With Decanter's first Asia Wine Awards taking place in September, find out more about new judge Yin-How Wong, the managing director of a group of restaurants and wine bars across Asia.
Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?
I am based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I’m the founder and Managing Director of the Vintry Group of restaurants and wine bars, which has four outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and one in Singapore.
How did you first become interested in wine?
I became interested in wine when I attended a series of dinners called ‘dinings’ while I was studying to be admitted to the English Bar in London. These were very formal and serious dinners with practicing barristers whom we were expected to fraternise with. While the dinners were naturally serious in nature, we were generously served with a variety of wines and always ended the nights with port. As a nascent wine drinker, the possibilities of pairing food and wines in a social setting were an eye-opener to me and piqued my interest. Since then I guess I have never quite looked back.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a sommelier?
One important lesson is always to be humble. Humility for me is linked to the constant yearning for knowledge and recognising that the world of wine is constantly evolving. Interacting with members of the trade or clients affords me an intriguing insight into alternative perspectives on wine.
Is there a person or producer you particularly admire within the wine industry?
Andrew Jefford is someone whose writing I admire. His obvious passion in wine is fused with his unrivalled lyricism in expressing the character of the wines and personalities he meets through his travels. I always enjoy reading and re-reading his vinous poetry, especially when he immerses himself in a particular country or wine region, exhaustively seeking out the very soul of that place.
Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment?
I’m currently drinking some wines which I brought back from a recent trip to Austria, having attended the Vievinum Wine Fair. I enjoy the unique freshness of the whites, especially the Rieslings, the finest of which all have that steely backbone, refreshing clarity and minerality that is all too rare. They are racier than the Alsatian Rieslings and drier and crisper than the German ones.
What are your favourite food and wine combinations?
One of the best combinations I have come across was at a tasting with the winemaker of Chateau Suduiraut, Pierre Montegut at the Chateau itself. We had spicy Sichuan cuisine paired with various vintages of Chateau Suduiraut. The high degree of spiciness was mellowed by the chilled wines as well as the sweetness of the wine neutralising the spicy chillies in the cuisine. Conversely, the spiciness also tempered the sweetness of the Sauternes, making it palatable and somehow balanced over the course of the lunch. I now repeat this type of pairing sweet and fresh wines with spicy food, especially Thai and Sichuan.
Who was your most memorable customer, and why?
That would have to be my father-in-law. It was when I was recommending some wines to him that he invited me to join his table for a chat and that was when I met his daughter. The rest, as they say, was history – we married two years later.
Is there a strong wine scene in your city?
Kuala Lumpur has a maturing and growing wine scene, though it’s centred more in restaurants. I own a series of wine bars myself and there is a growing passion for wine appreciation amongst locals. Another trend which is developing is the pairing of wines with local dishes, eschewing the traditional notion in Malaysia that wines have to be paired with Western cuisine. The possibilities in matching wines with the local Malaysian food, which includes a melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian, are endlessly fascinating.
Have you noticed any new trends emerging? What are customers asking for at the moment?
In Malaysia, as part of the natural maturation of a wine market, there is a movement towards enjoying a drier style of wines rather than the sweeter whites and off-dry reds favoured in the past. I also sense a movement towards greater appreciation of value driven Old World wines from countries like Spain, Italy and France.
Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards?
I look forward to tasting a large range of wines but above all, to also exchange ideas and tasting impressions with the other experienced judges. Wine tasting can be subjective and I often find that different tasters have heightened sensitivities to different flavours and correspondingly, a better vocabulary to describe these flavours. This is why tasting in a panel is so much more rewarding than evaluating wine alone.
Written by Decanter