Sommelier Talk: Jörg Pfützner

Aubergine's German-born sommelier discusses his conversion from coffee connoisseur to wine lover and pairing his favorite Mosel Rieslings with South Africa's indigenous cuisine
Jun 26, 2007

Jörg Pfützner, 32, was born in the town of Rostock, in northern Germany. His first job in the restaurant business was running Bereuther restaurant in Hamburg. Pfützner moved to Cape Town, South Africa, in 2003 and, after a short stint at the Buitenverwachting restaurant in Constantia, he connected with Harald Bresselschmidt, chef and owner of Aubergine restaurant in Cape Town, where he has now been the sommelier for more than three years.

While in South Africa, Pfützner has remained true to his roots while also adopting the local wine culture. He emphasizes both South African wines and German Rieslings on the wine list at Aubergine, which totals about 500 selections, backed by over 6,000 bottles in inventory.

Wine Spectator: What first got you interested in wine?
Jörg Pfützner: I met Michael Hoffman, then the executive chef of the Vierjahreszeiten hotel in Hamburg. I assisted him in improving the coffee quality in his restaurant as I was [initially] very interested in coffee. I decided to spontaneously join Michael on a wine tour through the Hungarian wine regions after he gave me my first glass of Tokay—a '45 vintage. I was amazed at the complexity and age of the wine. I found drinking such an old wine very thrilling as I imagined the people who made the wine decades ago.

WS: Why did you move to South Africa?
JP: That's where the romance starts. I met my partner, Claire, in Cape Town on the last night of a wine tour there. We connected immediately. After traveling back and forward over a period of a year to visit her, it became too expensive. I had to sell my wines to pay for tickets and an exorbitantly high cell phone bill! So I invited her to move to Hamburg. We lived there for 10 months before I realized that I would like to experience Cape Town and see what this beautiful country had for me.

WS: What is the hardest dish on the dinner menu at Aubergine to pair with wine, and what do you pair with it?
JP: At the moment, the most difficult dish to pair wine with is the ostrich tartare with oyster vinaigrette and chicory salad. I am currently serving the 2006 Bruwer Raats Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch with this dish. It's powerful enough for the tartare and the wine's acidity enhances the oyster flavors and plays nicely with the chicory.

In general though, I find artichoke the most difficult ingredient to pair with wine. There is a chemical in artichokes called cynarin, which tricks the tongue into perceiving sweet flavors (and with some people bitter flavors). My ideal combination for an artichoke soup for example would be the 1989 Egon Müller Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Wiltinger Braune Kupp. The subtle sweetness and vibrant acidity of the wine balance with the perceived sweetness of this dish. The wine doesn't overpower the artichoke flavors. From the South African section of the wine list I would choose the L'Avenir Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2001.

WS: What is your favorite wine-and-food pairing?
JP: We have a Karoo lamb saddle with lavender crust, whole braised garlic and a green pea puree. With this I serve the 2000 Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch Condé, from a single vineyard in the Jonkershoek Valley of Stellenbosch. The wine is pretty elegant for a South African wine and doesn't overpower the subtlety of the Karoo lamb.

I tend to remain faithful to the classics and simple dishes: a good ossobucco with a serious whack of truffle paired with an old Barolo from B. Mascarello or G. Conterno. Grilled sardines with a Pazo de Señorans Albariño Rias Baixas, or orange soufflé with the 1993 Istvan Szepsy Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos. I have still to find a dessert wine that can beat Szepsy's in this pairing.

WS: Do you have to work hard to convince your customers at Aubergine to try South African wines?
JP: No, on the contrary. We have a good blend of local and international clientele. The international guests are eager to try South African wine and, in general, the locals are just starting to discover non-South African wines.

WS: What is your favorite wine region?
JP: My favorite wine region is usually the one that is currently sitting in my glass. In general I like wines from regions with distinct minerality, like Bordeaux, Rhône, Champagne, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Douro Valley and Piedmont. I can't make up my mind. It really depends on how I feel and the time of day. The most I drink is German Riesling—I am completely content with the wines from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.

WS: How many bottles do you have in your own personal cellar, and what are some of your favorites?
JP: I have roughly 1,000 bottles that I have placed in three different cellars so that I don't have [easy] access to them. Otherwise I would not have much! In general I am not very good in cellaring wine and I probably drink my wines too young.

We tend to keep quite a bit of German Riesling at home in Cape Town as it is a perfect wine for the warm weather. Some of my favorites are the wines from Joh. Jos. Prüm, Willi Schaefer and Egon Müller.

For more mature wines I love the 1947 Chambertin Vandermeulen, 1990 J.L. Chave Hermitage, 1990 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon, 1947 Château La Tour-Haut-Brion, 1946 Château Cheval-Blanc—great value for money as everybody is chasing the '47—and 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino.

WS: What kinds of dishes do you like to cook at home?
JP: For richer dishes, coq au vin or local venison such as springbok, eland, kudu and gemsbok [oryx], all of which are readily available from Namibia. For seafood, it's sole from the east coast of South Africa, along with prawns or whole calamari stuffed with Thai herbs on the barbecue, or "braai," as we say here. And of course lots of crayfish, the local favorite.

WS: If you ever made a wine, what kind of wine would it be?
JP: For a white wine it would be the 1989 Egon Müller Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Scharzhofberger. As for a red, I don't know ... I am still looking for it.

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