The Hilton Food & Wine Experience: Ten thoughts

By Jim Boyce

Ten thoughts – all I can manage after a heavy weekend of tasting – about last Saturday’s eleventh annual Hilton Food & Wine Experience in Beijing.

1. This remains a “must attend” event for me: A chance to choose among hundreds of wines and meet fellow consumers. Enjoying it is a matter of keeping a steady pace. And being lucky enough to stumble, early on, into a coffee tasting – Guatemalan, Indonesian, and Ethiopian – that provided a day’s supply of caffeine.

2. Compressing the public and trade tastings into one day, instead of two, was a good move. It reduced the stress on distributors and meant the venue had more bustle than last year.

3. Entertaining taster of the year: Yiftach Bar of Crown Wine Cellars, who strongly recommended I try the Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay 2006 because it is a “white wine with balls.” Hmmm. That sounds like a reason to not try it.

Anyway, the nose smelt a bit like burnt toast, while the body, well, I will hand over to Bar… “You can taste flint,” he says. “It’s like you’re licking granite.” (He later specified “light brownish-yellowish- whitish granite from Ardeche.”)

4. Presence of the year: Aussino. This distributor had two dozen tables, while ASC, H&L, Jebsen, Jointek, Torres, EMW, and Montrose had a dozen each. Others included DTAsia, Pernod Ricard, Wine Bank, Top Cellar, Links, Wei Hai, Dragon Seal, Elder’s, and ABC, with accessory maker WinPact, educator EaseScent, and State of the Art Wine Cellars also listed.

5. Absence of the year: Summergate. The one major distributor missing from this year’s show. I hope the money saved is dedicated to finally creating a functioning Web site so I can order the company’s wine online.

6. Comeback of the year: Montrose. Though “the end is nigh” rumors have swirled about this distributor for years, it seems to be making a big comeback. Montrose had a dozen tables and winery reps on hand (I believe both from Craggy Range and from Mr. Riggs, the latter having a nice Riesling).

7. Local producers: I spotted three.

  • Helan Mountain (Ningxia): I tried the Cabernet Sauvignon with Garry Anderson of Gelipu and he found a lot of green pepper on the nose. The body is fairly thin, with a black pepper finish, and seems typical of many Western China wines.
  • Dragon Seal (Beijing / Hebei): I tried all six wines: I found the sparkling just drinkable (foamy, with some tangy fruit) and the Merlot so-so, but most of the vintages past their prime (2004 or older).
  • Grace (Shanxi): I have covered these wines, distributed by Torres, ad infinitum. Most of the range was available and I especially enjoyed the reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

8. Serving staff: A few years ago, many people manning the sample tables would have had trouble opening bottles, pouring without spilling, giving an appropriate amount (it swung from an eyedropper’s worth to half a glass), and so on. Now? Most have it down fairly well (save for the one table where corks were being pulled through foil). It’s one of those things rarely noticed, but nevertheless symbolic of the changing wine scene.

9. Hat tips to: Links for having both spirits and wine, a fun staff; and an intriguing value wine (the Chilean Casa LaJoya Sauvignon Blanc 2005 at RMB100); H&L for showing lots of enthusiasm; Aussino for having plenty of literature, including guides on enjoying wine; ASC for cracking out some good stuff (I tried several different Trimbach wines, including the tasty Riesling Cuvee 2002 – thanks to Helen Lu for recommending it!); and Torres, which brought a nice range of wines even though it recently held a portfolio tasting.

10. The Hilton did a better job of marketing this year, with an online tie-up with City Weekend, but I would love to see an earlier and more comprehensive campaign, not only by the hotel, but also by the participating distributors. To me, this is a premier wine event for consumers and it would be great to see more of them coming out. Overall, though, good times!

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