words. The moment my name was announced as ‘Best Young Sommelier South Africa’, it brought tears to my eyes. All the late nights of flashcards, tasting of wines and practicing service and decantation, all finally paid off!

Being the winner of this competition secured you a place in the SASA Sommelier Course Level Two, as well as the opportunity to compete in the ‘2018 Moët & Chandon Best Sommelier South Africa Challenge’. What does this mean to you and for your career?

It means so much – it drives you to push even harder. We work in a high-paced restaurant, where everything needs to happen with speed and precision. The benefit of working in such an establishment allows you to do service as fast as possible, according to Court of Master service standards. The real push comes when you get home at night, to open a book and dig your nose into it.

Having been in the wine industry for most of your working life, you have developed a passion for fine wine and have had the opportunity to improve your skills and palate immensely. Tell us a bit more about your journey into the world of wine?

Starting off as a waiter, I have grown substantially on a personal level. I can still remember the day when I really started to “taste” wine – trying to smell different notes, not actually knowing what to really smell. Through my journey I have trained my nose to depict different aromas, trained my palate to taste different elements. Smells and taste are of course important, but then there is also knowledge – learning about international wine regions, different vintages, the variety of soil types, obscure grape varietals and the rich history… The experiences I have had throughout my career have been tremendous and these include the tasting of older vintages, tasting some of the rarest or most bespoke wines that one have only ever just heard about and of course just those simply unforgettable tastings, those remain the ultimate experience.

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

I tend to look for good variation, by this I mean varietal and climate wise in terms of South African wines. I try to determine what the restaurant is offering and also try to find something new, cool or quirky on the list.

In your opinion, what are the 4 things that one should consider when selecting a South African wine?

  • Varietal: Choosing a wine where the climate in the area justifies the varietal.
  • Vintage or ageing: Perhaps something slightly older…
  • Structure: Flavours in a wine is crucial. These tastes and flavours in the wine should either match the flavour elements of the food it will be served with or should enable a positive outcome for the food and wine pairing.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new: It is often easier to stick with what you know and we all tend to do it from time to time.

How did you come to know of De Toren’s wines?

I first tasted it at Forum Homini and Roots Restaurant, where I used to work. The De Toren Délicate, back then still called La Jeunesse, was on the restaurant’s pairing menu. To this day if I see duck on a menu, it takes me to this wine. I very luckily also came across some older vintages of the De Toren Fusion V in the cellar.

We are honoured to have our wines listed at Marble Restaurant. Which De Toren wine is your favourite and why?

De Toren Délicate, since I have a history with this wine. It is a non-vintage, so there is always a story about why there is no vintage on the bottle and which vintages were selected for the wine. The wine is also so versatile and I love pairing red wines with fish or white meats and De Toren Délicate is one of my go-to options. Serving the De Toren Délicate at a slightly cooler temperature, makes for an absolute perfect pairing with these types of dishes.

It seems your career is going from strength to strength, where to next for you as esteemed SA sommelier?

At the moment all my focus is on the ‘Best Sommelier South Africa 2018 Competition’ and qualifying for my Court of Masters Certification. There is some tough competition out there, so I will need to be on top of my game. I also want to enlighten the importance of ‘wine service’ in South Africa – this includes things such as serving wine at the correct temperatures, the correct glassware, the decanting of wines before serving, pouring levels etc. I believe this can truly make a big difference in the South African wine industry.

Wikus, once again thank you for chatting to us and we wish you all the best with your future endeavours.