Kenyans’ thirst for wine is growing, but not many have mastered the art of buying a good bottle. Choosing the right wine in a shop with hundreds of bottles can be intimidating. How do you pick a bottle that leaves an impression? Lindsay Mukasa of WoW Beverages in Nairobi which sells wines from Italy, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, France and Germany gives tips on buying and serving the best.
What wine should one buy when hosting?
You need to know what food you are serving. If you pick the wrong wine for the right food, it will be a disaster. But I won't advice that because you are serving red meat, to just buy red wine. What if you are serving someone who cannot stomach red wine? So buy red, white and a rosé. Most Kenyans like sweet wine so you should never miss sweet wine when you are hosting.
How does food affect the wine?
Some wines have a very bold character. If you are serving it with just normal food that is not so spicy, the wine might overwhelm the taste of the food. If you are planning to do Indian cuisine, for instance, buy wine that has character. Go for something like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Pinotage because the bold character of these wines will complement the spiciness of the food.
If you are having non-spicy food, get a Merlot, a Pinot noir or a Chardonnay. These wines also go well with vegetarian meals or something with fruits or vegetables. A Chardonnay or a Chenin Blanc pairs well with most foods. If you are serving fruit salad or vegetable salad, and you decide to have Pinotage or a Shiraz, it will be a disaster.
How do you know what to bring if you are a guest?
I attended a dinner and every guest was to bring food and a bottle of wine. People brought wine that was complementing the food they had brought. There is someone who brought in a very nice cake dessert and he came with dessert wine. Dessert wines are sweet and the bottles are tiny, 375ml at most. It is sweet and you are unlikely to finish a 750ml bottle.
What about someone who is just to bring a bottle of wine?
If you tell the wine seller the type of wine your host or your friends like, she will be able to help you choose something that is close to that. For instance, have you seen her drinking a Rosso Nobile or 4th Street?
How do you store wine?
Hot temperatures are an enemy to wine. Don’t store the wine in the kitchen because it is hot and it’s worse if you do not have proper ventilation.
Store it in a cellar in a bar or a living room cabinet or in your library. If you want to keep it for long, store it in a lying position. But again not all wines are made to stand the test of time. If you see a wine is Sh700, that wine cannot stay for 10 years, because it has not been made for that.
Are there must-haves if you are hosting?
Yes, a red, a white, a rosé and sweet wine. The sweet can either be red or white. You don’t want to be a host who only served what she or he is comfortable with. Consider the preferences of everyone.
Does cheap wine mean bad wine?
No. Cheap wine does not mean bad wine. Ideally, there is no bad wine. It is all about your palate. Everyone's palate is different because there are people who cannot stand red wine. My advice is try everything. Try all reds. Try all whites until you find what you love and you cannot find it in one day. Keep tasting.
What do you have in your house?
Everything. I developed a wine obsession last year after one customer challenged me. He said he wants to stock up his collection. I asked him how many bottles he has collected. He said 300. He is 80 years old. I have started collecting and by the time I am 80, I will have an entire house full of bottles!
What are some common mistakes regarding buying and serving wine?
You buy wine, open it, drink a little and you store it. Then you forget that you have unopened wine. One day you find it and drink it. Then you call a wine seller saying the wine is bad. If wine sits out for more than three days that’s no longer wine.
Someone bought a Namaqua Sweet Red and drank it for one month. He called saying “This wine was sweet when I bought it. It started becoming bitter and I threw it away.”
Most people don’t know how long wine should stay after it's been opened.
You can buy a wine keep — a kind of a gas that you can spray inside the bottle after opening or a special suction which pulls out the air from the bottle once the cork is off. After suctioning, cover it and your wine can stay for a week.
What do most Kenyans prefer?
Most are still stuck to sweet wine. It is not because they are not exploring. They have not been exposed to what the world of wine has to offer. If you walk into your local restaurant or bar, ask for wine, you will just hear the same names over and over again. Most bar tenders will ask "do you want red or white?" These are cask wines which are a mix of anything and everything.
That's why we are doing wine and food pairing to help Kenyans familiarise themselves with different wines that they can easily find in supermarkets. We want to show them that they could get a Merlot for Sh700.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start drinking wine?
Start with sweet wines or sangria. Then move to the natural sweet range. Then graduate to Merlot, then Pinot Noir, then Pinotage and then Cabernet Sauvignon. If you have never taken wine and you go directly to the Cabernet, you may not enjoy it. You should start gradually from sweet to just dry then graduate to full bodied. You could taste a wine and you know this wine is dry and somebody will say this wine is a bit sweet.
Sweet wines have between six and 10 per cent alcohol content but the full-bodied ones have 14 per cent. Port wine which is Portuguese has 19 per cent alcohol content. It is basically wine with some brandy in it. It is sweet but also very heavy.