Star Wine List - 「There is a palpable sense of community in Taiwan」

Star Wine List  - 「Thomas Ho: ”There is a palpable sense of community in Taiwan”」
By Andreas Grube

Asteadily growing interest in wine, with new exciting wine bars and restaurants opening up all over Taiwan in the last few years. And an industry with high hopes for the future.

”Passionate and personable service, world-class wine selections, reasonably priced food; these are all reasons to check out Taiwan’s restaurant & wine bar scene,” says sommelier and wine educator Thomas Ho, Star Wine List’s ambassador in Taiwan.

Thomas Ho got into the wine business in 2010, when he got back to Taiwan after graduating from the Swiss Hotel Management School in Montreux and joined the team at Le Moût in Taichung as Head Sommelier. He worked at Le Moût until 2018, and during these years the restaurant was selected into Relais & Châteaux and made it onto Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. 

Today, Thomas holds several different positions: He is Executive Director of the Taiwan Sommelier Association (TSA) and a full-time lecturer at National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism (NKUHT) & Taiwan Wine Academy (WSET Educator Of The Year 2019). 

”I teach general wine knowledge and more advanced elements of the sommelier profession. I’m also a wine and sommelier consultant for Fleur De Chine Hotel and Liberté Restaurant. Finally, I’m a featured columnist for LaVie magazine,” says Thomas.

He says that since he started in the wine business, the wine and restaurant scene in Taiwan has changed a lot and that back in 2010, not many people in Taiwan knew much about wine, and even less what a sommelier does.

”Not many restaurants knew what they were doing when they were selecting wine or putting together a wine list. It was simply a lot of overpriced big brands or famous regions. At that time, it seemed like the only wine available was from France or other popular regions in Europe.”

”Ten years later, the culture has really grown and matured substantially. There are more and more restaurants focusing on the quality of wine and providing a true fine-dining experience by offering wine and cocktail pairings. WSET has helped a lot in making wine knowledge more accessible to the average wine drinker in Taiwan, and I also think the growing popularity of international food guides, such as Michelin or Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, has piqued the curiosity of many Taiwanese.”

Before the coronavirus outbreak, there were a lot of new restaurants and wine bars opening up all over the island, says Thomas.

”The culture has slowly and steadily grown over the years. As the demand started to peak, I think the supply was catching up, but now things have slowed down a bit. Even though we’re not on lockdown like many countries around the world, people are still hesitant to go out.”

The natural wine trend is popular right now

How has corona affected the restaurant scene in Taiwan?
”It’s had a noticeable effect on the restaurant and hospitality industries in Taiwan. Many historical restaurants have closed simply because of a lack of customers, not to mention some larger restaurants in hotels all across Taiwan. Fortunately, Taiwan’s government is handling the situation quite well, and some restaurants are planning to rebuild a part of their restaurant, or modify it in some way that customers will feel more comfortable dining in.”

When it comes to wine bars, what are the biggest trends right now? Regions, countries, wine styles, etcetera?
”The natural wine trend is popular right now. After some natural wine events curated by Yusen Lin, one of the best wine writers in Asia, and other events held by importers, there are now more organic and biodynamic wine bars. And this is a trend all over Taiwan, not just in Taipei.”

”Many of the owners are well-educated, perhaps even working in the industry before, so the customers can rest assured that they will be taken care of. It is growing the wine culture and making it more accessible and exciting!”

How is Taiwan different from other regions in Asia when it comes to wine bars and restaurants?
”Taiwan doesn’t have a large number of foreign visitors, compared to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Tokyo, so most of the restaurants and wine bars focus on the local market. The wine bar owners and the restaurant sommeliers treat their customers like old friends. There is a palpable sense of community in Taiwan, and once you feel that you will want to come back again and again. Passionate and personable service, world-class wine selections, reasonably priced food; these are all reasons to check out Taiwan’s restaurant & wine bar scene.”

How do you think the wine scene in Taiwan will evolve the upcoming years?
”Looking forward, I think Taiwan’s wine scene will continue to grow as the next generation matures, as they’re exposed to more and more cultures via the internet, language, travelling abroad, etcetera. I think they will bring a hunger for more diversity in their food and beverage choices. They will care more about the dining experience and how the environment of a restaurant, the wine pairing, and the service all influence their meal. I also think the whisky and wine cultures may cross paths more and more in the upcoming years.”

What is your general go-to wine for pairing with traditional Taiwanese food?
”I would say Madeira is a pretty good recommendation, but it’s not very easy to find right now. Traditional Taiwanese food is usually salty or sweet, especially in Southern Taiwan. We also use quite a lot of soy sauce, garlic and ginger in our cuisine, so the sweet and sour Madeira can pair nicely with the sweet and salty food. The oxidative aromas/palate can pair well with the fermented sauces that we like to use.”

”Actually, Taiwan makes a world-class Madeira style wine now. The “Vino Formosa Rosso” Madeira-style wine is from Shu-Sheng Leisure Domaine in Taichung, and it is one of the best local wineries. The wine also won a gold medal at the international wine tasting competition in Paris, France, in 2019. I definitely recommend you try the local Madeira wine paired with the traditional cuisine when you visit Taiwan!”