If you have had the pleasure of dining at Signal, or simply enjoyed a glass of something special in the Bascule Bar, you might have met Marlvin, our Head Sommelier. Freshly back from his victorious France sojourn, we caught up with him to chat about the World Blind Tasting Championships, Cape wine trends, and his quaffable summer recommendations.
Bubbly, affable, and endlessly knowledgeable, Marlvin actually hails from Zimbabwe, one of South Africa’s neighbouring countries. While this is not unusual in and of itself, Zimbabwe is not a wine-producing country. So how did this special sommelier acquire a love for the wine? Really, it was his passion for fine dining that led him to the grape. ‘I began working in a restaurant at the age of 21 to save up for my IT diploma, but quickly realised that wine was my true passion, so switched streams’, said Marlvin. ‘I quickly fell in love with wine and I realised being a wine ‘’Guru’’ is what I’ve always wanted to be’, he added.
Four years on, and it’s paid off, his expertise critical in leading a team to a fantastic place in the recent World Blind Tasting Championships held at Chateau Saint Pierre de Serjac, France, on the 13th of October 2018. ‘More than 25 countries compete against each other, so it is a coming together of the best palettes in the world. Last year was our first time competing, and so we were a bit inexperienced. This year, we rose to 14th place overall, beating countries like Spain, Italy, as well as the USA’, said Marlvin. ‘We also correctly identified a South African Chenin Blanc (a beautiful one by Flotsam and Jetsam), which most teams thought was a Viognier.’
Currently a Cape Wine Master student, Marlvin’s ambition and passion is hard to beat. So what’s next for this shining star? It’s all about the bubbles. ‘While I’m completing my thesis, and learning more about old world wines, sparkling wine is a personal passion of mine, and something I’m really looking forward to writing more about.’
Marlvin at Cape Grace
While Marlvin nurtures his own knowledge and passion for winemaking, his role as Head Sommelier for Cape Grace means that he gets to extend that to guests of Signal restaurant. ‘Being the Head Sommelier at the Cape Grace Hotel is the best thing that’s ever happened in my career. I get the opportunity to work closely with our amazingly talented chefs to create magic! Our seasonal tasting menu, in particular, means we get the opportunity to change things up fairly often, and keep our eye on what is new. Working with Cape Grace also means that I can create a wine list that accommodates people from around the world, while retaining a South African focus.’
So which regions and styles of wine does he currently recommended for guests? The answers might surprise you. ‘I’m a huge Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fan, so the Hemel En Aarde is my current favourite region. But Stellenbosch is still the powerhouse. They make such a great variety of wine, from Cabernet, to Pinotage, Chenin to Sauvignon Blanc.’
As we swing into the warmer summer months, some might default to a Sauvignon Blanc, but Marlvin cautions against anything too obvious. ‘I’m moving towards our South African Grenache. It is a lovely light red, you can drop the temperature on it a bit. I would pair that with some salmon, or cured ostrich. Of course, our South African MCC (sparkling wine) is fantastic. That pairs well with perfectly seared pork belly, or salmon gravlax.’
But if there was just one wine that visitors to South Africa had to try what would it be? Marlvin answers with certainty. ‘Chenin Blanc’, he answered without hesitating. ‘We are doing exceptionally well, especially with bush wines that are low-yielding but produce a highly concentrated flavour. The fantastic, mineral-style ones often get confused with Chardonnays from Burgundy.’
Above all, Marlvin is passionate about sharing the culinary dance between great food and exceptional wine with our guests. So how exactly does working with a sommelier change a dining experience for a guest, you might wonder. ‘A good sommelier will help you to pick a wine, within your budget, to pair beautifully with whatever you’re having for lunch or dinner as a seamless, whole experience. It is our pleasure to expose our guests to new wines. Instead of a Pinot Noir, I might suggest a Sangiovese. Some guests who think they only like American or French wine, might come to love South African wines, when I understand what it is that they’re looking for in flavour profile. We are restaurant teachers and mentors who will lead you to what you love best. That is also why the tasting menu at Signal is an incredible opportunity to learn more about both unusual South African cuisine and wine.’
Finally, what is next for this true pioneer? For Marlvin, it’s about sharing his knowledge and passion with those closest to him. ‘I want to continue to evolve the internal wine program at Cape Grace for our staff members and take that to a whole new level. We won’t just be talking about reds and whites, but about the intricacies between years, regions, and varietals. I am also looking forward to growing our cellar collection. There are some exciting things in the pipeline for Cape Grace with regards to wine. I can’t say too much yet, but keep an eye out!’
Your invitation to learn more about wine with Marlvin at Cape Grace
Cape Grace guests are welcomed to join Marlvin in the Signal Bar each evening at 6pm for an hour-long introduction to Cape wine. It is a unique opportunity to learn more about (and taste) some uniquely wonderful, proudly South African favourites and hidden gems, under the wise tutelage of one of the very best in Africa, and beyond.
To find out more, contact Signal restaurant by visiting our website.
Blog post by: Tarah Darge