Vino at Vesuvio | Italian wine tasting in Beijing covers 12 regions

By Jim Boyce | Newish Italian wine bar Vesuvio, just above restaurant Bottega in Beijing, recently held a tasting and I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. Attendees paid rmb138 to sample twelve wines, one each from a dozen Italian regions, handled by importers China Wines & Spirits, East Meets West, Mercuris and Sarment.

On one hand, I was attracted to this event by an invite that featured a map of Italy and its wine regions and I hoped to explore those systematically. On the other hand, we were given a sheet, without a map, that listed the wines, without the grape names, and I was not alone in asking for more info as we tried the wines in no particular order.

On one hand, it was nice to see good Italian wines on offer and the people serving them able to give lots of background info. On the other, the retail prices seem very high, even by China standards, although the event provided a one-day respite in the form of a half-price deal.

Then there was the modestly sized bar itself: the crush of people made it difficult to move or to get pours. On the other hand, and this is crucial, anything creating that much interest in wines from Italy, which needs all the help it can get in China, deserves kudos. That’s what ultimately made the event a winner: Vesuvio had people tasting nice Italian wines and they seemed not only the type who would gladly buy a bottle in a restaurant or a shop but also seemed to be enjoying themselves.

As an aside, I know that many in the trade feel Italian wine is hard for consumers to understand because there are so many grape varieties, so many unfamiliar names, and so on, but I think it’s good to give those consumers the benefit of the doubt and provide more info, like grape names, and let the reader decide if it’s useful or not.

Anyway, here were three wines I enjoyed:

Podernuovo a Palazzone Therra 2012, the flagship label from a Tuscan winery owned by Giovanni Bulgari of the well-known jewelry family. Quite the diverse blend, with Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, plus a bit of Petit Verdot and Malbec. The nose has lots of dark fruit like plums and blackberries along with powdered chocolate and smoky meaty aromas Expect loads of ample but tight fruit, and plenty of tannins, in this very dry wine. That blend of fruit, complexity and intensity makes it something I’d drink with friends on a Friday night to seriously shift into weekend mode. (rmb598)

Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2008 from Campania. Named after the town Taurasi, this wine is made with Aglianico, one of my favorite grape varieties. The nose includes fresh berries, especially blackberry, and mild touches of smoked meat and black olives. This full juicy wine bursts with black fruit, has a touch of earthiness and oak, and leaves your mouth tingling. Anyone from beginner to lifelong aficionado can appreciate this one and it should work equally well with or without food. (rmb628)

Planeta Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2013 from Sicily. This one is 70 percent Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s flagship grape, and 30 percent Frappato. The fragrant nose includes vibrant red fruit and floral sells. It has lots of red fruit flavors and is a bit “chewy”. Easy to drink. Dorilli is the name of a river near the estate. (rmb600)

There are others I liked, such as the Cordero di Montezemolo Barbera d’Alba Superiore Funtani 2013 from Piedmont, which has violet, cassis, blackberry and smoky smells, and the Umami Ronchi Jorio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013, from central Italy, with a vanilla, nutty and tangy cherry nose and delicious red fruit. It just goes to show the diversity of Italian wines and that we need more such tastings!

Some pics from the tasting and of the wine bar, courtesy of Vesuvio.

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