Clink clink, here’s to sipping the perfect glass of vino. Verdicchio’s wine fundi Justin Lee and Wine Concepts’ go-to gal Amelia Visser cover the A to Zs of what’s trending on the wine front this summer.

The aisles are vast … to-the-point-of-no-return kinda vast. The rows upon rows of bottles feel as if they’re closing in on you. Cabernet … Chenin … Shiraz. Your palms are sweaty. Your throat is parched … which wine will you choose? Truth is, for the vast majority of us picking the perfect bottle can be a terrifying business. Which is exactly why we’ve rounded up two of Joburg North’s top wine gurus to break it down for you and give us their top picks for summer.

Justin Lee is the GM, executive chef and assistant wine buyer at Verdicchio Restaurant and Wine Cellar in Monte … whew, talk about busy! And with Verdicchio having recently been announced as a Diners Club Diamond award winner for its wine list selection – well, let’s just say Justin knows good wine and, more importantly, what to pair it with. ‘We spend a huge amount of time on our wine list but ultimately, the customers decide on what stays and what goes. We want to have a fair spread. There have got to be wines that appeal to all budgets and all palates. And we want to try and get as much as we can from all the regions.’

Justin made the move from Cape Town to Lonehill two years ago and would you believe it, he says he’s been more exposed to wine here, thanks to Verdicchio’s owner, Tubby Georghiou. ‘I enjoy grape and I enjoy the science and the craftsmanship behind it. There’s a culture that goes with wine that I appreciate and under Tubby’s mentorship I’ve learnt a great deal more about that.’

In case you were wondering, summer doesn’t just mean new fashion trends. ‘When it comes to wine in the hotter months, there’s always a move away from the Cabs and fuller bodied wines. The trend is definitely towards lighter, fresher meals and hence your lighter wines.’

OK, so now for the million dollar question … what are the wines of the moment? ‘First up is the 2009 Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Inner Valley Sauvignon Blanc which we have just acquired from this year’s Nederburg Wine Auction. True class and oozing elegance. This wine is perfect for any summer occasion. Drink it with anybody, even if you’re just sitting outside in the garden having a braai.’ On the other hand if your palate is crying out for red, red wine, try the Meerlust Pinot Noir 2011. ‘I think is going to have to be among everyone’s wine choices this summer.’

You don’t need to tell us twice that food and wine go hand in hand. ‘If you pair a wine well with your meal, it makes the whole experience a lot better.’ So what’s Justin’s go-to combo? ‘Honestly, it’s a good Riesling with a peri-peri chicken liver salad.’ And on a relaxed night in, Justin whips up a light pasta with a nice Chardonnay. ‘I just throw in some garlic, a swig of olive oil, a little bit of parsley and with a glass of Chardonnay … brilliant!’ Details: 011-511-1969.

Amelia Visser will convert any sceptic into a supporter … of wine that is. ‘You get a lot of people who say they don’t like wine and I always say ‘you’re wrong. You do like wine you just haven’t yet found the wine you like.’’

As wine fanatic and manager of the Wine Concepts Store at BluBird Shopping Centre, Amelia will tell you that the best way to learn about wine is by tasting and tasting and … yep, you guessed it, tasting some more. We’re definitely up for that … see, smell, swirl, sip and finally savour. ‘There are so many out there that it’s impossible not to like something.’

Amelia admits to having a rather large wine collection of her own. ‘I try to keep wine for a while. I love wine … it’s my biggest downfall. My father also works in the wine industry so as a little girl he’d say this is Sauvignon Blanc and you must smell this … not taste. Then when I was a little older every Sunday we’d taste a bit of wine.’

So what are the summer favourites? ‘Sauvignon Blanc, and 2013 has been a very good vintage. If I had to pinpoint one that’s a tropical fruit-style, open-drink-and-enjoy kind of wine I’d go with the Val da Vie Polo Club Sauvignon Blanc. It’s really just a nice summer wine. Sauvignon is very light so I’d pair it with a nice crisp salad … something fresh … even a light fish dish will go down nicely.’

If you’re opting for red, Pinot Noir is always a fave. Amelia suggests chilling it for half an hour in the fridge beforehand. ‘In South Africa, there are lots of up-and-coming Pinot Noirs. The Black Water is fantastic. And it’ll go really well with a light Thai dish or a spicy chicken lamb curry. ‘

We all love a good rosé, and the Vrede en Lust is Amelia’s recommendation, or the De Grendel if you prefer something drier.

OK … let’s talk end-of-the-month budget buys. Amelia’s beat the budget suggestions include Noble Hill Sauvignon Blanc. ‘It’s a beautiful wine – a lot of people don’t know it because the estate is so small but it makes unbelievable wines.’ She also recommends the Dalla Cia Sauvigon Blanc. ‘It’s R80 a bottle and even if you don’t like Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll change your mind when you try this one. It’s a serious crowd-pleaser.’ Talking inexpensive red, Amelia suggests any of the Brampton reds. ‘My favourite is the Shiraz – it’s got a nice black currant flavour and it’s one of those wines that you can just open and drink and enjoy. And it’s around R69 a bottle.’

If she wants to pull out the big guns and seriously wow her guests, Amelia’s first pick is definitely a red … probably a Bordeaux. ‘My favourite is Vilafonte … it goes with absolutely everything … on its own or with a nice piece of steak. I’d probably drink cases of it, but it’s just too expensive.’

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Telephone: (011) 511 1969
Telephone: (011) 511 1970

Verdicchio Restaurant & Wine Cellar, Shop 9 Montecasino, Fourways, Gauteng, 2047