Grape Escape: Marriott provides a Pinot getaway

Sir Campbell Thompson and I had a sneak preview of JW Marriott’s soon-to-open Pinot restaurant in Beijing, where (not surprisingly) the wine list only offers Pinot. Restaurant manager Jurrien Bongers says wines from 15 distributors are included on the menu.

It impressed Sir C. “I think this wine list is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It’s a good balance between traditional Burgundy and ‘New World’ Pinot.”

Then, he said, “Pinot is thin-skinned. Like people of the same nature, at its best it is brilliant, at its worst it is very difficult to work with.”

Then, he said, “Pinot is really expressive – it sings in the glass. If wines were opera singers, Pinot would have the biggest range.”

Then, we medicated him.

(By the way, those wishing other varietals may order from Cru, the upstairs American steakhouse, which lists a further 200+ wines on its menu).

First, the restaurant: Pinot is large, rectangular and high-ceilinged, seats about 100, and has a décor of orange and brown textiles, dark wood, tan marbles and silvery wallpaper. Elegance is provided by a series of chandeliers. As Sir C says, “It’s modern and confident, but not over the top.”

Next, the wines: we started with Australia’s Redbank “Sunday Morning” Pinot Gris (128 kuai / glass, 525 kuai / bottle). I smelled herbs and star anise, while Sir C picked up “a bit of white peach and pear” and said “this wine is meant to be simple and drinkable but is surprisingly complex and layered.” The finish was clean and tingly; how many nice things in life should end. We had pate with pistachios, and chutney, pickled cucumbers and onions.

Next up was a Portree Pinot Noir 2003, again from Australia. I smelled cherries, with hints of spice and cough syrup. “Very aromatic,” said Sir C. As the wine opened up, more fruit flavors came out, although my comment that they reminded me of “berry punch” brought only silence from Sir C. We drank this one with an eight-slab serving of Cotes du Boeuf with Bearnaise sauce, mashed potatoes, and green salad. Bongers says the meat is Angus beef and kept nearly 20 days in the refrigerator.

Our main course was served family style, underscoring efforts at Pinot to provide quality dining in a relaxed setting, says Bongers. “It’s a bit offbeat. We have the Marriott excellence with some informal touches.” Other such touches include mixing salads at the table, featuring family recipes from the chef (who hails from Lyon), and offering patrons ten different syrups to mix with their water (flavors include blackberry, lime, sugar cane and grenadine).

Such fare will not come cheap – I’m guessing our order would have been about 800 per person – but your bill is largely dependent on how much and which wine you drink. Save those mao or find someone (preferably not thin-skinned) with an expense account if you intend to sample the entire menu.

Pinot opens on November 22.

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