The Warehouse has been in the Ho Chi Minh City wine scene for 15 years, and was one of the first places in the city to distribute and sell wines. We sat down with the owner to get a nuanced look at the world of wine in Saigon, its evolution over the years and how beginners can pair wines themselves.
How has wine consumption changed over the past 15 years?
Vietnamese are drinking more and more wine. 10 or 15 years ago, it was mainly expats in expat restaurants. Now we can see even small street-food type of restaurants have a short list of wines.
How many kinds of wines do you have at The Warehouse?
We have 700-800 wines. We’re distributing in Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Within Vietnam, how many shops order from you?
I know in Saigon we have more than 300 accounts. This is growing year after year. More and more Vietnamese places are asking about wine.
For someone who has never paired a wine with a Vietnamese dish before, is there any advice you can give to the novice or amatuer to make a better decision?
First, I’m going to say do what you like [laughs]. You want to eat and drink what you like. If you’re going for while wine, I’d go for medium to full-bodied white wine. So light chardonnay, pinot grigio. If you’re looking for a red wine, I would go for light to medium-bodied wine, like pinot noir, grenache, merlot or carmenere from Chile, which can be a good match.
These wines give medium structure not too full bodied and not too light. These are easy going wines with any kind of food.
Do you think the growth of the popularity of wine is related to more middle income families, or is it because Vietnamese people are more and more interested in foreign food and drinks?
Both. Definitely more income, but those with more money can afford to buy wine and try Western food - we have so many new places, started by foreigners, but also Vietnamese. We’re seeing Vietnamese getting into foreign food and fusion.
Are there good sommeliers in Vietnam?
We are just starting to teach about real hospitality in Vietnam, so this is quite new. We don’t have yet a real sommelier with a diploma. I have been working on that a little, speaking with a school to give some training to students. A real sommelier with a diploma will come soon. And I can see more and more restaurants are more interested in to work with a real sommelier.
We are in a tropical country where the heat is quite strong. What would you recommend for people storing wines at home?
Storage is a key point for wine. Wine is a living product. There is no shelf life, but the wine get get spoiled pretty quickly if not stored properly. A steady temperature is very important - around 14 to 15 degrees [Centigrade] of you want to keep the wine around for a long time in good condition. Obviously in the dark, no painting in the room.
Would you recommend people to keep their wine in a fridge or a dark closet?
I would not recommend to keep it too long. We advise customers to drink it a few weeks after buying. Better to keep it in the fridge. Even if the temperature is very low, it’s the same temperature all day, unlike the closet.
Someone who is interested to discover wine in Vietnam, how do they start, how do they learn?
No need to spend a lot of money. We have affordable wine [at The Warehouse] and can help you learn about wine. I would recommend at first to learn about the grape variety. I would recommend many from the new world, Chile, Argentina, Australia. I say that because the taste of the wines from the new world is a bit sweeter, less complex and easier for beginners. Especially for people who have a sweet palate. For red wine I’d recommend a pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah. For white wine, go for a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc.
What is the worst possible pairing one can do?
Even in Europe we have bad habits, because we have bad pairings - like champagne and dessert. Most of the time, you can say that this does not work. But we still do it anyway because it’s good to celebrate with champagne and dessert. This comes from the past when champagnes were more sweet and had less acidity. A high level of acidity with a lot of sugar on the other side does not work, but it’s done every day.
How is the Vietnamese market reacting to champagne?
Actually, the Vietnamese like sweet wines, or wines with high levels of tannins, but they definitely don’t like much acidity. So they don’t like dry white wine (and champagne is a dry white wine). The bubbles enhance the acidity.
Anything else we should know about wine?
Wine is good for you health - your blood and your heart. Doctors and professors call it the French paradox. Especially red wine. It could be interesting for Vietnamese to know this. Wine has something called resveratrol, especially in full-bodied red wine. There are particular grape varieties that are healthy. Tannat grapes come from the southwest of France, places like Madiran, which is where the French paradox actually started to get attention. In this region they eat a lot of very fatty dishes, but the people living there are very healthy and many are living over 100 years, and they don’t have much cardiac problems.
Doctors investigated this some years ago and it seems that this is coming from the resveratrol in the wine.
How do you store a wine bottle that is already opened?
When you open a bottle you have oxidation starting. The less wine you have, the most oxidation you will get, and it will go faster and faster. I recommend to drink the wine within three days of opening. And when it’s open, you store it in a cool place or refrigerator. You also have some tools like the vacuum pump to suck the air out, it will help to keep it around longer, maybe five days total, but not too long.