The first Diane Chimboza tasted wine it was a sweet wine, a go-to for most beginners.
“I couldn’t drink red wine. I thought red wine tastes like feet. Now red wine must be the tastiest feet ever,” she says.
That was before she perfected the art of appreciating wine, and co-founded a wine-importing business, Under the Influence, one of the few importers in Kenya, seeking to inculcate a wine-drinking culture, appreciation of quality, and how pairing plays magic on the palate.
So how do you move from solely sweet wines, not that there is anything wrong with this category, to enjoying the many varieties that vineyards worldwide offer?
“The more you drink, the more you travel, the more you become exposed, your taste refines. Be very open to exploring, pushing your boundaries,” she says.
Her love for wine started at a young age. At about 14, she knew a little bit about wine.
“My father is a big wine drinker. So, sort of my love and passion for wine came from him. I’m originally from Zimbabwe and we moved to Kenya in 2015. At that time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My dad had started a wine importing business in Zimbabwe, and he was at this big annual wine event in South Africa, where people from all over the world come and taste wine,” she says.
“He met a CEO and he told him, ‘I have a daughter who likes drinking wine. See if she’s interested.’ I told my father, ‘I’m very good at drinking wine, but know little about wines.”
Years later, Ms Chimboza is now managing a growing wine business. The wine business, she says, is not as rosy as it is portrayed. Away from the wine cellars or fancy pairings, there are the logistical headaches that investors face.
“My daily job is trying to get the wine to Kenya. Teaching people how to do pairings and all is the fun part,” she says.
I met her at their office-cum-warehouse in Nairobi, where cases and cases of wines are stocked. She still marvels at the improvement in the quality of wine now Kenya has: “everything is getting better!”
Under the Influence mostly stocks South African wine.
“About 80 percent of our portfolio is South African wine because we believe in Africa. Africa hasn’t always gotten the best reputation for wine. It’s time for Africans to show that we have the best wines,” says Ms Chimboza, also a trained sommelier who has a WSET Level 3 qualification [A high-level qualification for people looking to work in the wine industry or wine enthusiasts].
The wine business in Kenya has changed, she says. For the longest time, Africa was a dumping ground for low-quality wine as the focus was more on regions with long histories of winemaking, and if the bottle was cheap, the better. But now the consumer is sophisticated and favours quality over lowly-priced.
“This is why you used to find wine shops with the same bottles, all at the same price. The wineries selling to Africa would go like ‘take this, in five containers, and you’ll sell it, right? But now the market has changed, people are exposed and the wine buyers are diverse. We have well-travelled buyers who will not pick any red wine,” says Ms Chimboza.
“A lot of new importers are now focused more on looking for quality wines as opposed to looking at prices,” she adds.
Does a high price mean the wine is good quality? I ask. Wine is about a story, and appreciating it involves knowing its origin, not so much about price, she says.
“But unfortunately our market is still very much dictated by price. People always ask, ‘How much?’ But the fact that wine is from Africa doesn’t mean it’s cheap. South Africa has been making wine for almost 400 years now, longer than Australia and New Zealand. Africa has got cheap wine, but we’ve got also very expensive wine that can compete with European wine,” she says.
As the holiday season starts, what wines are best to serve? Ms Chimboza says picking wine will depend on your location during the festivities and who you are drinking with.
“If you are looking to serve red wine, a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon will go well. If you are going to a place with cooler nights, buy a Pinotage or Merlot, and something for white, pick a Sauvignon Blanc. If you are going to the Coast, invest in a very good Rosé and I would recommend a Kumusha Rosé, Protea Rosé and anything light,” she says.
If you are serving beef and chicken for Christmas dinner or lunch and looking for a good wine to pair with the dish, she says it will depend on how you will serve it.
“Will you serve beef in sauce or as a fillet or is it Ossobuco in mushroom sauce? Will you serve grilled chicken or chicken in tomato sauce? For beef, a good bottle of Bordeaux blend or Grenache or a good Merlot will work well. For chicken, if you are having it with lemon butter sauce, pick a bottle of Chardonnay or Chenin. If it’s kienyeji chicken, Merlot will be your best friend.
For gifting, she advises you need to know if a person likes red or white wine, sweet or dry.
“Don’t gift some wine because people say, ‘this is the best wine.’ Gift someone a bottle they will remember you for,” she says.
Read more: businessdailyafrica.com/bd/lifestyle/food-drinks/diane-chimboza-and-what-households-need-for-christmas-4047056