Food & Drinks

Crash course on wining and dining


Alcohol on display at Le Decanter in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL


  • Since our festive season is a bit warmer than in other parts of the world, a nice, dry white wine, such as a matured, wooden barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc would also pair well with the climate and a variety of foods.

This year, I think we deserve a holiday with only the finest of drinks and pairings. To get us in the festive mood, Julie Smith, director of Le Decanter, an alcohol shop in Nairobi takes us on a crash course on buying, gifting and serving alcohol this festive season, while Jaelle Fondaumiere, the sales manager at Medri’s Marinates & Cheesy, a snacks company in Nairobi, takes your taste buds on a Mediterranean-inspired food journey.

When in doubt, what is the best drink to serve?

Julie Smith: Since it’s the festive season, I will always go for champagne. It’s elegant, it’s classy and it pairs well with anything. You can have it as an aperitif or you can pair it with food.

Since our festive season is a bit warmer than in other parts of the world, a nice, dry white wine, such as a matured, wooden barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc would also pair well with the climate and a variety of foods.

What would be taboo to serve to guests during the festive season?

JS: I would go easy on hard spirits and liquors that are well over 40 percent ABV.

Of course, you can serve such drinks with mixers, such as a gin and tonic or a rum and coke. But personally, I tend to avoid such drinks, especially for daytime festivities and celebrations.

When in doubt, which drink should I buy as a gift?

JS: Champagne! People love it, it’s festive and it’s a sign of quality and respect. You may miss the mark on buying somebody a bottle of wine as a gift, especially if you don’t know their wine preference or the person too well. Otherwise, spirits. We have a wide selection of spirits that come in beautiful packaging and bottles. We have rums, whiskeys, gins and armagnacs, and those make for nice gifts as well.

Is cheap wine acceptable to serve to guests?

JS: Well, it depends on what you consider “cheap” since cheap is subjective. For the entry-level price range of Sh1,000 to Sh1,500, you can definitely find a good wine at that price in my store.

How do you preserve drinks like wine and champagne after opening them?

JS: The best way to do that is to drink it!

But you can keep such drinks for a few days, but once wine comes in contact with oxygen, it will eventually go bad. If you’re able to put the cork back, or at least store it in the fridge, which you can even do with red wines, then you can buy some preservation time. But it’s best to consume it within two to three days. If you’re looking to preserve a sparkling wine, then the trick is to put a spoon in the neck of the bottle to preserve a bit of the sparkle since you cannot put the cork back in.

For the holiday season, what do you normally stock up on? And which foods do you pair your favourite drinks with?

JS: My top three holiday drinks are champagne, curiale, and red wine from Burgundy. I normally drink the curiale on its own, as an aperitif. On Christmas, we eat foie gras, which is a French delicacy, and I pair that with a Loupiac, which is a sweet wine. I also prefer smoked salmon on Christmas Day and I would pair it with a very dry white wine, then I would finish my Christmas dinner off with my Burgundy red wine.

Which wines are the best to serve with an array of cheeses?

Jaelle Fondaumiere: At Medri’s we have a wide variety of cheeses that pair really well with different drinks. I would suggest pairing mature cheddar with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Noir. Mozzarella pairs really well with a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay. We also halloumi, which is a semi-soft cheese from Cyprus that can be lightly grilled without melting, and that goes really well with a dry Rosé.

Do you have any suggestions for a cheese board spread?

JF: Definitely start with olives. We have mixed olives that are marinated in herbs, which would go really well on a board. You can also never go wrong with a cheese and cracker combination either. The classic mature cheddar goes well with our range of gluten-free crackers. And to add some roughage to the cheese board, I would add our chilli jam to plain Greek-yogurt to pair with carrots and celery.

What are different ways to incorporate these Mediterranean flavours into a Kenyan meal?

JF: The olives come packed in oil, and that oil can be re-purposed and used to cook food with. We have chilli jam, which can double up as not only a marinade for meat but can also be used as a sauce to pair grilled meat with.