Next month, wine experts and enthusiasts from around the globe will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup 2019. Representing the United States? Pittsburgh’s own Adam Knoerzer, dean of drinking and head of educational programming at the sister companies Palate Partners and Dreadnought Wines in Lawrenceville.
In June, Knoerzer won the Sommelier Cup’s U.S. competition at an event in New York City. At next month’s event, he’ll compete with experts from Japan, Germany and the U.K.
The group of accredited wine specialists will compete in a series of events based on their knowledge of the history, pairing and presentation of wines found in and around the Cape region. This will be Knoerzer’s second trip to the region this year.
Knoerzer, who received his certification from The Court of Master Sommeliers in 2017, lives in Bloomfield with his husband. He’s been with Palate Partners for two years, having spent the six years prior as a traveling software teacher while he studied wine on the side.
“I spent a lot of time in airports and hotels around the world. I could self-study,” he says. In addition to his work around town, he also runs the blog ‘Burghundy, which covers wine in the Pittsburgh region.
Speaking with NEXTpittsburgh, Knoerzer describes South African wines as a sumptuous mix of classical European and modern styles. He loves the taste, and says the current South African wine market fits into his larger ethos as a sommelier.
“Within a small geographic footprint, you can find basically any style of wine and any kind of wine grape,” Knoerzer tells us. “There’s such a diversity of what you can find down there. You can pretty much drink through the entire world of wine in the Western Cape.”
In his own teaching, which takes place several nights a week at Palate Partners’ Liberty Avenue home base, Knoerzer says he pushes for a wine culture that is inclusive and accessible, rather than elitist and obscure. He’s even okay with the idea of boxed or canned wine, if someone truly likes it: “I’m not here to police what people enjoy,” he says.
South Africa’s Western Cape, Knoerzer tells us, is “an area that produces really high quality for prices that are affordable and approachable for most consumers.”
Those affordable prices may slowly begin to change “as people realize the quality that comes out of South Africa.” But, he says, the wines currently on the market offer “a really nice window into what quality can be.”
Throughout the year, Knoerzer offers a variety of courses on wines from regions or grapes that are often overlooked, such as Bolivia and South Africa. He also runs recurring courses highlighting Black and women winemakers.
The traditional industry has “suffered from really being the bastion of moneyed white men,” says Knoerzer. “There’s a big world of wine out there, and we do ourselves a disservice if we focus exclusively on ‘classics,’ if you will, and wines that everyday consumers are probably never going to try.”
He’ll be teaching another course on South African wine on August 21.