Boozing in Beijing | Simple Drinks, how dare you?

Way to upset the apple cart, er, grape cart, Simple Drinks.

By having fun. And being nice. And attracting customers who are fun and nice. By hosting a tasting of natural wines from Ningxia, and by stocking intriguing labels, to go along with the coffee in your dual space with Duet Cafe.

How dare you make wine so… accessible.

I walked to Duet Cafe last month, an hour after hearing it would host a natural wine tasting, diligently following a map on my phone through Sanlitun, past the former Workers Stadium (RIP) and current Workers Gymnasium, doing a series of twists and turns to reach Duet Cafe and wondering what I would find when I got there.

I went to try five works-in-progress by Ian Dai of Petite Garden, an ex-corporate Amazon guy turned vine-hugger, who practices his craft in Ningxia and has helped stoke interest in natural wines in China.

I arrived at Duet Cafe / Simple Drinks to find four guys playing acoustic guitars near the door. The good vibes continued from there.

“Is there a tasting today?” I asked once inside and at the counter.

Yes, said the friendly owner. Buy any glass of wine and you can try all the Ningxia wines. Nice. Fun.

The place is fairly big and airy, with tables in back. I opted to stand at the counter, close to the wines. And they took my taste buds on quite a trip.

The pet nat was flat, although it had some nice grapefruit and stone fruit character. The Chardonnay was mild, the flavors a bit muddy,

The Riesling, on the other hand, was zippy–tingly– with white grapefruit and a kind of saltiness. The Pinot Noir smelled so fresh–one imbiber said “maybe too fresh”–with soft dark berry flavor. This was light, even a bit watery, with purity and a touch of twiggy-ness at the end. The Marselan had that same vibrancy. Juicy, with plenty of berry power and a touch of eucalyptus.

That combo of hits and misses was fine by me: it was an enjoyable tasting. And not only because of the wines. Also because of the atmosphere. As I tasted, I talked to other attendees, who were quite friendly. One worked in marketing–air filters–and had a growing interest in wine. Another said he was a regular: he often brought his laptop and worked in the cafe and sometimes, near day’s end, ordered a bottle.

As we talked, the owner brought up a just-purchased bottle to be opened. “This is one of our most popular,” she said of the Chinese label.

When I noted the prices were lower than elsewhere, she nodded in pride, and said they wanted to offer good value. One of Simple Drinks’ part-time workers, whose full-time job is with a mid-sized importer / distributor, also stressed the goal of making the place friendly for wine drinkers. We ended up trading stories about the China scene.

By the time I left, slightly buzzed, the guitarists had moved into the shop and taken seats in a circle of a dozen chairs. Customers sat among them, some with a glass in hand, and at times sang along. Another part of an unexpected Sunday. Fun. Nice. Affordable. More of this, please, Beijing.

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