Justin Ho Li Vern is Star Wine List's new Malaysia ambassador

Justin Ho Li Vern.
Andreas Grube
Published 05-October-2023
Interview / Malaysia

Malaysian top sommelier Justin Ho Li Vern has been a part of the Star Wine List family for some time, as a jury panel member for the Asian wine list awards. Now he also takes on the role of our new Malaysia ambassador.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the team. It is always one of my objectives, to elevate and assist in developing a better wine industry in Malaysia and becoming an ambassador of Star Wine List will be one of the biggest contributions to those objectives,” he says.

“I am excited for being able to share my thoughts on the wine industry with everyone in Malaysia and all other overseas countries, meeting new friends and catching up with old friends to discuss possible ways to establish the market better and to provide knowledge to any organization that wish to upgrade themselves. Most importantly will be becoming the ambassador that helps people find restaurants or bars that provide a good wine list in Malaysia.”

Justin Ho Li Vern was born in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, in 1987. He holds a Master's Degree in International Hospitality Management. Apart from having won Best Sommelier of Malaysia three times (2015, 2016 and 2018), he also came in third in the Best Sommelier of Asia Oceania in 2018.

“I am currently working as an Assistant Professor in a University College based in Kuala Lumpur, also acting as a consultant for restaurants and at the same time working as a part-time sommelier for events in Malaysia.”

Justin describes the wine scene in Malaysia as growing, with a bigger demand from consumers.

“Previously the wine scene in Malaysia was hit by the pandemic and there is endurance happening to wine bars and restaurants. There are more and more bars and restaurants that focus on wine getting established in a lot of places outside of Kuala Lumpur, such as Penang, Melaka, Johor Bahru and Sarawak.”

Trend-wise, there has lately been a significant increase of consumers in search of organic, biodynamic, sustainable and low-intervention wines, says Justin.

“Of course, wines from classic regions are still a hype in Malaysia. At the same, some consumers are searching for wines from lesser-known regions and countries such as Jura, Savoie and Loire Valley from France, Sardinia, Puglia and Sicily from Italy, Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece and interestingly from Georgia.”

Anything you would like to see more of when it comes to wine places in Malaysia in general?
“I am a big fan of Riesling so I would like to see Riesling from the Finger Lakes as well as Germany and Austria. Also, Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, as well as the Loire Valley. Perhaps also more wines from Jura and Savoie and maybe some wines from the Eastern Europe side.”

Consumers in Kuala Lumpur are nowadays more adventurous and willing to try new things

What about the wine scene in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, how would you describe it?
“I would say that the Kuala Lumpur wine scene now is at a progressive stage, with a lot of wines that were lesser-known a few years ago being available now. Consumers in Kuala Lumpur are nowadays more adventurous and willing to try new things.”

What makes a great wine list, in your opinion?
“I believe everyone has their criteria to determine a great wine list and in my opinion, a great wine list should reflect the concept, style and knowledge of the sommeliers, chef-owner and business owner of an establishment. A great wine list can come in different sizes; if your wine list is well-curated and interestingly filled with different elements, styles and regions and suits well into the concept of the outlet and pair well with the food of the restaurant, then that's a great wine list.”

What wine region in the world is the most interesting right now, in your opinion? Why?
“At the moment I am looking at Sicily. Especially the Etna region is very interesting to me because some of the vineyards are still in the condition of pre-phylloxera on the unique volcanic slopes that Etna's has, along with indigenous grape varietals like Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante. These elements create a very unique flavour."

Anything you want to add
“I hope that with Star Wine List in Malaysia, the wine scene will flourish as I have a feeling that Malaysia's wine industry will become the greater good shortly.”

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