In Beijingers’ daily lives, the ever-increasing international influence in the city is clearly evidenced in the food and beverage industry, where the variety and standards of foods continue to rocket forwards… especially if you know where to look. The Hilton Beijing Food and Wine Experience is one of the events of the year for industry players, wine connoisseurs, and foodies alike.
Now in its fifteenth year, the event drew a large crowd of about 3,000 attendees, all interested in sipping away at a huge variety of high-end international and local wines. Ports, champagnes, beers and more were represented, and even one baijiu (traditional Chinese distilled liquor) had its own booth staked out.
From the start, a steady stream of people flowed over the two floor event. After a few hours of sampling exhibitors’ Bordeaux and chardonnays, a rose had crept into a few cheeks, and the general atmosphere slowly slipped over a notch from having serious discussions about grapes to having a soiree. “I’m going to try every wine they have here!” laughed Zachary Fritzhand. “It’s a little overwhelming,” smiled American Justin, before adding, “but delicious so far.”
Andre from the Sheraton attended the show to investigate French wines for his restaurant. “It’s amazing, it’s huge,” he noted. “It’s much bigger than I thought it would be and there’s a huge selection.” But was an event like this work or pleasure for him? “Both,” he smirked. “It’s always both. It’s not very hard to be here.”
Yes, there were spit buckets for those who wanted to keep sober enough to evaluate the wines, but most people were quite content to enjoy the wines fully. People who did use the spit buckets struck that perfect balance between “gross” and “well-cultivated.”
The maze of food booths was no less popular than the selection of spirits: a big change especially considering that wines had once been the clear focus of the event. Now people lined up for fine cheeses, chipotle hot sauce, pies and ice cream. In addition, tickets included a sit-down meal at one of the Hilton’s restaurants to soften the blow of an afternoon studying wine facts and terminology.
Also, events were scheduled throughout the day to keep people entertained throughout. In two performances, Brit Philip Osenton broke the existing world record for holding the most wine glasses in one hand: a delicately balanced Jenga stack of 45.
There was a tasting pairing Arabica Roasters fine coffees with chocolates bearing names like Gold Strawberry Cheese Opera. The tasting even offered a lecture and diagrams about how to evaluate coffee like a connoisseur. An unconventional beer and cheese tasting was held later on in the day, as were opportunities for people to try their hand at the fine art of pouring a beer (considerably more complicated than expected).
Not only has the event refined itself over the last 15 years, but the very people of Beijing are also now of a different mindset. Hilton Assistant Food and Beverage Manager Emile Otte explained, “The whole wine culture in Beijing and China has had tremendous change. So you see more and more Chinese people who are very, very interested in wine culture and in tasting the wines. So you see more and more Chinese people coming who have the knowledge of wines.”
But of course it’s not just wine tastes that are changing at this event. “We have, for example, French cheeses,” Otte noted. “Some [Chinese people] really hate the taste of smelly French cheeses. But you also see more and more Chinese people who actually like the different kinds of cheeses.”
The Food and Wine Experience is a unique high-end event held in a luxurious environment. Some may feel that a wine-tasting event sounds pretentious, but it’s clear that they haven’t attended an event such as this one, where snootiness seemed conspicuously absent. Admittedly there were a number of well-dressed gentlemen and ladies, but they shouldn’t be faulted for that, should they? Don’t let it bother you; just try some of the merlot and relax.