Demand for wine in Kenya is higher than ever. So is supply. There are numerous wine shops that have set up in Nairobi stocking varieties from Spain, California, Naivasha, France, Chile, South Africa, Portugal, Australia, US and Italy.
But as Kenyans swarm to tasting parties and festivals to learn all about wine, they seem to be heading to supermarkets than to high-end restaurants to test their buying skills.
KWV Wine Emporium, a South African brand, for example, sells more to supermarkets compared to hotels and restaurants.
Juan José Ribes Palazon, the sales and marketing manager at KWV says this means more people are taking wine at home.
“Restaurants and lounges too achieve high sales records but for the premium brands,” he adds.
Different distributors have different sales records, but Kenyans are buying affordable wines mostly from supermarkets.
Gloria Kinya, a sommelier says wine appreciation is growing in Kenya and this is evident from the number of importers and distributors.
“Restaurants have also improved their wine lists in a bid to ensure every person is catered for in terms of preference,” she adds.
“If you look back five or seven years ago, people did not know much about wine. The drinking culture at the time was more beer and whisky. Wine was associated with a certain ‘class’ of people. Today, people are trying out new cuisines, flavours and wines.”
Men are also drinking more wine than before.
“Men have become wine drinkers although they are more likely to go for the full-bodied, red wines. Women are more experimental and easily go for the more fruity varieties,” says Gloria.
To learn how to taste wine and develop a palate, Nairobi Wine Festival has attracted a growing number of attendees over the years. Noam Orr, a co-founder of Baraka Events and partner of the Nairobi Wine Week which was held recently says it keeps recording an increase in number of attendees every year, signalling a growing interest in wine as an alternative or preferred drink to beer and whisky.
“Last year, we had 1,700 guests during the two-day event. This year, we had 3,000 guests over the three-day event,” he said.
Choosing the best
Most supermarket wines are mass-produced and differ from small-production wines, but it does not mean the taste is not good.
Vincent Omare, a sommelier at The Wine Shop advises that if you are buying from the supermarket, check the label on the bottle.
“The year the grapes were harvested, the region where the grapes come from and what kind of grape variety is usually described on most bottles and these details will help you to know the quality of the wine,” he advises.
Juan says someone buying from the supermarket shelves should go for the medium-range wines.
“These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc which are the main white wine grapes. Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon are the red varieties,” he said.
The price of the wine can also be used to classify the quality of the wine.
“A wine bottle in a supermarket that costs Sh1,000 and above is most likely to be a good quality wine, not premium but you are likely to take home a bottle you will enjoy,” adds Gloria.
She advises however that you still need to be careful as not all expensive wines are good and the more you taste different wines the more knowledgeable you become.
You will also discover your palate and know what works for you and what does not.