The first full-time wine expert to join the Emperors Palace team, Boitumelo Maphela is bringing her considerable skills to Aurelia’s restaurant, the property’s fine dining restaurant. After cutting her teeth working in various five-star hospitality environments in Sandton and Hyde Park, Boitumelo joined Emperors Palace in May last year. Here, she answers a few questions about how she became a sommelier, her favourite food and wine pairing, and what she feels she’ll bring to Aurelia’s.

Tell us a little more about yourself
I’m an adventurous spirit, particularly when it comes to food and, of course, wine. So, I like to spend my time outside of work checking out food markets and enjoying new foodie experiences, whether it’s with friends or on my own. I also try to travel, even if it’s just a quick trip across the country, and I reserve Sundays for church no matter what.

How did you become a sommelier?
In the second year of my hospitality management studies, an ambassador from Cape Wine presented a guest lecture on the basics of wine pairings, and that really got me interested. I was fascinated by the fact that wine could be such a complex subject and that encouraged me to learn more about wine. I decided to cut my in-service course short and head to Cape Town, where I planned to visit every wine farm I could and learn the culture and science of wine.

What did you have to study?
Along with my hospitality management qualification, I took a sommeliers course recognised and facilitated by Cape Wine Academy. The course is highly comprehensive and opens your eyes to so many concepts, from the basics of wine pairing to wine-making and the study of international wines.

Do you prefer local or international wine?
I have to say that French Chardonnay is incredible and one of my favourite wines, but when it comes to reds, I honestly believe that South Africa can compete with the best of the best around the world!

What’s your favourite food and wine pairing?
My favourite pairing (and the most precise pairing you can get) is seafood paired with a white wine. The silky, fruity, buttery note you get from the wine balances perfectly with the acidity of the lemon sauces usually found in seafood dishes. Personally, I prefer a wooded Chardonnay, which is a wine that has been fermented in French oak barrels for a certain amount of time. I think it pairs excellently with seafood dishes.

Why aren’t there more female sommeliers in the business?
Women sommeliers are few and far between in Johannesburg, but there are quite a few women holding sommelier positions in Cape Town – arguably the country’s wine hub. The reason I think it was rare to find women sommeliers in the past is probably because you would have to do quite a bit of heavy lifting and perhaps restaurant owners thought this meant hiring extra hands to help, but thankfully that’s changing.

What do you feel you will bring to Aurelia’s?
Being the first sommelier at the restaurant, I intend to engage with guests and help them select the perfect wine for their meals, Dining shouldn’t be a rushed, routine affair, but a memorable experience and for diners. I want the guest to walk out the restaurant feeling totally satisfied and maybe even having learned something about wine. I also want to increase wine sales for the restaurant in comparison to the years before I was employed at Aurelia’s.

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