Better known as The Wine Whisperer,  one of South Africa’s finest sommeliers and sommelier for the top South African restaurant, the Test Kitchen … Tinashe Nyamudoka, chats to De Toren about where his career started, his absolute favourite things about his job and what the future holds for a driven individual such as himself…

Tinashe, you are seen as one of South Africa’s finest wine sommeliers. How does it feel to be the Head Sommelier of the #1 restaurant in South Africa?

It a privilege to be working in the best restaurant in South Africa, I feel honoured and proud at the same time.

The Test Kitchen restaurant was recently awarded the honorary title of ‘Best Restaurant in South Africa’ , for the second consecutive year in a row and is also ranked as the 22nd best restaurant in Africa! An achievement like this comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure. Being part of this exceptional team, please tell us a bit more about your experience as a sommelier, having to work with a menu that is constantly evolving, forward-thinking and setting trends …

Yes, we are still the best restaurant in Africa and ranked at number 63 in the world. This means I have to constantly taste more and more wines to pick out the ones I think would work best with the dishes our chefs create. Since the menu is constantly changing, I as The Test Kitchen sommelier, need to understand our chef’s style of cooking and I am always stocking up on intresting wines in anticipation of the next dish on the menu.

When you arrived in Cape Town, from Zimbabwe, in 2008, your career in wine was yet to start. We would love to hear more about your journey into the world of wine and what it took to get where you are today ? 

I had zero knowledge on wines, let alone the hospitality industry. My first job in Cape Town was at a bakery at Spar Supermarket in Observatory. By chance, I applied for positions at the newly opening Roundhouse restaurant in Camps Bay. I was fortunate enough to get the job without prior experience – all they needed was the energy and personality I showed during my interviews. The restaurant ran a training program, which was a great platform for me to start my wine journey… I was exposed to the great stuff from the start. Early farm visits were to Waterford Estates and of course, to De Toren. After my time at the Roundhouse, I moved to The Showroom by the late Bruce Robertson. With the knowledge I had acquired, I took the role of wine waiter. Sadly the restaurant closed in March 2009 and the One & Only Hotel later became my sanctuary. With a wine cellar holding more than 6 000 bottles, working alongside seasoned sommeliers such as André Bekker and Eric Botha, my wine path became more evidently clear. I took the opportunity to learn and grow. During this time, I progressed from Wine Waiter to Wine Butler and eventually Assistant Sommelier, working in Maze by Gordon Ramsey and also Reuben’s restaurant. In 2012, I was made Sommelier at Nobu restaurant and then in 2013, I participated in the Showcook Inter-Hotel Challenge for the title of Best Wine Steward. I was awarded first place and soon after the Oyster Box, situated in Durban South Africa, came knocking on my door. In 2014 I assumed the position of Sommelier at this iconic Umhlanga Ridge restaurant, where I worked for the next 14 months. Following this, I moved back to Cape Town to take up position of Head Sommelier at The Test Kitchen, and here I am today …

What is it that you love most about your job ? 

The interactions I have with guests in the restaurant and the fact that I have played a part in delivering the experience they get to enjoy. The job has afforded me the opportunity to share wines and moments with friends and familly outside of my work environment.

When you dine out, what do you look for on a wine list in a restaurant ?

I specifically look out for wines I have not drunk before. I also look at the depth of vintages on the wine list.

How did you come to know of De Toren wines?

Through the Roundhouse restaurant, during my time there.

Which is your favourite De Toren wine and why?

The De Toren Fusion V – it just seems to get better and better with age. I remember tasting the 1999 vintage, i.e. the maiden vintage, when I was still a rookie, but, I could still tell it was a well crafted wine.

What is the perfect meal to pair with this wine and why do you think it works so well?

If I could get my hands on the De Toren Fusion V 1999, I would love to match it to a meal on our current menu… This dish would be the succulent duck breast stuffed with liver and finished off with a liver jus and apricot sauce. The dried wild fruit bouquet and supple tannins will perfectly match this dish.

Known as The Wine Whisperer in South Africa, we would love your thoughts on the 4 things that one should consider when selecting a South African wine with a meal?

I would say …

– Is the wine a perfect example of wines from the wine region?

– Is it from a vintage that would suit the meal?

– Does the wine have a good track record?

– Is the wine well priced, within your means, even if it disappoints you in the end?

We are honoured that De Toren is listed on the wine list of The Test Kitchen in Cape Town. Our De Toren Délicate is also on your pairing or tasting menu. Can you tell us what it is paired with and why this is such a phenomenal match?

It is paired with the lamb sweet breads, which is served with lime and pinenut gremolata and finished off with a liquorice jus. The wine is fresh, especially when served slightly chilled and this works very well as the perfect palate cleanser – sublte aromas of crushed berries and juicy tannins to match the delicate dish.

It seems you are a man on a mission, going from strength to strength…  Where to next; what is the ultimate goal of Tinashe Nyamudoka?   

I am still enjoying my time on the restaurant floor, discovering new wines and tasting amazing food! Currently I am also working on releasing my own wine label…

Great! Tinashe, we wish you all the best on your future endeavours!