Kiwis and gooseberries: Villa Maria event at Pudao Wines in Beijing

By Jim Boyce

That’s a “lightly” sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, bottled under screw cap, from New Zealand operation Villa Maria. The pressure in the bottles is three “atmospheres”, as compared to five or six for many Champagnes, and it is, well, lightly sparkling. If you ever wondered what gooseberries smell like, this might be a good way to find out. I liked the zesty grapefruit finish.

I had this one at a packed tasting of Villa Maria wines at Pudao Wines in Beijing last Sunday afternoon. These wines are good and accessible: perhaps nothing with which to blow away the vintelligentsia, but a reliable drop. The Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, from Clifford Bay, fits the provided description of “steely” and I liked the mineral nature of the Reserve Chardonnay from Marlborough. I only tried a few reds as I spent too much time gabbing, but I found the Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet from Hawke’s Bay to be interesting: the note about “tobacco character” was spot on and I also wrote down “light salty fish” as a smell. Odd, I know, but such is life.

This is the fiftieth vintage for Villa Maria, which is distributed in China by Summergate, and it was nice to meet founder George Fistonich, Asia market manager Charlotte Read and China brand manager Nichole Mao.

I also went to Pudao Wines on Wednesday night. I spent a few hours alternatively doing work and sampling from the wine machines, trying eights wines for rmb156. I think Stuart Christie, Jim Yang, Hector Jiang and the team do a good job in looking after customers and knowing the wines. I like the five enomatic machines and how wine themes are regularly rotated, the layout of the place, and the events and specials listed in the weekly newsletter.

The one suggestion I have for Pudao: add more wines. Frankly, if I lived nearby in Central Park and was a regular, I would get through a good part of the portfolio fairly quickly. I realize this place has the same financial backers as distributor Summergate, and thus most of the wines come from there, but I seem to remember there once being more options from companies such as The Wine Republic and Torres. It would be nice to see those appear again and to thus see fewer shelves filled with multiple facings of one label. Even if the prices are jacked up to make the Summergate labels more attractive, it would give consumers more options.

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