JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - What’s the best wine for Indonesian chicken satay with sweet peanut sauce? Or a traditional suckling goat barbequed slowly over soy sauce?
Indonesians are finding out the answers to these questions and more as they sip and swirl at the many wine classes and wine tasting events that have mushroomed in Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Jakarta’s wine classes — mostly attended by young, urban professionals — teach people everything from the intricacies of picking and storing wine to opening a bottle and pairing the right wine with the right food.
“We are not trying to promote wine because it’s a sensitive issue here in Indonesia,” said Yohan Handoyo, a wine writer and instructor at wine class, Winexperience. Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol.
“The class is for people who have decided to drink alcohol and they have questions about wine.”
Wine has been available in Indonesia for years, but it was mostly enjoyed by expatriates, tourists and the upper class.
But now middle class Indonesians are also quaffing down vintages in trendy bars across Jakarta.
“Unlike hard liquor often associated with night life, wine is a social drink that one has while having dinner with friends,” said Handoyo, whose book “Rahasia Wine,” or “The Secret of Wine,” won an international award last year.
“So wine is more more acceptable.”
Handoyo said sweet chicken satay with peanut sauce and a moderate amount of soy sauce fit nicely with port wine while a suckling goat with light soy sauce can be washed down with the full-bodied, fruity flavor of an Australian Shiraz red.
Indonesian dishes that use coconut milk and light spices such as “gulai,” a curry-like dish with lamb meat or beef, also go nicely with California oaked-style Chardonnay, he said.
Handoyo is a regular instructor at Winexperience and said about 1,500 people have attended the class since its 2004 launch.
Another wine club, Klub Wine Jakarta, has 400 members who hold wine tasting sessions over dinner or brunch once a month.
“Indonesians like to eat and chat. Wine can be a nice supplement to this,” wine expert Rainer Adam said.
“Many of the modern wines, they match Asian food and dishes very well,” said Adam, who is a member of the Jakarta Wine and Spirit Circle and has a vineyard in Australia.
Despite the growing popularity of wine, Indonesia has among the lowest per-head consumption of alcohol in Asia at only 0.9 liters per year, compared with 23.5 liters in Singapore, 21.5 liters in the Philippines and 6.4 liters in Malaysia, which is also a Muslim country, according to Handoyo.
Experts say wine is unlikely to become an important part of the lifestyle of the average Indonesian due to religious reasons. About 85 percent of Indonesia’s 226 million people are Muslim, and although the majority follow a moderate form of the faith, extremism has grown in recent years.
Some militant groups, especially since the fall of former President Suharto in 1998, have sporadically acted as vigilantes, attacking red light areas, liberal publications, and places considered offensive to their form of Islam.
One group is well-known for its attacks on bars and nightclubs in Indonesia during the Muslim fasting month.
“Wine is not going to become a culture here,” said Dadi Krismatono, vice chairman of Klub Wine Jakarta. “It will just stay in the corner somewhere.”
Reporting by Fitri Wulandari, editing by Sugita Katyal and Miral Fahmy