It’s not easy being a wine lover in Beijing. You’d expect this thrusting capital to be full of vinous delights, especially at a time when China is supposed to be enjoying a wine boom. But beer and baijiu, the local grain-based spirit, are both much more popular, and most restaurants serving Chinese cuisine don’t take wine seriously. If you want to drink decent wine, opt for Western menus.
The best of these (and the one with the most interesting wine list) is at Temple Restaurant, widely known as TRB. Located in the old Dongcheng district, close to the Forbidden City, it’s housed in a former black-and-white-television factory. Yet there’s nothing monochrome about the food. The four-course tasting menu we enjoyed—with two choices per course, for 458 yuan (€58)—was French-inspired, but not afraid to include coconut curry, bok choy or Beijing camembert.
The owner, Ignace Leclair, is a Belgian who knows his wines. His extensive, well-chosen list features selections from more than a dozen countries, including China. Given that locals make up 75% of TRB’s clientele, this may seem a politic move, but apparently it’s the foreigners who tend to order the Chinese wines.
The list, like the food, focuses on France, particularly the classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhône, but there is an eclectic line-up from other regions and countries, too, many of them made using organic or biodynamic methods. The tasting menu comes with the option of four different glasses for an extra 268 yuan, all of them European (presumably because there are only seven Chinese wines on a list of more than 400), but as there was such an intriguing range from farther afield we ordered by the bottle instead.
Our table ordered several different dishes, so I picked two versatile, unoaked wines. From Spain, the 2012 Terras Gauda O’Rosal, Rías Baixas (488 yuan) was a crisp, focused, stony white that was the perfect foil for the seafood starters, while the Sicilian 2012 Arianna Occhipinti Tami Frappato (380 yuan) was the sort of chilled, juicy, refreshing red that worked equally well with rice-flake crusted lobster and duck confit.
And the Beijing camembert? Monsieur Leclair suggested a savoury, bone-dry, umami-rich González Byass Leonor 12 Años Palo Cortado Sherry. The match, like everything else at TRB, was spot on.
trb-cn.com; 726 yuan pp, including wine
Where else to go and what to drink
At the China World hotel, an award-winning, high-end list to complement food from the Australian chef Phillip Taylor. Around 600 yuan pp
Best white: 2012 Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc South Africa has made enormous strides with the Sauvignon grape thanks to the development of cool-climate areas such as Groenekloof. New Zealand Sauvignon meets Sancerre. 350 yuan
Best red: 2010 J. Palacios Pétalos, Bierzo A delicious example of Spain’s indigenous Mencia, grown in the hills of Bierzo. A rich yet refreshing red with notes of plum and green pepper, and a touch of oak sweetness. 700 yuan
A recently updated, cosmopolitan wine list matches the classic French cuisine at the Sofitel Wanda hotel. Around 400 yuan pp
Best white: 2011 Howard Park Riesling, Great Southern A bone-dry Riesling from Western Australia. On the cusp of developing some bottle-aged characters, but it’s also brimming with limey zip and acidity. 490 yuan
Best red: 2010 Craggy Range Sophia, Hawke’s Bay A delicious, finely wrought Bordeaux blend that deserves the same accolades as the better-known Craggy Range Syrah. Subtle notes of red berries and graphite, and well integrated oak. 900 yuan