We often set down our glasses long enough to organize events, from the annual Grape Wall Challenge, where consumers double as judges, to one-offs like Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge and ArgenChina Wine Tour, to small gatherings with friends or with visiting trade people. A few highlights from the past few years.
GRAPE WALL CHALLENGE
Launched in 2009, this annual event features regular consumers as wine judges. The focus is typically on still wines that retail for under rmb100, as these are rarely covered by the media despite making up the bulk of the market, but we have also done special editions with Chinese and sparkling wines. Each event includes a blind tasting and a discussion. All wine is donated by importers / distributors while room and food costs are covered by the venue sponsor. There is no entry fee.
Here is a list of the Grape Wall Challenge hosts (click the year for the results): TRB Bites (2015), Temple Restaurant Beijing (2014), TRB (2013), F by Tribute (2012), Modo (2011), Maison Boulud (2010) and Maxim’s of Paris (2009).
I spent the better part of the last three Novembers helping to raise money for charity via a project called Maovember. That project has included plenty of wine events.
In 2015, I teamed with eight niche suppliers for a ‘mystery wine party‘ at shop La Cava. That event included 50 bottles wrapped in Christmas paper and sold for rmb100 each. The wines were donated by Randy Svendsen of 1421, Nick van Leeuwen and Ross Tan of Australian Natural, Jim Boyce of Grape Wall of China, Mariano Larrain of La Cava, Vicente Muedre of Le Sommelier International, Alberto Pascual of Pasion, Helene Ponty of Ponty, Edouard Simon of Seina and Mike Signorelli of Signature Wine Club.
Maovember 2015 also included a series of mulled wine events by wholesaler / retailer CHEERS that raised rmb10,000. This is the third year CHEERS owner Claudia Maseuger has supported the cause, starting with one shop in 2013, doubling it two in 2014, and expanding to more than a dozen in Beijing for 2015.
Meanwhile, Cafe de la Poste tested aficionados’ palates with this blind tasting of French and Chinese wines. Tristan McQuest and Justin Barthelemy led the tasting and provided the French wine while Chinese wine were donated by East Meets West (Chateau Nine Peaks), Torres / Everwines (Grace Vineyard), 1421 Wines (1421) and Grape Wall of China (Kanaan).
ArgenChina WINE TOUR
Given wines from Argentina have excelled in our Grape Wall Challenges, I visited that country in 2014 and returned determined to do something more than write about the trip for this blog or a magazine. The result: ArgenChina Wine Tour. Three groups of ten people visited five restaurants, bars and shops in Beijing and tried an Argentine red and white at each one. We ultimately had 11 wines from Salta (Colome), La Rioja (San Huberto), San Juan (Calia, Osaada), Mendoza (Terrazas, O’Fournier, Salentein) and Patagonia (Chacra), thus covering north, central and south regions. Grape varieties included Torrontes, Chardonnay, Malbec, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. We also had a few Argentine snacks, such as alfajores, and tango lessons. Thanks to the Wines of Argentina team for China for partnering on this one. See the full report here.
CHINA WINE TOUR
This pub crawl featured 40 consumers visiting four bars in Beijing and trying a Chinese white and red at each. By the end, participants had tasted wines from five regions of the country.
The tour started at Torres China’s shop Everwines with a red and white from Grace Vineyard, which has vineyards in Shanxi and Ningxia, then moved to The Loop for Chateau Hansen from Inner Mongolia, to restaurant, bar and lounge Migas for Great River Hill from Shandong, and finally to wine bar Enoterra for 1421 from Xinjiang. The rmb100 fee included all eight wines plus a Schott Zwiesel glass. More details here.
Three panels of judges–one of wine experts, one of chefs and one of journalists–tasted Chinese wines from the north-central and northwest parts of the country. This event was held at the Beijing Hilton during its annual Wine & Food Experience. The wineries included Grace Vineyard and Chateau Rongzi from Shanxi, Jade Valley from Shaanxi, Helan Qing Xue, Silver Heights and Domaine Helan Mountain from Ningxia, Hansen from Inner Mongolia, Sunshine Valley from Gansu, and 1421 from Xinjiang. See here for a list of judges and here for the results.
This 2011 contest featured five wines from each region based on retail prices in China. The wines were blind-tasted by ten wine experts–five from France and five from China–with plenty of media on hand to witness to process. The event was co-organized with website TasteV and wine club Zun. Judges were asked to rank the wines from first to tenth. The Chinese wines ultimately took the top four spots.
The Chinese judges were Ma Huiqin, professor at China University of Agriculture, Frankie Zhao, owner of Pro-Wine Consultancy, Fiona Sun, editor at China edition of Revue du Vin, Jin Yang, a wine educator and John Gai, a wine distributor. The French judges were Nicolas Carre, sommelier and consultant, Jerome Sabate, former wine maker with Dragon Seal in Beijing, Nathalie Sibillet, oenologist, journalist and teacher, Thomas Briollet, well-experienced in wine distributor in China and Edouard Kressman, a winemaker with experience in Bordeaux, California and Argentina See here for the results and here for a post that addresses some of the controversy that arose from this contest.
In addition to these events, Grape Wall has organized many tastings with locally based and visiting trade people and with both Chinese and expatriate consumers in China.