Seriously guys, I’ve decided to quit my job and just dedicate my life to becoming a wine sommelier. First of all, in my glorified version of what the job entails, it’s a lot of fine wine tastings and trips to Italy to stomp on grapes and stuff, right? Secondly, as I attend more and more wine tastings, I gain more of an appreciation for good wine. Is it just me, or have wine tastings really gained popularity in recent months? Trust me, there’s good reason for that.
Bear in mind I’m not saying I don’t drink the cheap stuff anymore, I’m just saying that I think I’m starting to learn how to appreciate (and tell) when I’m given a glass of good wine. I’m also learning that the term “good wine” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “expensive”. You can find great wine, at affordable prices!
This brings me to The Wine Shop where I spent a Saturday evening learning everything there is to know about Merlot.
You may have seen but not notice The Wine Shop before on your mad weekend-dash to get a pint at Brew. The Wine Shop is on the ground floor of Piedmont Plaza, tucked away from the noise and debauchery of Brew Bistro on a Saturday night. It’s a beautifully lit intimate space that serves bitings and coffee by day, and a wine lounge by night. You can also walk in and buy a bottle of wine with help from the well versed staff.
The Wine Shop hosts a Wine Club event where Sommelier Gloria Kinya takes you through the basics of a particular topic around wine whether it’s best foods to pair with white wine, which champagne is best for this holiday season, or the basics of Merlot. All you need to do is keep an eye on their Facebook page, sign up to an event that looks interesting to you, pay a small fee (the one I went to was ksh 2500), and go! Each Wine Club event has the capacity to host 12 – 15 people making your time with Gloria intimate and conversational. It doesn’t feel like a lesson or lecture.
We started the evening with a glass of bubbly and some bruschetta in the lounge where we got to know one another.
At around 7:30PM we moved to the dining area where the wine had been decanting (‘aerating’) to begin the tasting. The first Merlot was paired with a cheese and meat platter. There was blue cheese, cheddar cheese, provolone, feta cheese, grilled bratwurst (German sausage), grilled chorizo (Spanish sausage), beef griller, baba ganoush and hummus (phew). I was in heaven. Gloria took us through a little of Merlot’s history and taught us how to taste Merlot but didn’t reveal to us what the name, or price point of the bottle was. We were just supposed to enjoy it and try to see if we could pin point the different aspects of the Merlot simply from taste.
Gloria mentioned that when you’re at a wine and food pairing, you’re actually meant to nibble the food in front of you, leave a bit in your mouth, add wine, swirl, then swallow. Here I was taking handfuls of cheese and sausage then washing it down with wine…. That’s not how it’s done. When I followed Gloria’s instructions, I could taste how the wine complemented or highlighted different flavours of the food.
The first Merlot we tasted had soft tannins (dry mouth feeling) it was easy to drink with along finish and tasted of red berries. There was a light “mineral” taste at the end which is actually pretty hard to detect. Gloria was able to help us at the table to understand what that meant and how to identify the mineral finish of wine. Basically, wine that doesn’t have a strong mineral, or earthy finish (think tobacco, leather, wood) means its a “new world wine”. New world wines are made in steel vats and often aged for shorter periods of time where as old world wines are earthy and complex usually made in Eastern European countries.
The second glass of wine was served a bit chilled. It was accompanied by mini croque monsieurs (baked ham and cheese sandwich), chicken lollipops stuffed with spinach with a mango and jalapeño relish, and mini rocket and goat cheese pizza.
The second wine was earthy and complex, it had a shorter finish (how long the flavour lasts on your tongue). There were heavier tannins in this wine but it was still light in body.
Before I go on, let me explain that a lot of the terminology used when talking about wine is learned through Gloria. She’s so full of knowledge on wine and is clearly passionate and excited to share. She kept telling us that there isn’t really a “wrong” answer when you’re asked how your wine smells or tastes because it’s all based on your experience and palette. However, there are some buzz words associated with wines such as “full bodied” “berries” “tannins” “oak” etc that get used frequently.
The third wine we tasted had medium body and a bit of an earthy taste, this meant it was an old world wine. The wine came in-between our third course and our final course so we paired it with the left over cheese board. This wine was light and paired extremely well with blue cheese. Keep in mind, I don’t usually like blue cheese but this wine brought out the sweet notes and the creamy texture of the blue cheese.
The fourth wine was an old world wine. This was abundantly clear when comparing it to the other wines we had just tasted. It had very strong peppery notes and deep flavours with strong tannins. It was a six year old blended wine (primarily Merlot) and was made with hand harvested grapes. It sat in a French and American oak barrel for 8 months to age before continuing to be aged to the six year mark. It had incredible flavour. It was paired with a dark chocolate brownie and mint chocolate truffle. The strawberry cheesecake was paired with champagne.
Guys, go on a tangent with me for a minute as I say these brownies were EPIC. By the time dessert was coming out I was thinking “I’ll go easy on dessert, be polite, etc”. Nope. I think I ate three brownies… I ate so many brownies that they had to bring out more for the table. Pairing it with this old world wine only made it better. If I ever experience a tragic break up you can find me at The Wine Shop crying into some delicious wine and brownies.
Just when I thought the night was over, a last “surprise” wine was brought out. It was a California Merlot. I really love wine from California… At least the Californian wines I’ve tasted here in Nairobi. They’re pretty hard to come by so it was nice to know that The Wine Shop stocks them. This Merlot had a long finish and medium tannins and was super floral ‘on the nose’ (smell). We sat back and enjoyed this wine as our conversation trailed off topic.
My favourite wines of the evening were the first one, the fourth one (paired with dessert) and the fifth one (surprise wine). The first one is fantastic for drinking on any occasion and I mean any occasion. Everyone at the tasting agreed it was a great wine. It can pair with most meals so you could serve it at a dinner party. It’s light enough that you can enjoy it in the heat and warmer days we have coming up. It’s easy to drink and has great flavour so you can be sure a lot of people will like this wine.
The fourth wine was heavier, and had a more robust flavour. If you like red wines, you’ll probably like this one too. This is a Netflix & chill wine for when you just want to put up your feet, eat some chocolate, and watch Scandal as you pretend to be Olivia Pope.
The last wine is a Californian wine and as I mentioned earlier, I seem to be loving them.
Overall this was the most laid back wine tasting I have ever been to. Sitting around a table and talking to Gloria felt like talking with a close friend. I wasn’t at all intimidated or embarrassed to ask a question that may have seen “amateur” or “silly”. Gloria was patient with us and really pushed for us to learn. I enjoyed the smaller setting that The Wine Shop had and think if you decided to go, you’d probably learn a lot too.
Wishing you all a fantastic weekend. As always, comments, thoughts and suggestions are encouraged (and appreciated!) in the comments section below.
P.S. I’ll get back to you with the wines we tasted in the order in which we tasted them so you know what to look for if/when you head to The Wine Shop.
Update! The wines in order of what we tasted are as follows (the starred ones were my favourites):
- Fish Hoek Merlot – ksh 1,400*
- Veramonte Merlot – ksh 1,900
- Hardy’s VR – ksh 1,300
- Zonin Merlot – ksh 1,300*
- Echo Falls (from Cali) – ksh 1,200*
How affordable are these prices?? I’m honestly surprised because as I mentioned before, Gloria didn’t tell us which wines we were tasting nor their price points. The wines easily tasted like they could have been priced at ksh 2,500 and above.
Last but not least — November 7th is International Merlot Day… You know what to do.
All photos by J. Mwai Photography