By The Glass

I travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, twice a year for business, and it is customary for me to drop by their wine bars. The two most popular wine bar chains I came across were Vin+ (as in “Vin-plus”), and Cork & Screw. Vin+ is owned by PT Jaddi, one of the dozen or so direct wine importers in the country. Vin+ has three strategic branches in Jakarta, and a few more outside of the Indonesian capital. PT Jaddi also uses the Vin+ wine bars as wine retail stores, as easily a third of the space of their venues have wine racks dedicated to displaying wine brands they import directly.
Cork & Screw on the hand has two very popular branches, both centrally located in Jakarta. One of them is in the Thamrin Central Business District, less than a five-minute walk from the Pullman Jakarta Thamrin, where I previously stayed. Cork & Screw is owned by The Union Group, a huge restaurant chain. And other than the stiff prices caused by the astronomical duties imposed on wines, the wine drinking experience is definitely no different, if not better, than what we have locally in Manila.
Wine in Indonesia is still a growing industry. This is despite Indonesia being a majority Muslim nation. Aside from a population of approximately 266,000,000—the largest in Southeast Asia—there are also quite a number of modern Indonesian Muslims who do drink alcohol (unlike their more conservative Middle Eastern counterparts).
Wine and liquor importers are lobbying for lower duties and a more relaxed quota system. Duty on imported wine is a high 90%, plus 10% VAT (lower only than Thailand in our region), and the quota for annual wine imports is less than 500,000 cases, each with a volume of nine liters. In comparison, the Philippines imported around 2.3 million cases of wine last year, and we are roughly just 40% of the population of Indonesia.
Furthermore, wine is not as accessible in the retail channel as they are in most countries. In fact, since 2015, alcohol beverages from beers, alcopops, wine and spirits have been prohibited in minimarts and smaller groceries in all of Indonesia—except in one province: Bali. Aside from being Indonesia’s biggest tourist destination, Bali is populated mostly by Hindus and not Muslims.
During the sacred month of Ramadan, alcohol is totally prohibited, with Bali again being the sole exception. During this period, however, foreign guests—notably, hotel stay-ins—are still allowed to order wine with their meals, but the wine has to be concealed: poured into tea cups or ceramic containers, for example, so as not to be visible and not to offend Muslims who are on fasting during the said duration.
The rumor lately is that the present government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is actually trying to further limit the import quota on alcohol given his reelection bid in 2019. Conservative Muslims, who constitute a huge block-voting group, have been clamoring for more alcohol restrictions. Any restriction or even increase in taxes would actually be counterproductive.
Local wine and liquor companies estimate that the amount of alcohol smuggled into Indonesia is easily double than what is legally recorded. This is a source of corruption that will forever haunt the government. A liberalized law on alcohol might actually add much-needed revenues for the country, but then the issue is a lot deeper because it involves religion.
Going back to Vin+: it is probably Jakarta’s best wine store and wine bar/restaurant rolled into one. There are over a thousand wines to choose from covering all the major countries and wine regions. I saw some grand cru French Bordeaux wines, grand cru Burgundies, some super Tuscans, and cult Napa wines.
The restaurant also uses crystal wine glasses and crystal water goblets only. I see the familiar Schott Zwiesel brand of wine glasses, which I love. The food menu was not bad either. During a previous visit, I tried fried calamari, thin-crust pizza, and spicy beef shank balado (of West Sumatra origin)—quite a diverse selection to go with the wines I was drinking. Members of the Vin+ staff were also very efficient, hospitable, and fluent in English.
The prices of the wines were, however, high. This probably had little to do with Vin+, and more about the duties imposed by the government. Vin+, in fact, is considered a pioneer in the local industry, consciously taking less margin to stimulate more volume. Because of the pricing of Vin+, a lot of on-premise accounts have followed. The normal markup now in on-premise outlets, other than deluxe hotels, is less than twice or less than 50% margin. Gone are the days of times-three markups.
Here is an idea of how expensive wines can be in Indonesia: At an exchange rate of Indonesia Rupiah (Rp) 275 to a Philippine peso, the cheapest imported wine I have seen is around Rp150,000 or P545.45 for an entry-level Spanish vino de mesa. In Manila, the Don Quijote brand of vino de mesa wine retails at only around P160/bottle. A P500-plus bottle of wine here can already be extremely decent. There are a few Balinese wines in the Rp70,000 price range (P254.55)—sadly, neither red nor white were as palatable as I expected.
We should all be thankful wines in the Philippines cost a lot less. Imagine buying a Yellow Tail for Rp350,000 (P1,272.73) a bottle when you can get the same wine here at any supermarket for less than P500.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at He is also on Twitter at