Wherever culture resides, wine and chaps in black polo neck sweaters will follow. So the increasing collection of tasty little wine bars in 798 comes as little surprise.
The latest combatant to enter the fray is Utrans Wines Cultural Center, a venture from Xiamen-based wine importers Utrans Wines. This is the first branch in Beijing from a company who, last year, announced plans to build China’s first ‘wine museum’. Educate the people and they shall drink was the rallying cry. Sadly, the first bricks have yet to be laid.
Instead, the latest addition to its 17-strong wine bar portfolio is a new ‘Cultural Center’ – or bar-cum-wine shop-cum-café for the less pompous – located just across from the UCCA
Inside, the atmosphere aims for Euro cafe chic. Tiled floors, light woods and a decent-sized tapas menu make for a likeable spot to rest one’s feet. Towards the back lie sets of shelves packed with wines from nearly a dozen nationalities. The selection is fair, with reasonably priced bottles of Chilean Sol de Andes Merlot Reserva Especial 2009 for 216RMB and Argentinean Antis Malbec Reserve 2008 for the same price. However, when we visited, all wines were sold only by the bottle – we are told this may change, but it still seems rather shortsighted.
The layout encourages browsing, but the racks are arbitrarily marked. We found bottles from France (the bulk of the wines on display), Spain, Chile, Australia, Germany, Italy etc all placed randomly under the flags of other countries. Staff offer little help, so just keep exploring – we even discovered a rack of Terre Nostre olive oil flanking the rear shelves.
All in all, Utrans is unlikely to win over the tourist crowd (the bulk of 798’s visitors), for whom a bottle of wine at lunchtime is a bit much. But it remains a peaceful retreat to while away a ‘cultural’ afternoon, and that should be enough to see it through a hard winter period.