Liquid Assets: Singapore's Top Wine and Spirits Collectors And Their Insider Tips
Tan Min Li
The vivacious corporate lawyer has a meeting to attend after our photo shoot and interview, but it would seem all the talk about champagne has made Tan Min-Li very thirsty. “I absolutely love champagne, and my first trip to Reims in May was simply a champagne lover’s dream come true,” she says as we look through her neatly organised wine cellar. We’re hunting for some of her favourites: Champagne Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 2007, a Grower Champagne which she discovered on her trip; Salon 1996, Dom Perignon P2, Dom Ruinart 1996 and Krug Clos du Mesnil 2002. The last is her celebration wine, most recently popped during her birthday weekend.
“I am a social drinker and was drawn to the celebratory nature of champagne—(including) the popping of the cork, which signals the start of a wonderful evening,” she shares. Her journey started about eight years ago after she overcame an alcohol allergy. She and her husband Kevin started building their cellar together, concentrating on (wine from) Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.
She buys locally and from wine merchants in the US and Europe. Frédéric Panaiotis, chef de cave of Ruinart, is also a good friend and advisor. “I met Frédéric at a Ruinart dinner at Les Amis in March this year, and recognising a champagne enthusiast, he invited me to visit Maison Ruinart, which I did when I was in France to attend the Cannes Film Festival. He is fiercely passionate about producing the ultimate blanc de blancs,” recounts Min-Li. To her surprise, Frédéric also cooked her an excellent dinner of wild boar, which his brother caught, and served with a Ruinart 1996.
- Always have magnums in your champagne collection as they age beautifully and differently from the standard-sized bottles.
- Research on the drinking window to enjoy the vintage at its peak. Sometimes it goes downhill after a certain age.
- Serve fine champagne in a white wine glass such as a Montrachet to better appreciate its effervescence and aromas.
With the unceasing resurgence in single malt appreciation, long-time collectors like banker Keith Chong are just glad they got started over 20 years ago. “It was Macallan that did me in—I started out drinking wine but once I had single malts, everything changed,” he mused.
Among his collection is a Yamazaki 12 Year Old Twin Bottle. “It took more than two months to finalise the price, though the seller was still reluctant to sell until l promised to really take care of them. Collectors now pay for the Suntory Crest as these whiskies were distilled and bottled before the Beam Suntory acquisition,” he explains. A Macallan 1.3-litre from the 1980s was an unexpected gift from a friend’s uncle, which he reciprocated with a pre-Beam Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year Old in a wooden box. Gifts, he believes, must be returned with value.
“Buying whisky was not for investment at first. I was more concerned about not having enough to drink after I finished the bottle, so I started buying two, then four, then a case of each,” says Keith. The strategy pays off in the whisky world, where rare bottles can fetch astronomical prices, or are sometimes not even available to the highest bidder. Through experience, Keith began leveraging his ‘excess’ bottles to obtain others. He read widely, joined forum discussions, and got certified twice as a whisky ambassador (not affiliated to any distilery). He shares news and reviews on his own Facebook page, Mobile Malt, as a way of penning down his thoughts and learnings over the years.
Being in the right circles help as he rubs shoulders with everyone, from distillers to ambassadors, such as Matthew Fergusson-Stewart from Glenfiddich, Neil Strachan from The Balvenie, Richard Gillam from Bruichladdich and Martin Markvardsen from Highland Park. He’s particularly proud of upcoming Asian single malts, the likes of Kavalan, with which he has forged closed relationships, and Amrut. He has his eye on Omar, a single malt from Taiwan launched last year.
“Bottles come and go, indefinitely. My latest purchase was one of the 164 bottles of error-filled The Balvenie Tun 1509, which were only released in Europe and were recalled. That took more than a month of negotiation but I am proud to say that l am now one of the 164 owners of that bottle,” he shares, knowing that there’ll always be more bottles to chase.
- If buying from auctions or individuals, be aware of what you are getting into and look at past prices, the value of the bottle, the labels, the neck level and most important of all, your connection with the bottle
Self-professed anglophile and history buff Nicola Lee’s love for the alcoholic kind began at an early age. As a child, she would be given a thimble-ful of port to join in the family tradition of a toast at Christmas. For the last 20 years, even while she strategically expands her wine and champagne collection, her library of ports—especially Colheitas (aged tawny from a single vintage) and aged white port—has been built on purely sentimental value.
“I don’t check the increasing value of my ports. I do this with my other wines but with port, it’s more a passion and something that evokes thoughts of old naval ships, cold evenings with a good book or a pleasing accompaniment while listening to one’s favourite piece of music,” she expounds.
A maiden trip to Douro and Porto is planned for later this year, and Quinta do Noval tops Nicola’s list—their Nacional is on par with the prices of the lofty Grand Cru. “Port, in particular vintage port, can also be a rather rich, dense drink, which goes well with chocolate, cheese and fruitcake. In our part of the world, though, ending a meal with this combination may be too rich. I am pleased to see that port is making a comeback, thanks to the cocktail revival. Try young white port mixed with tonic water as a lovely aperitif; quite fashionable now in London!”
Nicola also indulges her fascination for beverages made during World War II. “I have a bottle of Champagne Bollinger 1945 and a bottle of Rebello Valence 1945 that add to my collection of wines from that year. The Kopke 1965 Colheita, produced especially for SG50, was purchased from fortheloveofport.com. Each bottle is packed in a lovely gift box with a write-up. A Graham’s 1977 in my collection was given by a friend who knows I love port; 1977 is considered one of the vintages of the century—I am not sure when I will open it!
Like wine, port preferences are personal. The tawny renders a more caramel and nutty flavour while the vintage and late bottled vintages (LBVs) produce nuances of chocolate and blackberry. Whichever the case, Nicola is adamant about how to serve them. “I would never dream of using a normal wine decanter to decant vintage or crusted port. One must take out the old crystal decanters from yesteryear and enjoy them in old port glasses. It adds
to the experience! Isn’t that what defines life?”
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- I usually enjoy a chilled glass of tawny port as an aperitif and keep the LBVs and vintage for post dinner with delicious salty cheese.
- Vintage ports take a long time to age so these should be placed at the bottom of the cellar. LBVs and tawny ports should be enjoyed young and not decanted. Don’t forget to chill them a little before serving.
- What is unique to port is that each house can decide for themselves if they wish to produce a vintage port. Some houses produce better LBV while others are better at white port.