We caught up with a leading light of the South African Wine industry, Tinashe Nyamudoka, to find out what it means to be the wine steward at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
Look up “sommelier” in a dictionary and you’ll find out it’s the person in a restaurant responsible for putting together the wine list, advising and assisting guests with their choices and specialising in food and wine pairing. And if you are lucky enough to get a table at Luke Dale-Roberts’ Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Cape Town, the man who’ll verify your vintage is Zimbabwean-born Tinashe Nyamudoka.
His journey to the number-one rated restaurant in SA began in 2008 when he arrived in the Mother City and got a job at the historic Roundhouse restaurant looking out over Camps Bay.
“I’d literally never tasted wine, but I was fascinated and didn’t know why the other waiters never cared. I figured if I knew more, I could use those skills to upsell and make better tips!” His “aha moment” soon followed. “The first wine that made sense to me was Rudera Robusto Chenin Blanc 2006. Full, round and delicious. I was instantly hooked.”
Over the next few years, Tinashe sharpened his corkscrew at some of our most vaunted restaurants from Nobu and Reuben’s in the V&A Waterfront to the Oyster Box in Umhlanga. And when he returned to Cape Town, in mid-2015, he found a perfect fit at The Test Kitchen as beverage manager and head sommelier.
If you’ve seen the 2013 documentary Somm, you’ll know the world of master wine waiters is fuelled as much by ego and one-upmanship as it is by fermentation and it’s in this context that Tinashe has been known to refer to himself as “a casual sommelier”.
“As a somm, you always need to be the one who knows more, and that’s great fun when I’m with my peers and we’re tasting and comparing. But I’m not really a wine geek, so I enjoy the other side much more: sharing knowledge with guests who are curious and passionate about food and wine.”
In one of life’s lovely twists, Tinashe is helping out fellow sommelier Nash Kanyangararawith preparations for Luke Dale-Roberts’ latest venture with ex-TTK head chef Ryan Cole. It’s called Salsify and it’s happening at a refurbished Roundhouse. Sometimes, in the world of wine, what goes around, comes around!
To be a good sommelier you have to…
- Have an exceptional palate. You must learn to appreciate and distinguish wines without looking at labels.
- Really know your subject. Knowledge is king, so be curious and willing to keep learning.
- Be able to transfer that knowledge to others. If you can’t share, you’ll never be a sommellier.
5 South African wines you need to try
Kumusha White Blend.Disclaimer – it’s my own wine! Chenin blanc and sémillon from the Slanghoek Valley and made for food.
Carl Everson Chenin.I get some of my grapes from Opstal and their wines are excellent, great value and often overlooked.
Alto Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a true classic – I’ve tasted old ones and new ones and they are consistenly outstanding.
Thelema Sutherland Chardonnay. A Stellenbosch estate, but these grapes come from their Elgin vineyards and I love cool climate chardonnay.
Jordan Real McCoy Riesling. Riesling is hard to beat if you’re looking for a spicy food pairing – like curry.
WORDS Brandon de Kock