China Wine Word: Julia Zhu, sommelier at Hilton Beijing

Julia Zhu Beijing Hilton sommelier

By Jim Boyce

Julia Zhu, sommelier at Beijing Hilton, honed her wine skills in Canada, where she received her certification from the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers and spent three years working at the Hilton Toronto. I asked her about the wine scene in China, her favorite tastings in Beijing, the upcoming Hilton Food & Wine Experience, and more.

How did your interest in wine arise and at what point did you decide to become a sommelier?

I am very much excited about the booming wine industry. Even though this year is a bit tough, and we see a drop in wine sales worldwide, the overall trend of growth is clear, especially in Chinese wine market, which I see as having great potential. As wine professionals, we have passion about wine and our careers rely on the wine market.

I decided to become a sommelier while studying wine in Toronto. At that time, I worked in a fine dining restaurant where wines were very accessible. The wine world really intrigued me, both inside and outside of the classroom, and this carried me through the tough learning and training sessions.

You lead a weekly wine club at the Hilton Beijing. What are your three favorite classes so far?

Our wine club is not just about product promotion as are some other tastings. We aim to integrate wine knowledge, wine appreciation, and the background of wines we taste. My favorite class so far is a Burgundian wine tasting during which we had Louis Bouillot Perle de Crémant Brut NV, Bouchard Aine & Fils Pouilly Fuisse 2007, Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay 2006, Pinot Noir 2005, and Gevrey Chambertin 2005, and Idol vodka from Burgundy.

I also liked the Penfolds tasting, when we had Rawson’s Retreat Riesling 2007, Koonunga Hill “Seventy Six” Shiraz Cabernet 2006, Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2006, Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2003, Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2006, and RWT 2004. The Italian Antinori wine tasting and California Chardonnay and Cabernet tastings were also great.

Many Chinese consumers buy Bordeaux because it is fashionable. What wines do you find they prefer when it comes to taste?

The majority of Chinese consumers, especially the new wine drinkers I have met or know, actually think that the wines from the New World, such as from Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa, are trendy and easy to drink. I think especially at the early stage they prefer wines that are more fruit driven, fuller bodied, less acidic, less dry to off dry, and not too complicated.

What are your general impressions of wines produced in China? Do you have any favorites?

China is still young and immature in terms of modern wine making, however, you can argue about the industry’s history, improvement over the years, technology, and a lot of other factors. In my opinion, it just leaves us more room to improve in terms of governmental regulation, vineyard management, wine production methods, and so on. And we are slowly realizing that we are facing more challenges than many other wine making countries. I tasted some single varietal wines, such as the Cabernet Franc from Grace Vineyard, and found them more concentrated and interesting, but I haven’t got my favorite yet.

What is the best wine experience you have had since returning to Beijing?

Being in Beijing for just over a year, my best wine experience was actually not that long ago, at the DRC tasting, when I had the pleasure of trying seven 2005 Grand Crus – Echezeaux, Grand-Echezeau, Romanee St. Vivant, Richeburg, La Tache, Romanee-Conti, and Montrachet.

What can people expect at the upcoming Hilton Food and Wine Experience?

Around one thousand different wines from all over the wine making world, food events such as meat and seafood tastings, and activities such as wine seminars hosted by famous Australian writer Jeremy Oliver. We will also have a tasting competition, a fine wine auction, and a fun wine auction. In short, you just have to come and see it for yourself.

More details about the Hilton Food & Wine Experience are here.

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