Albert Wines & Spirits: Malaysia's trusted importer embraces three decades of change & challenges

October 16, 2021

When Albert Tan founded Albert Wines & Spirits in 1992, the world of wine imports and distribution was a far different place. Digital platforms and deliveries to the customer's doorstep were still years away. Drinkers stuck to tried-and-tested brands, sometimes resisting exploration and experimentation. And there were barely any distributors in Malaysia with a reputation for consistently bringing in safe, genuine spirits.

Much has changed since then - as Albert Wines & Spirits approaches its 30th year, the challenges have become increasingly demanding, especially with the upheavals since early 2020, but the company is well-poised to face the future, having cultivated a position as one of the country's most trusted importers.

Eat Drink KL met Albert and the company's Resident Wine & Spirits Geek, David Stephan (a certified French sommelier and spirits expert), for a chat on the past, present and future of Albert Wines & Spirits.

EDKL: Congratulations on next year's 30th anniversary. How will you celebrate the milestone?

Albert: For the time being, we'll wait and see. We haven't planned yet - too many things have happened in the past one year! With the new norm, we cannot be doing something big yet.

EDKL: When Albert Wines & Spirits first started, the company's customers were mainly businesses like hotels and restaurants. How has that changed, especially in view of the past year?

David: That will always be the main business of the company. But luckily, when the MCO was enforced last year, we had our e-commerce platform already set up. By then, we had been selling on the platform, Albertwines2u, for about six months, so we were pretty much ready.

Business took a big hit on our standard trade of hotels and restaurants. But we've seen a lot of growth and interest in our e-commerce platform, even until now.

EDKL: How do you stand out amid the many platforms in KL that now offer wine deliveries?

Albert: Reputation is very important - it's what makes the company special.

Consumers now feel it’s more convenient to buy online. So we must be different, by putting our faces and names out there, to give confidence to the consumer. For us, it's very important for the consumer to know who they're buying from.

David: Some platforms sell at an incredibly low price. But when you try to contact them, it's only a WhatsApp number. No owner's name, no address - it can be very dodgy, especially in F&B and alcohol.

With us, customers can be confident and trust the source of the products. Everything we have are 100% genuine products that we import and distribute. We fully pay taxes and duties, we have full transparency. This is our guarantee. 

We always try to be competitively priced - but if you dig enough, you can always find cheaper prices elsewhere. If it's too cheap though, there might be something wrong, like the quality of the product.

For us, we have our own products, our own key brands. We are the official appointed distributors by Edrington for Macallan whisky, for example - it’s a sign of confidence from those brands.

We have customers who come back for many, many years because they know the quality of our product is genuine and there Is no risk. We have live chats on our website, WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, email, to talk to our customers.

EDKL: Beyond e-commerce, what other major changes have you seen in these 30 years?

Albert: We've seen new products, people willing to try new things as the new generations come in.

My father's generation drank brandy. My generation is baby boomers, drinking whisky. Today's generation is more willing to explore, gin, different spirits - it makes things a lot more interesting.

David: The boom we're seeing is the gin market used to be a very traditional market, like whisky. Gin is always a bit of a discovery - we've just launched a Chinese gin, the Peddlers Shanghai Craft Gin, and have been promoting it. If the product is good, people will always return for it.

EDKL: More recently, how have you adapted to the past year?

David: We've offered cocktail packs on our platform - make your own cocktails or Mojitos at home. Buy one pack and get two or three bottles of different spirits. This month, we've just launched a new collection of Spooky Halloween Cocktails.

We've held online two-hour wine tasting sessions on Zoom. We price the wines very fairly and we send mini bottles to customers before the event - six mini bottles can be shared by two people easily. We've had over 80 people in some sessions, tasting New World wines, Old World, Italian, South American.

Not everybody is fully ready to go out all the time - so as long as there's some interest, we can continue online tastings. But we're also restarting wine dinners and interesting events. 

EDKL: What still excites you and keeps you motivated after 30 years? 

Albert: We want to offer more education, which we can do online, especially for younger consumers. Not everyone can afford to visit hotels and pay RM300 to RM500 for dinner. So we try to reach them to provide more knowledge on whatever they want to learn, about Australian wines, French wines, whatever.

David: Our product range is from RM50 to RM5,000. So you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money to enjoy our wines. If you're new to wines, it's better to start with a simpler, easy-drinking wine, and build up your palate to more expensive wines.

EDKL: Can you tell us what you're working on for the future?

Albert: There's always opportunity. Think out of the box and do something different. People want change, with new tastes, different bottles and packaging. So we need to keep on moving.

David: We will continue to work on our technology, to stay relevant. We're preparing a reward points system for our website. We offer deliveries within one to three days - 80% of deliveries are the next day. We even have a three-hour delivery service if you want to make sure you have wine for tonight.

We're also building up a new warehouse, which we'll move into next year. And we're improving our warehouse management systems and inventory systems to be more accurate. By next year, we'll be more efficient for operations. 

Albert Wines & Spirits' diversity of about 1,000 products is on display at albertwines2u.com.my - if you're seeking interesting purchases, here are some recommendations, including new arrivals and limited-edition products:

Wines & Champagne:
Frescobaldi Tenuta Perano Chianti Classico
Chianti Classico Tenuta Perano is born on the hills of Gaiole in Chianti from vineyards 500 metres above sea level. This stands out for its bright purple colour. Its bouquet alternates between floral aromas and notes of wild berries and cherry. Balsamic nuances and a subtle spiciness follow.

De Bortoli 'Noble One' Botrytis Semillon
This highly awarded and pedigreed botrytised dessert wine is made in the style of the great French Sauternes. It's a sophisticated joy ride of lush marmalade, candled citrus and creamy honey undertones, but the inherent acidity keeps everything on track.

Chateau de Beaucastel-Chateauneuf-du-Pape
The 2018 Chateauneuf Du Pape shows nicely with classic Beaucastel aromas and flavours of darker currants, blueberries, smoked meats, black licorice and roasted herbs.

Bollinger 'Special Cuvee' Champagne
This shows a golden colour distinctive of black grape varieties, with very fine bubbles. The nose offers beautiful aromatic complexity - ripe fruit and spicy aromas with hints of roasted apples, apple compote and peaches.

Torres 'Mas La Plana' Cabernet Sauvignon
Intense aromas showing all the classic characteristics of the native land of Mas La Plana, together with notes of truffle, toast and wild red berry conserve. Great body and breadth on the palate, with juicy tannins that become balanced and elegant.

De Bortoli 'Windy Peak' Heathcote Shiraz
This showcases ripe dark fruit aromas with mulberry and black pepper, gently layered with soft acidity and fine-grained tannins.

Chateau Laroze - St Emilion Grand Cru 2010
This sports a very pure fruit profile, with a blaze of red currant, cherry and plum fruit that sails along, guided by substantial but well-embedded structure.

Miguel Torres 'Manso de Velasco' Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon
Aged in casks of French Nevers oak for a minimum of 18 months, this shows an intense, dark ruby colour. exquisite fruity-spicy bouquet with the classic grape aromas of ripe dark fruits, blackberries, wild berry jam and subtle hints of leather.

Peddlers Shanghai Craft Gin + Mug
Awarded the DMBA China Bartender Brand of the Year, Peddlers offers a distinctive yet perfectly balanced recipe, made with ingredients from the West and the Far East. This product is the result of a five-year journey focused solely on creating a gin for the most discerning and adventurous drinkers.
Awarded bronze at the San Fran World Spirits Awards, and Gold at the CWSA, the Shanghai Craft Gin is a fusion of 11 rare botanicals. This Limited Edition Launch Pack includes 1 bottle of Peddlers Shanghai Craft Gin, 1 Gift Box, 1 Branded Peddlers Enamel Mug, and 1 Tote Bag.

Opihr 'Oriental Spiced' London Dry Gin
A rich Oriental spiced gin with a smooth perfume and sharp bursts of citrus. Key notes of cumin and cardamom provide a warm, earthy background balanced with grapefruit peel. Soft camphor and some sweetness create a warm mouthfeel that lingers but does not increase in intensity.

Clase Azul 'Reposado' Tequila
This exceptionally smooth tequila is recognized worldwide as one of the best reposados. It is masterfully aged for eight months in bourbon barrels, and is bottled in tall, handsome traditional ‘Talavera’ decanters. 
The ceramic decanters are moulded and decorated entirely by hand by communities of Mexican artisans, making each of them a unique piece. 
Clase Azul's incredible Reposado has been awarded Gold medals by the Beverage Testing Institute and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Macallan 'Estate' Single Malt Whisky (Limited Edition)
The Macallan Estate is an extremely special new single malt containing rare spirit from a proportion of the barley grown at Easter Elchies estate, distilled once a year over the course of a single week. It delivers a subtle hint of citrus that balances the traditional sherried richness, resulting in a complex single malt with an extraordinarily long finish. 

Berry Bros. & Rudd 'Classic Sherry Cask' Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 
Classic Sherry Cask Malt is blended from the best Sherry butts to deliver a balanced expression of an uniquely engaging style. Expensive barrels imbue a spirit with distinctive notes of deep fruit, citrus and nuts, initially spicy before settling into a lovely definition of dates, prunes and raisins.

Kamiki 'Sakura Wood' Blended Whisky
This exciting, multiple award-winning whisky by Kamiki takes an innovative step by finishing this blend in Sakura wood (known as Japanese Cherry Blossom) after aging in Yoshino-Sugi casks (also known as Japanese Cedar).
The effect of the sakura wood on this dram is outstanding. On the nose, it brings ripe banana, candied chestnuts, cinnamon and hints of pine. As you continue to sniff, there’s a distinct warming woodiness reminiscent of a sauna. These combine with a centre palate woodiness, sandalwood and gentle spice, before sweet cherries cut through the more savoury notes, leading to a floral, spring-like finish.

Matusalem Solera 15 Years Old' Gran Reserva Rum
The key to Matusalems's Gran Reserva rum's complexity is the Solera aging process, where various mature rums are carefully blended together, with the main component being 15 years old. This is a classic example of aged Cuban rum, finely balanced, very silky.
A soft nose of toffee and butter prepares for a satiny entry, leading to a round, fruity-yet-dry, medium-bodied palate with praline and brown spice notes, finishing with smooth, spicy oak flavours.

Camus 'Pionneau - Fine Champagne' Cognac Vintage 1970
A selection of the best single vintage Cognacs in the Camus' Cellar, a pure expression of the year, coming in a very limited volume, for a guaranteed outstanding Cognac - deep gold with antique tints, enchanting with citrus, leather and honeysuckle notes surrounded by delicate oak, round and elegantly spiced.