Wine Appreciation 101: Tips from an industry expert, plus good places to shop for wine online
One sip at a time
Truly understanding wine is an art form and could take many years to perfect. That said, it's a misconception that the complexities of wine make it a drink only the minority will appreciate and consume. One man who's set out to reconceptualise this perception through educating Malaysians on the basics of wine appreciation is Kit Kuan, the founder of Vyne, a company that brings into Malaysia niche and diverse wines from across the globe. Sit back and take notes, as he delves into how to enjoy a glass of this elixir—from words to get acquainted with to a glimpse into the Malaysian wine scene.
1. What do the terms "tannin", "body", "acidity", and "sweetness" refer to when describing the style of wine?
Kit Kuan: "These terminologies are known as tasting notes, tasting traits and characteristics of a wine—sommeliers use these terms when they do tastings. The four main characteristics are body, tannin, acidity, and sweetness. All four are present in red wines, whereas tannin is omitted when describing whites. Tannin is the most common term used among wine enthusiast; it provides an overall mouthfeel that creates a drying sensation or a coating around the gums. (Tannins are only found in grape skins—red wines are made with their skin and white wines are not, which is why tannins aren’t present.)
"Going into body, there are light, medium and full-bodied wines. These describe how light or heavy the wine feels in the mouth or the viscosity of it. When in relation to alcohol, it can be used to describe how long the flavours of the wine stay on your taste buds after swallowing. Hence, why people say wines have good structure—it expresses itself better when exposed to air.
"Acid is an amplifier, and it helps elevate the flavours in food—it creates a crisp, sour, and tart sensation in the mouth and it’s the main reason we salivate after having a sip. Some grapes are naturally higher in acidity, depending on where they’re grown. Let’s take France for instance: A cooler climate causes wines from that region to be generally higher in acidity.
"Sweetness stems from the natural grape sugars that are left after the fermentation process has stopped. Wines without sweetness are also known as dry wines"
2. Why is it advisable to drink white wines chilled, but not red wines? What are the ideal serving temperatures for red and white wines?
"Before diving in, it’s important to note that tasting wines is subject to an individual’s preference and taste buds—no two individuals have the same palette. That being out of the way, my opinion and my preference is to always serve wines chilled. Between 10 to 13 degrees Celsius for whites and 15 to 18 degrees Celsius for reds. The phrase "room temperature" varies depending on which country you’re in; in the context of Malaysia’s room temperature, it would be anywhere from 23 to 25 degrees Celsius. In a country with four seasons, it would generally be 16 to 18. Wine is a journey of understanding your taste and preferences, and I don't think there's a right or wrong (unless it’s mixed with Coca-Cola or ice)."
3. What are Old World wines and New World wines? Is one better than the other?
“Old World wines can historically be grouped into countries around the Mediterranean Sea. These include countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Greece, and some parts of North Africa. New World wines refer to countries and winemakers that borrowed traditions from other countries to jumpstart their own. This often happened alongside colonization. We have countries like Argentina and Chile, which were colonized by Spain and Portugal before the Italians, who then went to the USA and Canada. On the other side of the world, Australia and New Zealand are grouped in the “newer world” category as they grew into winemaking in the 18th century. And today, they grow great quality grapes and are home to some of the world’s best wines.”
"There is no distinction between the two types of wine—there isn’t one that’s better than the other and it's merely subject to the individual’s taste preference. Old World wines traditionally have a lighter body, less alcohol and higher acidity compared to New World winemaking techniques which yield more full-bodied, higher alcohol, and lower-acidity wines."
4. How has the pandemic changed or influenced the wine scene in Malaysia, for both sellers and consumers?
"There’s been a shockwave of change, especially when it comes to Information. When we started Vyne it was to drive three things: Creativity, house curiosity, and to foster education via social media and the media in general. I guess it’s a blessing in disguise that we entered at the right time because everyone could only get their wine fix online and not at physical stores. I think normalizing e-commerce is another aspect that we can expect. Consumers no longer need to rely on a sales rep who may not have memorised all the 350 wines their company has. Instead, they’re able to have bite-sized information that is easy to read and understand, so that they make a more well-informed purchase. After all, the fun is in the discovery and tasting of different wines!"
5. Are there any interesting observations you’ve noticed about the local wine scene, such as quirks in how we drink wine or our preferences?
"I’ve definitely heard of adding ice as a quick serving fix, and in all honesty—as much as I’m against it—if it works for someone else, why not! I do know some uncles and aunties that prefer to have wines at Malaysian “room temperature” but everyone has their preferences."
6. What are some upcoming trends you foresee in the Malaysian wine scene?
"This is a tough one because consumers are becoming more educated and aware of the value chain, but the biggest trend coming up is the sustainability of the brand or particular bottle of wine. Organic, biodynamic, and natural wines are some of the newer trends that have long been around, but have only recently caught some light because of the younger and influential crowd that rave about these methods as being "better". However, the media is turbulent and no one can control it. In the end, it’s about an individual’s perception towards a brand and product."
7. You carry some niche wines. What are the determining factors when choosing a brand and vineyard?
"Vyne’s listings are a combination of accessible and quirky buys that really stand out in flavour and can be elevated when paired with the right food. It’s a simple formula really—we don’t think too much about it and we get a couple of vino heads together with some light food and try all the wines. If we really like what we drink and feel that more people should know about it, we carry it! There are thousands of wines out there and as much as we would love to be a one-stop-shop, we must think about our capacity in relation to the market, in terms of supplying and giving enough deserved attention to each brand. It’s a true game of balancing these aspects to eventually grow Vyne as a household name in Malaysia."
Where the industry insider recommends shopping for wine online:
Vyne seeks to match you to the best wine for your preference with its curated and diverse selection. It intends to change the notion that wine is too complicated for the average person by providing bite-sized information through its website, in addition to introducing new brands that are affordable yet delightful! Delivery covers the whole of Peninsular Malaysia, with next-day arrival on your doorstep in the Klang Valley and Kuala Lumpur.
If you can't drop by Wine Talk's physical shop in Taman Danau Desa (click here for directions), its online shop carries an extensive list of reds and long-legged whites, making it your go-to place for various grape selections from different continents. It also carries an assortment of liquor for those who like a little more kick!
Looking to have a more holistic drinking experience? Slated to open its doors in APW Bangsar—as a bar, retailer and importer—by the end of the year, you can shop Unwined KL's selection of sustainable, raw and chemical-free wines via Instagram.