By Jim Boyce
Danny Kane is manager of Aria, the China World Hotel restaurant and bar that is a perennial favorite when it comes to “best wine list” awards in Beijing. I asked him how he picks wine for Aria, local wine trends he sees, his favorite wine dinners, and more.
What criteria does Aria use when choosing wines?
There are many aspects to how we choose wines. Here are three:
1. Guest comments and feedback
I have often brought wines in especially for guests. This works for Aria on several levels: It is good guest service, the guests feel (as they should) like they are a part of Aria, and because their feedback has meant an addition to the list, you know they will be back for the wine. For instance, I sourced long and hard to get a one-off sale in Beijing of Lakes Folly from Hunter Valley, which is a great and iconic Australian wine. It sits well on the list and would not be there if it wasn’t for the feedback from a guest.
2. My own preferences (which are wide and varied)
Many people ask me my favourite wine type. I really like the whole spectrum from austere dry Reisling to full-bodied bold Shiraz, and everything in between. With food, I love Pinot Noir and Marsanne/ Rousanne.
3. Holes in the list
No matter how many wines you have, there will always be holes in the list. This might be due to several reasons, such as someone buying all your Bordeaux (nice when it happens!) or the tastes of guests moving in a certain direction. Or, perhaps a new wine may just have appeared on the market.
What trends do you see in the local wine market?
I see more people trying boutique wines, looking for alternative varieties, and seeking wines they have never tried before.
Also, I see more of our Chinese guests ordering wine with dinner for the first time, which is great. My staff is becoming more and more interested in wine and this helps.
The improvement in the quality of local wines like Grace is helping wine to become more a part of the Chinese dining culture.
I understand Aria and Summer Palace restaurant are making changes to their wine lists. What can we expect?
The wine list in Aria changes all the time. Bring me a new wine: if it’s good quality, interesting, fits into the list, and so on, then it could be added on.
Recent new arrivals include my first Portuguese wine, which is an amazing one, a Chianti that is very good value for money, and some new small vineyard wines from Austalia. The wine by the glass list has changed as well and we now feature Petaluma Viognier – we are the only establishment in China to have this great product and by the glass.
Summer Palace is newly opened and it looks amazing. The restaurant is placing a very heavy emphasis on wine culture, with all its private dining rooms equipped with their own wine refrigerators. The idea is that when a host is entertaining guests for dinner, the restaurant can assist the host to select any range of wines to suit the menu and budget, stock up the wine refrigerator in the private dining room, and hand over the wine refrigerator key to the host.
Jason Shi and I have put together a great wine list for that restaurant which should suit Chinese cuisine and be very appealing to our Chinese guests. Ten great vintages of Lafite dominate a Bordeaux-heavy list
A customer comes into Aria and has never had wine, but would like to try some. Which wines would you recommend?
For white, I recommend Viognier or Marsanne as it is friendly, not too light, not too acidic, and goes well with food. Of course, I would always ask the guest to give it a try first.
If this doesn’t work, I would revert to a Spatlese Reisling, which is very palate-friendly for new wine discoverers.
For red, we have this great new lighter Zinfandel which is low in acid and very good for first-timers.
What are the three most memorable wine events held at Aria during your time there?
1. Last night was the first of six dinners in Aria’s World Series of Wine. It was great to host the dinner and to get good feedback, and a fantastic opportunity to try the amazing 1996 Krug, which has been hailed as the best since 1928.
2. The first 95-Plus Wine Dinner: We again had amazing wines in-house. The 1996 Faiveley Corton was incredible.
3. The Chateau Leoville Las Cases event, hosted by Robert Joseph, an informative professional who showed three decades of wine, each with different influences.
Next would be Guigal – what a great family story and genuine passion for wine. The same with Gaja.
How did you get interested in wine and what do you like to drink?
I was brought up 10 minutes from the Barossa Valley and 15 minutes from Adelaide Hills. My parents love wine and so it went. In 2000 and 2001, I was in the top eight sommeliers in Australia and so my passion continues.
What I like to drink and what I can afford are two different stories.
I love Champagne and Krug is my favorite house, with Bollinger following closely behind. In white, I love Riesling, especially old Clare Valley. I love a well-structured Chardonnay. A great Burgundy is unbeatable.
Red Pinot Noir is my favorite grape. And I try as many as I can. It is a hard grape to come to know. Do yourself a favour: don’t assume that Burgundy is the pinnacle. There are great pinots all over the world, they are just very different in style.
I like to try as many different varieties and blends as possible. But what I drink depends on where I am, who I am with, and yes, sometimes, who is paying.