Tanzanian Wine for the Middle Class

There are South African wines but who has heard of other wines from Africa? Chateau Musar from Lebanon, where wine was produced all through the civil war, sometimes delivering crates of grapes to the wine cellar in the middle of the night in order to escape sniper bullets.

According to a CNN article there are other places in Africa where good wines are produced: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. And Tunisia. Tunisia that has wines so rich in taste and sugar that some European wine farmers liked to spice up their fermenting grapes with it to increase taste and alcohol level of their own product. Not sure if this is still permitted. From own experience I can add Marocco, that has welcomed me formidably to a nice bottle on a riad rooftop  in Marrakech.

In Tanzania’s Dodoma region wines have been produced since the missionaries introduced grapes in 1938. Nowadays  six brands are being produced: Dodoma, Imagi, Overmeer, Presidential, Altar Wine and Sharye. Tanzania is building it’s own wine industry to accommodate the taste of a growing middle class, who have a salaried job, a pension fund and a higher education. And obviously they have some money at their disposal to spend up to a day’s salary on a bottle of wine on special occasions.

dodoma-wineTasting the three wines produced under the Dodoma name I was pleasantly surprised about the Dry Red (TZS 15000) and the Natural Sweet white wine (TZS 13000). The dry red is a full-bodied and well balanced wine of unknown grape variety and vintage but knowing that the farmers in Dodoma are growing Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Makutupora, it might be a blend of the red grapes: Shiraz, Cabernet and Makutupora. The wine has a distinct backbone of tannin which makes it an excellent companion for local BBQ meat (Nyoma Choma) or Italian food, as we found out during our Dodoma trip.

The semi-sweet white is also well balanced with 8.5% alcohol, little acidity and a pleasant taste. Possibly it is made of Chenin Blanc.

The Dry White had already oxidized a bit with a tint of brown in its pale color. Most likely it was made from red grapes that had been crushed carefully as to keep the color clear. White wines and tropical temperatures are a difficult match. They age fast when stored at room temperature or above, as they don’t have natural preservatives like red wines do.

IMG_20150810_215729229The Altar Wine is a sweet red something – I can’t call it wine as it tastes like vinegar with heavy syrup. At TZS 10000 an expensive purchase.  I hope Tanzanians don’t buy this as a first wine – I doubt they will ever again try wine.

The Imagi Sweet Wine not only has a more pleasant label, but it has a clean nose, and balances a light sweetness, tannins, extracts, alcohol and a bit of acidity well. TZS 8500 seem a reasonable price.

As for the remaining three brands I couldn’t yet find them in the shops and will update if and when I can lay my hands on them.

Dodoma’s soil is sandy and the climate arid. During the rainy season the sandy soils dry well and during the dry season irrigation brings moisture to the plants. There are two harvest per year – in March and in August/September. Through technical cooperation with South Africa the yield was raised from 0.75kg per square meter to 2.5kg per square meter, bringing it on par with other global mass producers.  1000 tons of grapes were produced in 2011. Given the fast growth ins other areas it could have doubled by now.

Dodoma grape farmers

When I look at the picture above I see a large gap between the rows of grapes. Possibly this is done to accommodate a standard tractor. What it means to the yield is that a single wine plant occupying 2 square meters might carry a lot of grapes, up to 5 kg. This may dilute the taste of the end product. My favorite Swiss wine is produced with 0.3 kg grapes per square meter. Can you imagine the full body of that wine?

grape selling in Dodoma

But, again judging from the Dodoma Dry Red, the quality is impeccable and it tastes more like 2 kg per square meter. Apparently in 2013 Tanzania’s Dodoma wine was ranked among Africa’s top five, “challenging South Africa’s 350 years of dominance of the region’s wine business”. See and taste for yourself on your next trip to Tanzania!

(source and photo: Article by African Business)


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