Chinedu Rosa is a certified wine professional and the Chief Executive Officer of Vines by Rosa. She tells TOFARATI IGE about her forthcoming food and wine event, ‘Dining with Chichi’, and other issues
What fascinates you about wines?
For me, wine is life. I started tasting wine quite early because I had family members and friends who lived in Italy. My uncle is an Archbishop and he usually brought wines for us when I was younger, and I liked it then. I enjoy wine and always want to have a glass when I am eating. My fascination with wine was that I found it tasty and different, as I don’t like beer.
When it comes to consuming alcoholic beverages in most Nigerians seem to prefer beer and spirits, with some of them saying that wine is for the elite. What is your reaction to that?
Wine is not only for the elites. There are wines that cost as little as five or 10 euros. Wine makes one calm and relaxed. It makes one feel like one is doing something classy. I think (many) Nigerians drink beer because of the hot weather. Beer is a soothing drink but for me, it does not show class. One does not have to be an elite to drink wine, but if one wants to drink something more complex that will not be forgotten in a hurry, then wine is one’s best bet. A glass of wine is one’s of the best ways to start a conversation. When one shares wine with somebody, one is sharing an experience. Wine aids communication as well.
Your forthcoming event has to do with wines and African food. How did you come about the selection of foods to be featured at the event?
This is not my first rodeo. This is the second edition of the event, but I have been hosting food and wine tastings in Nigeria since 2008. I invite people to my house, and we eat jollof rice, egusi soup, amala and other foods. The main thing about wine pairing is to make sure the food does not overpower the wine and vice versa. They both have to be at par.
The event is basically to expose people to what I have been discovering for the past 20 years about how well spicy food and wines from all over the world can go together. I also write articles and give tips on how wine, whiskey and spirits can be paired.
My goal is to bring as much visibility to Nigerian and Africa cuisine to as many people as possible. The event will not be attended by only Africans. There will be French, Asian and American people in attendance. It will be a time for them to be exposed to what African cuisine can offer; paired with wines they are already used to drinking. The aim is to break the myth that African food cannot be eaten with French wines.
For this edition, I am dealing with only wines from Bordeaux (France) because the event coincides with the Bordeaux Wine Week. I am focusing on wines that are produced in very small family-owned wineries. We have tasted them and have found that they are so tasty, so paring them with African food is perfect.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of damages to the travel and tourism industry. Now that things are getting back to normal again, how do you think events like this can boost tourism, especially in Nigeria?
The beauty of this is that people who have never been to Nigeria will be ‘travelling’ to Nigeria by taste. The best way to encourage people to travel is by exposing them to the culture of the (destination) country. By tasting akara (bean cake), moi moi (bean fritters), jollof rice, egusi soup and other (Nigerian foods), they (tourists) will want to explore the country. The show I hosted in February was attended by people from 12 countries. They all ate the foods and after their meals, they started asking questions about the foods, and even Nigeria.
Anything we eat and drink is essential to our body and that is one major thing we think of when we want to travel— what to eat and drink. Now, these guys (who attended the event) have realised that when they go to Nigeria, they already have something they want to eat. Ten ladies visited Bordeaux from GAIA Africa. During their stay, we had a Nigerian chef who cooked different Nigerian foods, and we tried them with wines. In November, I will do the same by bringing some of my partners to Nigeria.
This month, a wine tasting event will be held by Business Francę at Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos, and my partners will be there. One of my partners who had tasted jollof rice before told me she would not stay in the hotel but would rather go out (to explore the country). Because she had tried something from Nigeria before, she wants to try something else. The more people feel comfortable in one’s country, the more they will want to visit. Nigeria needs tourism. My job here in Bordeaux is to make sure that people see Nigeria in a different light from what they usually see, hear and read.
Nigeria imports most of the wines consumed in the country from Spain, North America and South Africa, with only four per cent coming from France. In the light of that, why did you decide to focus on wines made in France?
I don’t focus only on French wines. However, I live in France and I am French. I am a specialist when it comes to wines made in Bordeaux. But, that does not mean I don’t sell wines from other parts of the world. I have Spanish and Italian partners as well.
However, the percentage (of imports) does not necessarily mean value (in terms of money). French wines are more expensive and of better quality than others. We might not do a lot of quantity but the quality is higher than most others.
In every country, there are both high and low quality wines but because of the spending power of Nigerians, businessmen import wines that people can afford.
However, my worry is that some of those wines coming into the country do not have validated sources. I always look for quality wines, even if they are cheap. In France, one has to follow certain rules before one can produce (and sell) wines. French wines are more expensive because they have strict control mechanisms.
Is it possible to produce wines in Nigeria?
That is something we are looking at because Nigeria has rich soil. But, there is a very important process involved in wine making. It has to be in a cold region because the vine needs to be put to sleep. However, that may not be possible in Nigeria because of the hot weather. Ideally, vines are supposed to produce once in a year and go to ‘sleep’. That will not be possible in our country because of the climate, though it can be done artificially, just like it is presently done in India. But, it is expensive.
However, we (Nigeria) can produce grape juice. Grape juice is always sweet. The older the vine, the sweeter the juice it produces. Meanwhile, we are looking into wine production in Jos (Plateau State), but we are being limited by the current political and security issues in the country. Unfortunately, until there is political stability, it is not something we can invest in now.
Nigeria is a very religious country. Some people might opine that having a wine-drinking event promotes alcoholism. What is your take on that?
One can hardly see someone who gets drunk on wine. It takes some time before a bottle of wine can be fully consumed. Medically, wine is good for one’s health, liver, libido and even the skin. However, anything one does in excess is bad.
Wine drinking should be a social activity, not something one just sits on one’s own to do, unless one is sad. One cannot go to a party and drink a bottle of wine without sharing with anybody. In the wine industry, we encourage people never to drink alone. In the course of drinking wine with friends, one can even discuss what is bothering one and feel better. My admonition to people is that they should enjoy wine, and not abuse it.
It is said that some wine experts can tell where and when a wine was produced just by tasting it. How does one nurture such a skill?
It can be done simply by tasting. That is why what I do is not just about drinking. It is about encouraging people to know more about what they are drinking. The more one knows, the more liberty one has to choose. Also, because you know, you can tell what you like and do not like.
What are your educational qualifications?
For my elementary education, I attended Methodist Primary School in Apapa, Lagos. I went on to Wahab Folawiyo Secondary School, also in Lagos.
After that, I proceeded to the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, where I bagged a diploma in Banking and Finance. I later moved to the University of Ibadan, where I studied Economics. I also got a Master’s degree in the same course from the same institution.
I then started my working career in Union Bank. I later left Union Bank, got married and retired at a very early age. My life has been quite a journey after that. It has been full of travel and work, then I moved to Lebanon in 2004 with my late first husband, who was Lebanese. I shuttled between Lebanon and the United Kingdom until 2008. I came back (to Nigeria) when my husband died. I was actually pregnant when he died. We moved back to Nigeria and my wine journey started properly.
I later met my current husband, who is French, in 2010. We got married in 2015 and I moved to France in 2016.
From your perspective, what is the difference between a good wine and a bad one?
Actually, nobody has the right to make bad wine these days because everything (the process) is now spelt out in capital letters.
I don’t think there are bad wines; there are only wines that are not well made. One might call a particular wine bad, while some other people might like it.
What I will call a bad wine is one that is not properly made. And, those are the kinds of wines I worry about. They are those that are made strictly for commercial purposes, without going through the established process of wine making. I do not even call them bad wine; I refer to them as rubbish.