Forget wine rules: Asia guru says only freshness is key

Tue Dec 9, 2008 7:42am EST
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By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The duty of wine is to please the palate, so drink what you want, with the food that you fancy, as long as it refreshes the mouth, advises one of Asia's leading experts on fine wines.

Aged 81, Singaporean NK Yong, a former cardiologist turned vintage collector, has been immersed in the wine business for at least two decades. He advises regional and local restaurateurs on what to stock, as well as writing a book with his wife Melina on which wines go best with Asian food.

His friends include some of the best boutique vintners in Italy and he has converted the huge swimming pool in his home into a wine cellar that stocks some 12,000 bottles -- and he knows where to find each one in an instant.

Yong, who is also an avid smoker, recently spoke to Reuters about the growing popularity of wine in a region where vintages were once regularly diluted with sweet sodas and how the old rules of white wine with fish and red wine with beef don't apply any more.

Q: Do you see wine growing in popularity in Asia?

A: "Absolutely. Wine is replacing bottles of whisky and brandy at weddings. And it's more and more young people who are interested in wine, the young executives, the business people, they are broadening the base. The bulk drink cheaper wines, but as they grow older and their incomes rise, I am sure they will go for the more expensive, better-known names, so the market is set to grow even further."

Q: Asia has not always been a wine-drinking region, has it?

A: "Wine has only become popular in the region in the past decade or so. I have always been interested in wine, but here in Singapore, even a few years ago, buying wine was a hazardous business. You could only find it in the supermarket, it was normally very expensive, not very good and very badly stored. Even the five-star hotels didn't store it properly -- if a hotel doesn't allow you into their cellar, you know that something is wrong. I used to buy all my wines from Europe and London but in the early 1990s, a few wine shops opened here and then there was greater interest, the market grew and now you can find wines in coffee shops and even very local restaurants here."   Continued...

<p>A grape picker cleans a bunch of grapes during a day of grape harvest at le Clos Saint Vincent vineyard in Bellet, on the outskirts of Nice, south-eastern France September 21, 2005. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>