As five Kenyans prepare for the World Blind Wine Tasting Championships set for October 8 in France, they are refining their nosing and tasting skills.
Spencer Fondaumiere, a South African-based certified wine judge and sommelier, and Diane Chimboza, managing director and founding member of Under the Influence, a wine importer in Kenya, are among those helping them fine-tune their skills ahead of the competition.
“Wine expertise was very much male-dominated but they [the five female Kenyans] have proven us wrong in a big way. It will even be better if they’re the first all-female team,” Mr Fondaumiere said.
Wine is expensive in Kenya and for the contestants to be able to rehearse every day and go through a minimum of 12 wines per session, a few importers have had to support them.
The rehearsal is akin to a classroom. The sommeliers, with paper and pen, sip and spit different types of wine and write down the grape type, country, region, producer and vintage. So if it is a Chardonnay, they must indicate if it is from France, Champagne region, produced by Ayala, in 2013, for instance.
Having been in the industry for years, Ms Chimboza has mastered the art of sniffing, sipping, and slurping to decipher what wine is in a glass.
“When you sip, what fruits are you picking? Think about what high acidity might mean?” she told the sommeliers during the training.
So who influenced Team Kenya to join the Wine Olympics? “A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a Zimbabwean who had attended the blind tasting competition in 2017, Joseph Dhafana. The five Kenyan sommeliers were inspired by his story so they said, ‘we’re going to do it. I asked, 'how can I help, so I’m here to support them,” Ms Chimboza said.
“You cannot go to a wine tasting challenge without tasting wines from different regions of the world. We're increasing their wine knowledge ahead of the competition,” she said.
So what does the blind tasting competition entail?
Victoria Mulu-Munywoki, a sommelier who is part of the team says the wine will be decanted, and when it is poured into a glass, the tasters will start looking at clues.
Environmental factors also play a role in the blind tasting challenge.
“You must have to read widely about current affairs in wine. You have to know about harvests. For example, between 2017 and 2019, there was a drought in South Africa, so the wine may taste different,” she added.