Guests at the trend-forward Test Kitchen in Cape Town can often catch a glimpse of wine wunderkind Tinashe Nyamudoka buzzing about the dining room, promoting Methodé Cap Classique South African sparkling wine (MCC) from behind his three-wheeled, bespoke sparkling wine cart. A veteran of Cape Town’s upscale dining scene since his arrival in 2008, scoring wine gigs at The Roundhouse, Reuben’s and Nobu, Zimbabwe-born Nyamudoka has his fingers set firmly on the city’s gastronomic pulse. Wine Enthusiast talks with the 30-year-old somm about his laid-back approach to wine, why you should be passionate about South African vintners, and how Bourbon is making a splash in local bars.
Wine Enthusiast: What is Cape Town’s wine and food scene like at the moment?
Tinashe Nyamudoka: The food and wine scene has literally exploded in Cape Town. Apart from a host of award-winning restaurants, you will find food markets and small eateries in just about every corner in the city. Our wines keep on winning international accolades, getting much more appreciated.
WE: The Test Kitchen has built a reputation for compelling global and South African flavors along with a serious wine list—tables are often booked one month in advance. Tell us about The Test Kitchen’s food philosophy and describe your wine offerings.
T.N.: The Test Kitchen is on the forefront because Chef Luke Dale-Roberts is forever experimenting and trying to unlock different sensory experiences. He is constantly trying new ingredients and flavors, which means the menu is always changing, even literally before shift and sometimes during the course of a shift. To keep up with his changes, I’m constantly on the hunt for perfect wines to match new dishes. This makes my wine list unique because it revolves around the current food menu. The list features predominantly South African wines with a serious depth of top producers and an outstanding depth in mature vintages. Due to limited space, I have plus or minus 200 wines at my disposal, of which I pour close to 60 by the glass. And the list is always in excellent harmony with the food offerings.
WE: What are some of the most special wine and food pairings that guests can enjoy at The Test Kitchen?
TN: One favorite is the “pickled fish,” or tuna with curried snoek cream. [Snoek is an oily, mackerel-like fish commonly found in the Western Cape.] It comes with tosazu, a Japanese sauce made from dashi infused with bonito flakes, rice vinegar and mirin, and salt-cured apricots. It’s fresh and full of umami flavors, complimented by the burst of bubbles in Silverthorn’s The Greenman 2012 MCC. The elegant structure of the wine stands up to the seafood perfectly. Another pairing I love is our BBQ Langoustine Chawanmushi dish with pickled shiitake mushrooms and mirin tea, paired with Opstal’s Carl Everson 2014 Chenin Blanc. A Japanese dairy-free custard with perfectly barbecued langoustines and sweet mirin tea, the dish is all about texture. The wine comes from 30-year-old vines, and is ripe and well concentrated, with wonderful minerality and a touch of sweetness that complement the dish.
WE: Which exciting South African wines or producers should our readers know about right now?
T.N.: It has to be noted that our wines have been generally regarded as the best value for their price. I can safely say producers such as De Toren Wines, Vilafonte, Vergelegen Estate, Boekenhoutskloof Winery, DeMorgenzon, Ken Forrester Wines, Sadie Family and Raats Family Wines are excelling in making exceptional bottles rivaling some of the great wines of the world. Also, try Cinsault; the grape has had a great resurgence and is producing exciting, phenomenal wines.
WE: Can you tell us about your cool mobile wine bike, and what you use it for?
T.N.: The wine bike is a mobile cart I use to showcase the best of our Methodé Cap Classique sparkling wines. I navigate around the restaurant with it offering a glass of bubbles to our diners. The cart was custom built for Chef Luke by Andre Strijdom of Thurteen Worx, a bespoke bike and car builder in Cape Town.
WE: We know your heart is in wine, but we hear that you’re a Bourbon lover, too. What are some of your favorite bottles or producers?
T.N.: Generally we are a Brandy drinking nation, but Bourbon is fast finding its way with the popular brands becoming more readily available, like Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, etc. Craft Bourbons are still hard to come by. I do stock a few in the shop and usually at the end of a Saturday night after a long working week, I enjoy a pour of Woodford Reserve on the rocks. I also enjoy Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark. These are full-bodied, well rounded and smooth. They always have that burn which I crave, but perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the oak and a lovely vanilla and caramel finish.
WE: If you had a wine ethos, what would it be?
T.N.: Do justice to yourself: enjoy and appreciate wine without a pretentious aura.