10 January, 2019 | Tinashe Nyamudoka is the head sommelier at Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen, arguably South Africa’s most renowned and awarded restaurant. He recalls two glasses of wine that changed his outlook.
Most of the time when I serve the wine pairing, Luke leads me (I know his style of cooking), so I’ll open a bottle and let the guest be the guinea pig. We are The Test Kitchen; we love opening bottles and experimenting. I try to offer iconic wines, hard-to-find wines that I literally have to beg wineries for from their library stock. Guests ask where they can get them, and I say, ‘You honestly can’t.’
I grew up in Harare. Most of us grow up wanting to be a pilot, a doctor. I was leaning towards being an accountant with my O-level subject choice. I ended up being trained as a supervisor in a supermarket. But in 2008, things started to get nasty. I saw it firsthand – the shelves were empty.
My friend Jonathan was staying in Observatory, Cape Town. I packed one change of shoes, a bit of extra cash and came down. Once you cross the border, it’s a whole different world. The roads are bigger, the lights are brighter. But nobody back home tells you what it’s really like. My friend was staying in one room with four friends, all working different shifts. I came from a house that had spare bedrooms.
My first Cape Town job was baking bread in a Spar supermarket. I used to walk around the V&A Waterfront dropping off CVs. One day The Roundhouse called me for a waiter interview. Eventually they hired and trained me as a runner. I didn’t even know how to hold a plate, never mind how to pronounce ‘foie gras’.
I won’t say I wasn’t into wine then. I loved selling it because the cheque would be bigger. But there was one glass they opened during training – Robusto Chenin, I think it was a 2006. It just hit the right notes.
A touch of sweetness, fleshiness; it was ripe, it was round. The colour was deep, golden and intense. I was like ‘really?’, so there is a wine I can enjoy. That glass changed my life. It got me to think about wine and to try to understand it: who is making it, where is it from? Before, I used to just drink it.
Down the line, I worked at The Oyster Box Hotel in Durban. I picked up a Raats Cabernet Franc 2009 at one of our tastings. I thought, ‘This smells like okra.’ The word that came to me was derere, Shona for okra.
The challenging thing when writing Cape Wine Academy exams is the tasting part. I used to struggle with finding these exotic fruits I’ve never grown up with. Cherries, redcurrants…
If I pick up okra in a wine now, I know it’s a Cabernet Franc; in a Chardonnay I pick up a special mushroom my grandmother used to cook. That glass made me realise I could make up my own wine vocabulary. My personal wine journey became so exciting because I could place a wine to something familiar. When I taste wine now, the wine-flavour memories could be from visiting my grandfather in the rural mountains. It takes me back. It was also the start of my Kumusha Wines brand. It’s Shona for ‘your home’ or ‘your roots’. Wine was finally taking me back to a familiar place.
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