Name: Lendl Mijnhijmer
Born: November 6, 1984, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Accomplishments: Best Sommelier of the Netherlands 2018 (winner Trophée Henriot); Weinakademiker (WSET4 Diploma Graduate)
Current position: Wine Director at TwentySeven Hotel/Restaurant Bougainville, Amsterdam
Has worked for: Restaurant Waterproef, Scheveningen; Carlton Beach Club, Scheveningen (“that’s where my love for wine began”, Lendl says)
This interview was conducted during Cape Wine 2018 (www.capewine2018.com)
WOSA: What is so great about being a sommelier?
Lendl: When people think of a sommelier, they tend to only think of tasting, recommending and serving wine. But a sommelier is also a host, a liaison between kitchen, maître and staff and guests, you can contribute enormously to the success of the evening. If the evening goes well, that’s a satisfying feeling. It is also an infinitely fascinating profession to find wines, a profession so complex that you are never done learning and therefore always challenged. I put a lot of energy into learning, I study a lot.
WOSA: Do you see being a sommelier as your long-term profession?
Lendl: There are some very good examples of people who keep going, who are still highly respected sommeliers at a higher age. I am a boy of the restaurant floor, that is intense. So, I do not know if I’ll still be on the floor at the age of 60. You have to watch your body and mind and also it mustn’t become too much of a routine. In 10 years’ time, for example, I would like to phase out my work on the floor and do more work behind the scenes. But I’ll never leave the floor completely, because standing at the table with the guests is too much fun. Anyway, I will not become a wine importer.
WOSA: You have lived in Cape Town before. How does it feel to be back in South Africa?
Lendl: During the final stage of my education at The Hotel School The Hague (Hospitality Business School) I lived in Cape Town for 8 months (as a trainee), in 2009. I would actually go to Beijing, but we did not get a visa because of the Olympic Games. Then Cape Town came into the picture. I am very happy to be back, because I know that a lot has changed. Due to circumstances this trip is of course weird (Lotte Wolf, a sommelier colleague and friend passed away at the age of only 32), but it felt good to be back, like coming home a bit. I love beautiful cities and Cape Town is wonderful for sure.
WOSA: What springs to mind immediately when you think of South Africa?
Lendl: Of course wine, but even more South Africa’s scenic beauty. And also the friendliness of the people; they are open and interested in why you are here. It just feels pleasant to be here.
WOSA: What are the most interesting cultivars and regions at the moment in South Africa, according to you?
Lendl: Everyone is obviously a bit Swartland-minded and understandably so. Also Italian grape varieties, Spanish grape varieties are interesting to follow, it is just good that they are coming back a bit from the well-known international grapes. But even more interesting to me is the focus on terroir, on the vineyards, on old vines, smaller producers, special cuvées from special vineyards. People are more concerned with details, they are making big steps forward in quality. South African wine must be more expensive, at the low end but also at the top end. Because even the best wines are too cheap actually. And the wines are worth more.
WOSA: Which South African wines do you work with?
Lendl: In general, I like finesse in wines, I am not looking for big wines. They must be pure, but with a frayed edge. I’m working with Storm Wines, Savage, De Toren, obviously Sadie Family Wines. Lots of wines imported by De Lange. Crystallum I already work with from the beginning. Furthermore, classics like aged Kanonkop. I’m going to take on more importers, but in Bougainville I had to take it easy at the start. As a new restaurant, all importers want something from you… I am now adding Momento Wines to the list, via African Wines, a specialist company that is bringing small producers to the Netherlands. In total we have about 35 references, I think. And that number is increasing.
WOSA: How do you get to know new South African Wines, where do you get inspiration?
Lendl: From reading international wine magazines, via social media that I find very important (Lendl has about 3.600 followers just on Instagram), also via sommeliers that I follow on Facebook, like Tinashe Nyamudoka from The Test Kitchen. I’m not really interested in wine scores, but I do pay attention to what some good journalists write about quality and style development.
WOSA: What is your opinion on the availability of good information on South African wines?
Lendl: On the website of WOSA you can find a lot, for me that website is just as good and informative as the site of New Zealand Wine. Also, the links to the SAWIS reports are nice, you can find everything you are looking for.
WOSA: What is your opinion on pairing South African wines with food? How do they compare to other wines, from Europe or the Southern Hemisphere?
Lendl: I have certainly tasted great wines at the fair that will go well with our food. I never look for a specific origin of the wine first, the wine has to fit the dish. And if, for example, we end up at a chenin blanc, I will look at Loire and South Africa. It is nice that South African wines have become much more elegant, they are therefore more engaging in the combination with food. The Barber Semillon 2017 from Opstal (Slanghoek Valley) is a fine example, with zest, almond paste and dried flowers, but a tight mouthfeel with saltiness; those kind of wines are great with our food.
WOSA: Do you have any tips for restaurants or Wine Bars in Cape Town or the Winelands?
Lendl: Definitely. Pot Luck Club of course, Chef’s Wharehouse at Beau Constantia, Publik Wine Bar, Manna Epicure for lunch (best Caesar Salad in the world).