Food & Drinks

Wine enjoys a better year

OAK

Maureen Kanyi of Oaks & Corks at Nairobi’s Kileleshwa on December 16, 2020. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Over the past two years, wine has gradually become part of urban culture.
  • Kenyans are craving for knowledge on wine, prompting sommeliers to host tasting classes, which shifted online when coronavirus locked clubs.
  • But while other alcohol sectors were facing a dry spell when bars closed, wine shops experienced a flow of customers.

Wine sellers have something to toast about this year: Thirst for a good bottle of wine is still growing, even in a pandemic.

Over the past two years, wine has gradually become part of urban culture. Kenyans are craving for knowledge on wine, prompting sommeliers to host tasting classes, which shifted online when coronavirus locked clubs.

But while other alcohol sectors were facing a dry spell when bars closed, wine shops experienced a flow of customers. With extra time, having more unhurried meals granted many opportunities to indulge in wine at home alone or with close friends.

BDLife spoke to wine sellers on some of the trends they have observed among local consumers.

“Four years ago, if I heard someone order a dry wine, I’d be intrigued and immediately seek to befriend them,” says Maureen Kanyi from Oaks and Corks in Nairobi.

“That’s how limited the consumers were on wine expertise then. Most of us only ordered sweet red or white wine,” she recalls. This is not the case today.

Wine consumers in 2020 have evolved. They are more educated, open-minded, opinionated, and extravagant.

“They have moved from ‘whatever wine you have’ to wanting to know the story of each wine they consume — the who, the what and the where behind the bottles,” she says, adding that she has witnessed a massive pivot from sweet wines to dry wines.

Ms Kanyi attributes the growth to the numerous wine tasting events and forums held in Kenya in recent years.

“Such spaces opened up the country to wine. We not only know what is delicious but also the finesse that comes with wine drinking. For example, the glasses used and food pairings, among other fine details.”

Scholastica Wanjiru of Nairobi Drinks says a lot of information available to the consumers has meant that wine sellers increase their variety,

“We have had to increase the quantity and seek quality wine offerings to stock, to keep up with demand,” Ms Wanjiru says. The conversations from buyers are no longer about the price. They are also about grape varieties, the country, method of production and if the wines are organic or not.

“We’re consistently adding to our knowledge on wine to serve customers better,” she says.

During Covid-19, there has been a surge in clients’ willingness to experiment with new wines. With travel restricted, many have decided to travel through wine. While South African wines make up a majority of wine drank in Kenya, wines from less known regions are also ending up in consumers’ long-stemmed wine glasses. Oaks and Corks stocks wine from many countries such as Spain, Israel, New Zealand, Portugal, the US, Italy and Germany.

“This is a direct result of queries from clients,” Ms Kanyi says, adding that every time they introduce a new brand or variety, it sells out as soon as it hits the shelves.

Rosso Nobile al Cioccolata, a chocolate flavoured wine from Germany, and wines made from the Bordeaux blend grapes are in high demand.

The faces behind the glasses are also changing. Females order more wine than men. They are also from the middle and upper echelons of society thus willing to spend more.

“We’ve had clients try out more expensive wines this year simply because they have some spare change. Less expenditure on items such as transport and makeup has freed up room for a little indulgence in good wines,” Ms Kanyi explains.

The most expensive wine they currently have is the Dom Pérignon Vintage 2008 (75cl) which retails at Sh26,249. It is a sparkling wine from the Champagne region.

Wine drinking times are also changing. It is becoming less of a special occasion drink to more of a day-to-day kind of drink. One can argue that it is because of the pandemic. “More wine is nowadays drunk on weekdays than on weekends,” Ms Wanjiru says. “And with the year having many chilled-out days, wine, rather than spirits, has become the go-to drink.”

James Githii who owns a wine shop in the Nairobi Central Business District has noted that wine is increasingly popular among those who want to start or stop drinking.

“For newbies, it’s a sophisticated way to enter the drinking ring. For the veterans, I suppose it’s somewhat a soft landing for them, as opposed to going cold-turkey,” he says.

Since the pandemic began, he has been selling at least 600 bottles a month. “This is far less than I would ordinarily sell but looking at the times we’re in, it’s better than nothing,” he says.

Online tastings

Social media has played a major role in bringing wine drinkers and consumers together, especially in the thick of the pandemic.

Although Nairobi Drinks Ltd. sold most of their wine to wholesalers, bars, and restaurants, Ms Wanjiru says people now know how to order wine online than before the pandemic. “Hopefully, when finances get better, the online traffic will become our buyers post-pandemic,” she says.

Perhaps the trend that will have many scratching their heads is the end of exclusivity. Before Covid-19, if one wanted to purchase a certain type of wine, they had to go to a certain establishment to buy it. The pandemic has turned this on its head as such brands of wine can now be found in online shops, and at a much affordable price.

“Sellers are looking to sell wine. If they can’t sell in one market, they’ll look for another,” says Ms Kanyi.

One thing that will be here to stay in the inability to have a favourite wine for a long time. “My last favourite wine was the Los Intocables Black Malbec. This is wine that’s been aged in oak bourbon barrels, giving it an aroma of smoke, caramel and chocolate,” Ms Wanjiru says.

Being a holiday, what is the best wine to drink or gift a loved one? I ask. “This is the season to indulge in all kinds of champagne,”Ms Kanyi suggests.

“If your family or friends love port wines, gift them a Cockburns Fine Ruby Port wine,” Ms Wanjiru says.