Wine is an experience, whether it is at an elegant dinner party or a laid-back basic meal at home.
However, the perception that wine pairing can only happen at a table with international cuisine or a serving of bourgeois dishes that take hours of slaving at the stove is just that, a perception.
Victoria Mulu-Munywoki, a sommelier and the founder of Cellar 254, dispels this myth.
Teaming up with Chef Zackary Ngugi of Nyama Mama Restaurant, she paired up wine and local delicacies from ugali to nyama choma and kachumbari.
A glass of Casal Mendes Vinho Verde, a Portuguese white wine pairs perfectly with ugali, sweet potatoes and pea croquette and chicken.
“It is an easy drinking style wine,” says Victoria.
The Vinho Verde is dark at the centre with a lighter rim colour. As wine ages, it darkens. This also means there will be more of a colour difference between the rim and body (the colour at the top compared to the wine at the centre/bottom of the glass).
“Wine with dark colour is Chardonnay or varietals from warm areas,” explains Victoria. She adds that to examine wine, tip the glass at 45 degrees facing away from you. Then use a white paper or white background to examine its colour.
Vinho Verde is made from a minimum four varietals of grapes from the 25 that can go into making this variety.
This wine has notes of citrus, stone fruits such as peaches and apricots and floral undertones.
The high acidity of the wine makes it an ideal aperitif as it makes you want to eat. It also pairs well with light food such as starters.
The Yealands Family Estate Land Made Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is paired with the ginger-infused roasted carrot soup. The wine is dry and aromatic. “It is a play on texture,” says Victoria. The light aromatic crisp wine contrasts the creamy texture of the soup.
The wine comes with a twist cap rather than a cork, which contrary to popular belief, does not mean it is of low quality. A neat trick to open the screw caps is to twist the bottom bit and the cap comes off quite easily.
White wines play on the flavours and textures of the starters and those with higher acidity getting the stomach juices flowing in preparation for the main course.
Just as with a steak, red meat is paired with a red wine. The boldness of the wine allows it to hold up to the meat in its richness and flavour.
Slow braised beef, served with vegetables, mhogo wa nazi (coconut cassava), mukimo, fried plantain and chapati is paired with a Rupert & Rothschild Classique from South Africa.
“The wine is mellow with smooth tannins. It is one of the few wine blends you can have with fish,” says Victoria.
The grapes that go into this wine are hand harvested which means it is more expensive and it is matured in French oak barrels for at least 18 months.
“It gets its secondary flavours from the maturation in the oak,” she says.
When looking at red wine, the process is the same as that of white wine. Tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle away from you with a white background. When red wine ages, it turns terra cotta brown while the younger the wine, the more the blue and purple hues.
Rupert & Rothschild Classique has purple hues meaning it is a young wine. When you swirl the wine in the glass and stop, the legs (droplets) on the side of the glass move slowly which means it has more alcohol.
Herb marinated roasted goat leg and tender grilled roast meat with kachumbari goes well with the Rietvallei Estéanna red wine from South Africa. The interesting fact is that the meats hold their flavour to the wine.
According to Victoria, when nosing wine, take a whiff and turn the glass away from the nose to get the notes.
The second pointer is when you take a sip, swirl it all around the mouth, making sure each part is covered by the liquid. This will allow you to get all the notes.
Red wines leave what feels like a dry mouth, which is attributable to tannins, similar to those found in tea. They are what causes the dryness and bitterness in a wine hence the higher the tannins, the more dry they leave your mouth feeling. They give wine its structure and body.
As an ode to the Kenyan cuisine, the dessert was served with a Kenyan wine, Leleshwa Rosé. This was paired with a sweet potato pie and moringa and chai ice-cream.
Leleshwa has come a long way since they began producing wine locally several years ago. The rosé is a light semi-sweet wine with red fruit flavours and a bit of acidity. It pairs well with the dessert that has earthy flavours and natural sweetness from the sweet potato in the pie.
The coming together of these wines from across the world and everyday Kenyan dishes is a testament that as a wine drinker, you do not need to spend top dollar on expensive cuts of steak or caviar to enjoy wine and food.
Ugali fries with a chilled glass of Vinho Verde is proof enough.