When Tinashe Nyamudoka left his economically ruined homeland Zimbabwe in 2008 to settle in Cape Town, he didn’t know anything about wine. Never in his wildest dreams would he have thought to rise from runner to one of SA’s most respected wine sommeliers in less than ten years.
The dream became reality. Before Tinashe arrived in the Mother City, he worked as an accountant in a supermarket in Zim. The only job available in Cape Town was as a baker. In a supermarket. Luckily his Congolese colleague knew how to bake. So they quickly made a deal. ‘I taught him English, he showed me how to bake bread’.
Then the posh Roundhouse restaurant in Camps Bay was looking for staff. Tinashe applied with his quiet and honest manner. He admitted to having no clue about the restaurant business (in particular about wine). And he was hired. The beginning of his career.
Tinashe‘s success is based on ambition, strong working ethics, the courage to take risks when necessary and the passion for wine. ‘Wine is my passion. Wine is my life. Without wine I wouldn’t be where I am today. It is a fascinating beverage, as it connects you to people. As a sommelier I don’t try to sell the wine, but the experience, the history and the love for it’.
His current position as head sommelier of The Test Kitchen, one of the 50 best restaurants in the world (for many years the best in SA), he describes as surreal. ‚When I first walked into the kitchen to meet the team, I was surprised of how normal everything was. It was a really good vibe. I loved it at once‘.
When the now 38-year-old Tinashe quit his job at the Roundhouse in Camps Bay, he continued his wine career at Nobu and Reuben’s in the Waterfront’s One & Only hotel. And he learned fast. In the One & Only he won the distinction of best wine steward in the Cape Legends inter-hotel challenge in 2013. A 14-months stint in the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks followed. Until SA’s number one chef Luke Dale-Roberts head-hunted Tinashe to complete his dynamic Test Kitchen team. A clear indication of Tinashe’s reputation in the industry.
He describes himself as laid-back sommelier and is adamant that there are excellent wines in each price segment. “The best of us don’t want to sell the most expensive bottle of wine’, he says ‘the challenge is to recommend a bottle, that the guest subsequently enjoys with his food‘. Tinashe also thinks, that wine drinkers should detach themselves from the pretentiousness of wine. Everybody has his very own, unique taste, that nobody should take away from you. Wine shouldn’t be intimidating. Don’t follow the masses and you will enjoy wine more. Nobody should feel awkward, when while tasting wine, the predetermined taste explosions aren’t taking place in your mouth. It is about your personal experience. Taste honestly. Your own experience of the wine is the real one‘.
Tinashe is one of 11 independent expert jurors, who are doing regular blind tastings to determine the wine of the month in the ‚Wine of the Month Club‘. To know everything about wines is one thing, but to choose the right ones for an excellent menu, that’s the art a good sommelier has to master.
‚I grew up in Zim with Sadza, which is like pap, cooked beef meat and green-leafed veggies. Sometimes there was grilled fish on the table and on weekends chicken with rice as a highlight. Despite all this I developed a taste for good food and a desire for classy wines.
In the Roundhouse Tinashe encountered his first proper gourmet meal. Initially it was a challenge for him to get the pronunciation of the names right. Laughing, he remembers how foie gras, amuse-bouche, oyster und beurre noisette came across his lips for the first time.
In the ‚One & Only‘ he met the Kobe beef for the first time. Well, not personally, but in the kitchen. He found out how it was grass-fed and hand-massaged, while listening to classical music. ‘The meat literally melted in my mouth’, he remembers. Also in the One & Only chef Reuben Riffel served him the best pork belly of his life.
And then followed the culinary zenith at The Test Kitchen. The popularity of his workplace makes it rather difficult to experience Tinashe live in his element. Reason enough to accompany him on his day off, a Monday, to an exclusive wine tasting in Stellenbosch.
The destination is De Toren Private Cellar, where excellent and exclusively red wines are pressed. The wine estate, where all the grapes are hand-picked, is famous for its big Bordeaux-style reds. Tinashe’s nose is already diving into the large, thin-walled glass. He sniffs, tastes, snores, smacks and gargles through the various taste experiences the Black Lion is causing on his palate. This release is limited to a few bottles each year. Only four per family are sold, for R2500 each.
As a wine juror Tinashe knows what pleases palates. No wonder, that in 2017 he created his own blend and label: Kumusha, meaning ‘home’ in his native Shona tongue. The white Chenin Blanc & Semillon blend is ‚a wine, that speaks my language, an African language. A wine which takes me back to my home, my roots and my heritage’. And while you usually find chateaus and castles on European wine labels, Tinashe’s wines are featuring a drawing of his grandfather’s rondavel.
As a matter of course Tinashe is a founding member of the Black Cellars Club (BLACC), an organisation, which helps young ambitious blacks in South Africa to get a foot hold in the wine industry. ‚Start as a runner, at the very bottom of the food chain’, is Tinashe’s advice to novices, ‘learn the business from the ground up’.
Is sommelier the ultimate dream job for him? Tinashe laughs, ‘Job is the wrong word, sommelier is not a job, it is a lifestyle. My lifestyle‘.
Tinashe live @ The Test Kitchen
British rock star chef Luke Dale-Roberts opened The Test Kitchen in 2010. Before he cooked up a storm at La Colombe, at the time located in Constantia. Since opening his own restaurant he is putting creative food onto plates – with enormous success. In the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world (www.theworlds50best.com) Test Kitchen is number 50. In Africa it is number 1. In 2017‘s Eatout awards it was voted best restaurant in South Africa. For the sixth time in a row since 2012. In 2018 it moved to second place. The ambience of the restaurant in the old biscuit mill in Woodstock is vintage-industrial. And despite all the accolades the atmosphere is relaxed. Sit down at the counter and watch the chefs prepare the food, or sit at one of the small tables. But remember, you have to book months in advance.
Unit 104A, Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Rd., Woodstock, phone 021 447 23 37, www.thetestkitchen.co.za, Tue–Sat 12.30 to 2pm, 7 to 9.30pm, gourmet menu with 10 courses R1600 Rand, with wine pairing R2250, with tea pairing R2000.
www.facebook.com: Kumusha Wines
‚You can come from the bottom, but you can make it to the top, if you have hope and faith in yourself’.