H.E. Bibiana Lucila Jones is the Argentinian ambassador to Kenya. She has been in the country for only two years having previously been posted in Algeria. She is as serious as she is fun loving and can instantly make one feel at ease, a skill honed from being a diplomat. We chat about everything, from her favourite restaurants in Nairobi right down to the latest movie she watched, which happens to be Burnt with Bradley Cooper playing Chef Adam Jones. Eventually, the conversation comes down to our favourite subject, one which she knows quite a lot about: wine.
Which came first- being an ambassador or a sommelier?
I am a career diplomat and joined the service around 35 years ago. When I lived in London (which was our main wine market) as a Junior Diplomat, the ambassador used to have regular dinners with a British Sommelier explaining our wines etc. That piqued my interest, and when I got back to Argentina after a couple of years, I decided to take a 1 ½ year course. I was in class with mostly young people, which was fun.
Do you currently get to do anything as a sommelier?
Taking this up started as a hobby; unfortunately I don’t get to do as much with my knowledge as I would love to. I do however host regular wine tastings with small groups of friends and social acquaintances. Just last month, we hosted our annual Malbec World Day at Capital Club to introduce people to Argentinian wines. I also just enjoy knowing about wine.
What’s your favourite wine which you think is underrated in Kenya?
I don’t actually have a favourite, because what I drink depends on a lot of other factors like the food it’s been paired with. Argentina’s emblematic grape variety is La Torrontés but I also really love Sauvignon Blanc for the freshness, herbal aromas, etc. Of course, our most famous would be Malbec which tends to have robust tannins and a dark colour. It came from France, but after the phylloxera epidemic and all vineyards were killed, it got into Argentina in the late 19th century and found its terroir.
Do you drink beer or cocktails?
I do enjoy beer. Kenya is very famous for Tusker! But it generally depends on the country as some have more beer than others. Some oriental food like Thai cuisine also goes well with beer. I like that younger people even in Kenya are today getting interested in wines, while before it was mostly beer.
Do you cringe anytime you see someone pair a merlot with salmon for instance?
Palates are different, and I believe one should do whatever works for them. Forget the rules. Wine is something you get acquainted to and if you find a variety that you like and prefer to reach for all the time, just go for it.
How can one start a personal collection?
It all depends on your budget. Find bottles with a good ratio of quality and price. You shouldn’t seek to buy highly priced bottles when you’re struggling to pay your rent, for instance. It can cost as much as you are willing to invest. Enthusiasts have been known to invest in getting the right cellar or vault for storage, insurance, security, having their collection appraised and more. You should however start small and not lose focus on what you like. Do you like reds or whites? What do you like eating, and will this wine do the food justice? You should also be curious and experiment. I have actually found some really good white Kenyan wines from Leleshwa. Actually, I believe that life is too short to keep a wine for special occasions. Every day is a special occasion, and you don’t know what might happen tomorrow!