A good place to start out in wine

Speakeasy- in­spired Pri­vate Room of­fers wines that are easy on the pocket too.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE - By SHARMILA NAIR star2@ thes­tar. com. my Pho­tos by IZZRAFIQ ALIAS

IF you ask me, Pri­vate Room isn’t at all hard to lo­cate – un­less you pur­posely want to get lost to play the speakeasy game. The ad­dress is posted on their Face­book page and Waze or Google Maps can eas­ily get you there. The door doesn’t have a num­ber but hey, they tell you it’s the yel­low door.

Now if you re­ally want to be dis­creet and hid­den, you wouldn’t paint your door a bright lemon. If for some rea­sons you are still lost, they’d tell you it’s next to Pe­tit Bow­ery in Ta­man Tun Dr Is­mail, Kuala Lumpur.

The yel­low door will take you up a flight of stairs and you come to an­other closed door. This time, it is locked. Punch in the pass­code which you re­ceived upon mak­ing a reser­va­tion, and the door un­locks to let you into Pri­vate Room – Kuala Lumpur’s first ( if self- pro­claimed) speakeasy wine bar.

Speakeasy refers to es­tab­lish­ments that se­cretly sold al­co­hol in the United States dur­ing the 1920s Pro­hi­bi­tion era, when sale of al­co­hol was banned through­out the coun­try. Se­crecy was of the high­est im­por­tance to speakeasies back then.

Even if you don’t have a pass­code as you hap­pened to be in the vicin­ity and wanted to check it out, ring the bell. Chances are, they would let you in.

The speakeasy part is re­ally just a fun dis­trac­tion to re­call the days when drink­ing was pro­hib­ited, and serv­ing to make you glad for the time we live in now and heighten ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the wines you are about to drink.

“We want to de­velop and share the wine cul­ture that is still not pop­u­lar among the younger gen­er­a­tion,” says co- owner Keith Chong. “The whisky and beer cul­ture is very de­vel­oped in Malaysia but the same can­not be said for the wine cul­ture. This is our at­tempt to make wine as pop­u­lar as beer and whisky.”

The space is small but fits in three pri­vate rooms and some 80 peo­ple can min­gle around quite com­fort­ably. It at­tracts the young, af­ter- of­fice crowd with its easy, cosy vibes and af­ford­able range of wines priced be­tween RM100 and RM200 a bot­tle.

“We want to at­tract new­bies to the wine world, and we don’t want to scare them with ex­or­bi­tant price tags. Price is one of the big­gest con­cerns among new drinkers be­cause wine is not a bot­tle that you can open and store for months like whisky. Our clients are care­ful with the money and we un­der­stand that,” he adds.

Pri­vate Room car­ries over 250 wine la­bels sourced from 13 lo­cal sup­pli­ers. It even car­ries hard- tofind wines such as Barista ( RM154) from South Africa; Yan­nick Pinot Noir ( RM163) from Savoie, France; Paco and Lola Al­barino ( RM166) and Losada Men­cia ( RM186) from Spain; and Rock­ford Moppa Spring GSM ( RM295) from Aus­tralia.

“From a busi­ness point of view, it would be more vi­able to have just three or four wine sup­pli­ers, be­cause then you can strike a deal and get bet­ter prices for the sup­ply. But we want to reach as many wine­mak­ers as pos­si­ble from Aus­tralia to South Africa and even Le­banon, and that is eas­ier to do with many sup­pli­ers,” says Chong.

The wine bot­tles are ar­ranged ac­cord­ing to the types and are dis­played next to the en­trance. They are there, in­stead of in a cel­lar or the back of the room, for a rea­son.

“We don’t have a wine list be­cause then our clients will only look at a list of names with­out ex­actly know­ing what we of­fer. We want to have con­ver­sa­tions with them, know their pref­er­ences and use it as an op­por­tu­nity to talk about wine. We en­cour­age peo­ple to hold the wine bot­tles, to read the de­scrip­tions, and to ask us ques­tions,” says co- owner and som­me­lier Justin Ho, who holds the ti­tle of Malaysia’s Best Som­me­lier ( 2015).

For new­bies, there’s al­ways wine by the glass. Cur­rently Pri­vate Room of­fers four la­bels for the 125ml pour­ing – Noche y Dia Cava Brut ( RM40), Philippe Dreschler Gewurz­traminer 2013 ( RM30), Stan­ley Es­tate Sau­vi­gnon Blanc 2014 ( RM40) and De Bor­toli Windy Peak Shi­raz 2014 ( RM28) as well as a wine of the week.

“We use vac­uum pump to ex­tract air from the opened bot­tles, and re- seal them with stop­pers. The vac­uum in the bot­tle slows the ox­i­da­tion process, so the wines can be kept for at least two days,” ex­plains Chong.

But with their cur­rent or­der flow, most of the un­fin­ished bot­tles are out for less than a day.

For clients look­ing to spend more, Pri­vate Room has about 40 pre­mium wine la­bels which starts at RM600, and most of them are sold below the mar­ket retail price, ac­cord­ing to Chong.

The Sa­lon Cham­pagne Vin­tage 1999 is priced at RM3800 here al­though it could reach up to RM5000 at some restau­rants and ho­tels, and the Louis Roderer Cristal 2006 ( RM1800) and Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle 2005 ( RM1200) are a few hun­dred ring­git cheaper than else­where.

So how do they main­tain the low prices? “Well, it’s a trade se­cret. We have a few strate­gies that in­cludes buy­ing in bulk and pay­ing cash. That gives us a lower mar­gin to start with,” says Ho.

The room tem­per­a­ture is main­tained at 16- 18° C at all times, and the wines are also sold quickly, so there isn’t any worry about bad stock. The pre­mium wines are stored sep­a­rately to avoid any break­age or tam­per­ing.

Pri­vate Room has two som­me­liers, so there is al­ways some­one to an­swer your ques­tions.

“Since we are tar­get­ting new­bies and po­ten­tial con­verts, we need qual­i­fied per­son­nel who can give the right an­swers and be able to ed­u­cate oth­ers about the grapes, the vine­yards, the wine­mak­ing, and more,” says Ho.

A som­me­lier’s duty is also to help pair food with wine, and that is what Ho tries to do with the lim­ited items on their food menu. Pri­vate Room serves Roasted Pork ( RM12 per 100g), Rose­mary Lamb Rack with Mash ( RM65), cheese plat­ter ( RM55), Salmon Br­uschetta ( RM20), cold cut plat­ter ( RM75) and bar snacks.

“We’re plan­ning to ex­pand the menu af­ter April,” says Chong.

A speakeasy is known for its unique blend of cock­tails and Pri­vate Room has that cov­ered as well. Ho, who is also the chief mixol­o­gist, has pro­duced some in­ter­est­ing wine- based cock­tails af­ter giv­ing in to clients who kept re­quest­ing them. They do serve gin and tonic, Whisky Sour, Old Fash­ioned and other ba­sic hard liquor- based drinks.

“This is first and fore­most a wine bar, and we don’t want the cock­tails or liquor to over­shadow that. But at the same time, we also don’t want to alien­ate our clien­tele who may pre­fer to drink some­thing other than wine,” says Ho.

He uses sau­vi­gnon blanc for Retemed Deme­ter ( RM26), a sour­ish and zingy cock­tail and Mock­ing Mis­tress ( RM35) that also has a trop­i­cal feel thanks to Mal­ibu, cu­cum­ber and lime. The Pur­ple Venus with blue gin, par­fait amour, Pedro Ximenez and lemon is slightly herba­ceous.

Ho’s favourite con­coc­tion is the Owari No Sekai which means “the end of the world” in Ja­panese. This drink with ger­wurtz-traminer, yuzu juice, pink grape­fruit syrup, sen­cha, lime and ginger is shaken dry, which means that the ice cubes are only added right be­fore serv­ing to pre­serve the flavours.

“I had the in­spi­ra­tion to cre­ate this drink af­ter watch­ing an anime. It has a good com­bi­na­tion of sweet, sour, bit­ter and salty taste,” says Ho. “I also be­lieve that it tastes dif­fer­ently ac­cord­ing to the mood of the drinker. It’s sweet if you’re happy, and bit­ter if you’re feel­ing sad.”

Pri­vate Room is also slowly try­ing to in­tro­duce the cigar cul­ture, and has a lim­ited se­lec­tion of Cuban cigars.

Busi­ness is good, if the full house on a Wed­nes­day night is any in­di­ca­tion. That pretty much shows that ev­ery­one knows ex­actly how to find that yel­low door ... or per­haps it’s all thanks to so­cial me­dia and geo- tag­ging.

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