Wine word – Beijing’s Jenn Hinkle

By Jim Boyce

From organizing events to visiting wineries to creating a newsletter, Jenn Hinkle has been a fixture on the local wine scene. Here’s her take on wine and Beijing.

How did you get involved in the Beijing wine scene?

I moved to Beijing from Seattle, where there was a huge wine culture due to the many Washington wineries. Knowing I wanted to learn about wine and I was new in town, I decided to check out the various events.

My first event was a Beijing Wine Club trip to Taillan winery followed by a BBQ in Shunyi at Palette Vino‘s place, which was fun. At the time, however, it was actually hard to find out about all of the wine tastings, since not all the events were listed in That’s Beijing or the other expat magazines. I started up an informal wine newsletter so I could consolidate all of the events in one place for other wine lovers.

After about a year of doing that, the expat magazines seemed to have taken the hint and now have regular columnists that showcase wine events, wines for purchase, and other wine knowledge. I also worked with Beijing Wine Club planning non distributor-centric wine events.

All of it has been great fun. More recently, I’ve gotten pretty busy, so I am mostly involved in just drinking and enjoying wine!

What are the best and worst things about the scene, and how has it changed during your time in Beijing?

The worst thing: a lot of events are STILL distributor-centric. Typically it will be events from one or two wineries, usually set up to showcase the wine maker who is visiting Beijing.

For me, the best and most informative ones are when a few varietals are selected so you can learn how, say Pinot Noir, tastes different coming from different regions and climates. Often, to do this well, you have to cross distributors’ lines.

Another thing I don’t like is how many of the events have a “wine party” feel, where it seems that the primary focus is getting trashed, and you have to search for someone to actually tell you about what you are drinking. While I don’t want to go to wine events that are stuffy with enophiles trying to out-snob each other, I do want to go to events where they provide opportunities for someone who wants to learn.

The best thing – can I list three?

1. There are SOOO many more opportunities then there were a year and a half ago. Little wine bars are popping up and new distributors are trying their hand at the Chinese market, providing more choices.

2. The big wine tastings with over 100 wines. While intimidating, they are a great opportunity to try wines to find what you like that you can later purchase. Two such events were Torres Taste of Nations and Palette Vino’s 100 wines for 100 kuai.

3. Independents (i.e. non-distributors). There are more “independent” people who do wine events and education, like Frank Siegel of Sequoia Cafe and Fongyee and Edward from Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting. It is also exciting that these wine events have more and more Chinese attending.

grape-wall-jenn-hinkle-wine-interview.JPGWhat has been your experience with Chinese wines?

Sadly, Chinese wines have a long way to go. Most, I find, are largely unpalatable. Perhaps the only exception to this is Grace Vineyard, a wine that tastes like it could be Western-made, but even then, I am not overly impressed. Grace, however, does prove there is potential in the wine market.

What advice would you give to people, whether they are expatriates or locals, who are getting into China’s wine scene?

Go to Sequoia Cafe on Fridays. (Get on the mailing list first!) Frank always has interesting tastings. A lot of wine lovers go to these, including one regular who is a wine maker himself, so if you want to learn about wines in a very casual way, this is it. Frank does not stick with one distributor, so you get a good chance of getting a cross section of tastings. It’s also a great way to make friends. If someone is seriously interested in wine education, check out Dragon-Phoenix Consulting. Fongyee and Edward put on first rate wine courses and are great people to boot!

If you were to recommend three “good value” wines in Beijing, what would they be?

Ah! A tough one. For just regular drinking, I like the Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc (readily available at April Gourmet). While it is not going to win any wine awards, at about RMB80 a bottle, it’ll do and tastes good chilled while grabbing a bite to eat outside.

Another refreshing wine is the Broadbent Vinho Verde. A wine that is meant to be drunk young and fresh, this is incredibly refreshing, with a slight fizzy characteristic. I think it is about RMB120 a bottle and is available through Cellar le Pinot.

For red, the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon is a solid wine at about RMB128, readily available at April Gourmet.

Though, honestly, I would tell anyone not to listen to me! Drink what you like!

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