Introduction to the History of Chinese Yellow Wine

2011-12-31 10:58:00 From:

Yellow Wine

Yellow wine, also called rice wine, is a specialty in China. It is one of the three most famous brewed wines in the world (yellow wine, grape wine and beer). Highly original, yellow wine brewing techniques are regarded as the representative and model of the wine-brewing industry in Asia.

Yellow wine is made from rice and husked millet. It is a mild wine, containing 14 percent to 20 percent alcohol. Known as "Liquid Cake", yellow wine is abundant in nutrient substances, including 21 kinds of amino acids, among which there are unknown amino acids and the eight necessary amino acids which can usually only be ingested through food instead of being synthesized by the body itself.

Wheat-yeast rice wine, represented by Shaoxing Rice Wine produced in Zhejiang province, is the oldest and most representative rice wine. Jimo Old Wine produced in Shandong province is the representative of millet yellow wine in north China. Both Longyan Chengang Wine (a wine whose lees sink to the crock bottom) and Fujian Old Wine are the representatives of Monascus purpureus rice wine.

Shaoxing Wine

The earliest recorded history of Shaoxing Wine dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Goujian, King of Yue State, came to the throne in 496 BC. In his struggle for hegemony against Fuchai, King of Wu State, wine seemed to become an important tool which connected closely with politics, diplomacy and military affairs.

After being defeated in battle, Goujian subjected himself to all kinds of hardship and led his people to gather strength. In this way, he managed to win the final victory. In the historical records of Goujian's story, the word "wine" is mentioned many times, particularly referring to the yellow wine produced in Shaoxing City.

In order to take revenge for the insults he suffered, Goujian made efforts to reinforce the military's strength and workforce. He even issued a pro-birth policy -- bestowing two pots of wine and a dog upon a household where a baby boy was born and bestowing two pots of wine and a pig to a house where a baby girl was born -- which was recorded in Guo Yu.Yue Yu (the history of Yue State from 990 to 453 BC).

Wang Mang usurped the throne during the end of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24). He confirmed the proportional relationship between raw materials and the yield of the wine produced and sold by the government -- 6- hu (1 hu equals 10 decaliters) of wine with 2-hu of brown rice and 1-hu of yeast. It is about equal to that of the Lin Fan Wine (a wine made from the steamed rice cooled with cold water) produced in Shaoxing city today. It can be inferred the current brewing method of Shaoxing wine was inherited and developed in the Western Han Dynasty in some aspects.

The Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) marked a turning point in the quality of Shaoxing yellow wine. Today, Shaoxing wine is regarded highly for one of its irreplaceable raw materials -- the water of Jianhu Lake. The water originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty when large-scale water conservancy projects were built to develop agriculture and economy.

From 102 to 115, large-scale flood detention reservoirs were established in today's Yuling township, Shaoxing city, promoting Shaoxing's small reservoirs to large reservoirs. In 140, Ma Zhen, Chief of Kuaiji Prefecture, aroused the people to build a dam, forming Jianhu Lake. Gathering the springs from Kuaijishan Mountain, Jianhu Lake provided high quality water for the wine-making industry in Shaoxing city and laid the foundation for Shaoxing yellow wine that was renowned at home and abroad.

During the Wei (220-265), Jin (265-420) and Northern and Southern (420-581) Dynasties, Nv'er Hong, a kind of Shaoxing yellow wine, came into being. Many books provided a foundation on which Shaoxing yellow wine could be handed down to future generations. For instance, Nan Fang Cao Mu Zhuang (a book about the plants which grow in Guangdong province, Guangxi province and Vietnam), written by Ji Han, a writer from Shangyu city, recorded not only the methods of making yellow wine yeast but also Shaoxing's custom of brewing Hua Diao Wine for a newly-born daughter and drinking it on her wedding day. Jia Sixie's Tian Gong Kai Wu (a book about agriculture and the handicraft industry) detailed the steps in making yeast, brewing, keeping and drinking wine.

During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the taste of Shaoxing yellow wine was vastly improved. In the reign of Goujian, Shaoxing yellow wine was an unstrained wine. After more than a thousand years of development, it became a sweet wine, which laid the groundwork for Shaoxing wine during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Today, Shaoxing wine is really sweet. Therefore, its unique flavor has evolved since the Northern and Southern Dynasties.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Five Dynasties (907-923) and Song Dynasty (960-1279), Shaoxing wine entered a stage of all-round development.

Many well-known poets from the Tang Dynasty, such as He Zhizhang, Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi and Meng Haoran, forged a deep bond with Shaoxing wine. Some of them were born in Shaoxing city, while the others worked there as officers. With praise and adoration from these celebrities, Shaoxing wine became increasingly popular among refined scholars and played an increasingly important role in social life.

During the Song Dynasty, the government needed more revenue to meet the expenditures from many years of war. A policy encouraging wine brewing was implemented, greatly increasing the output of yellow wine. However, more products meant more customers were needed. Various measures were taken to enhance the sales volume of yellow wine. Even prostitutes were asked to lure their customers to buy wine. Under the encouragement and advocacy from the government, the wine-brewing industry in Shaoxing city was naturally flourishing.

After the middle Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the productive forces developed at an amazing speed, helping the wine-brewing industry in Shaoxing city reach a new peak. The most obvious example was the establishment of a large number of Da Niang Fang (a large-scale wine-brewing workshop). In terms of output, productivity and operation method, Da Niang Fang greatly surpassed the outdated, family-run workshops and other small workshops. The wine-brewing industry in Shaoxing city officially became commercialized during the Ming Dynasty.

During the early Qing Dynasty, Shaoxing wine was on sale in every part of China and Da Niang Fang was mushrooming. For instance, Wang Baohe Old Wine, the most popular wine in today's Shanghai city, was brewed in the workshop starting in the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (the forth emperor of the Qing Dynasty). Many wine-brewing workshops established during the early Qing Dynasty are still active.

More wine-brewing workshops meant higher productivity and higher sales. However, Shaoxing the yellow wine market was plunged into chaos. Customers were at a loss due to numerous wine names. In order to remedy the situation, major wine-brewing workshops negotiated with one another and reached an agreement on the classification, standards and packaging of Shaoxing yellow wine. It was classified systematically into three categories: Zhuang Yuan Hong Wine (a kind of wine used for celebrating one's success in the imperial examination), Jiafan Wine (a kind of wine made from high-proportion glutinous rice) and Shan Niang Wine (high-quality wine made from ripe wine).

From the end of the Qing Dynasty to the early period of the Republic of China (1912-1949), Shaoxing wine was well known at home and abroad. Having been awarded several prizes, it became increasingly valuable and popular; both its output and sales volume rose rapidly.

Tiao Ding Ji (a famous cookbook from the Qing Dynasty) made a comparison between Shaoxing wine and other kinds of wine: "Many kinds of wine contain impurities, which will make you thirsty after drinking. In contrast, Shaoxing wine is aromatic and mellow, with its bouquet spreading for a long time. Thus it is regarded as the superior among all kinds of wine by the public." Furthermore, the quality of ripe Shaoxing wine was generalized in the book as follows: "No.1 Chinese wine with sweetness, lucidity, aroma and mellowness." It shows Shaoxing wine lead the Chinese wine industry in terms of color, smell, taste and quality. The book went on to say one main reason for the superiority was the water of Jianhu Lake. "Use the water of Jianhu Lake in front of the door, and brew Shaoxing wine with an aroma wafting for 5 million meters."

Huiquan Wine

Four famous wines in ancient China were Wuxi Huiquan Wine (a wine made from Huishan Mountain's spring water), Shaoxing Jiafan Wine, Danyang Fenggang Wine (a wine brewed in an airtight crock) and Fujian Chengang Wine. There is no denying Wuxi people take great pride in Huiquan wine.

There are a good number of springs in Huishan Mountain, Wuxi city. According to a saying, "There are 9 dragons and 13 springs." Because of the comment from Lu Yu and Liu Bochu (Tang Dynasty), the spring in Huishan Temple has been known as "the Second Best Spring Under Heaven".

In the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), glutinous rice wine made from the water of Huiquan Spring was called "Huiquan Wine". Its mellow flavor could remain for a long time. During the Ming Dynasty, Huiquan Wine became renowned under heaven.

In the early Qing Dynasty, Huiquan Wine became celebratory gift. In 1772, Kangxi (the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty) died and Yongzheng (the third emperor of the Qing Dynasty) took the throne. Cao Xueqin (writer of the Dream of Red Mansions)'s father, Chief of Jiangning Textile Office, transported 40 jars of Huiquan Wine to Beijing in order to offer congratulations. Huiquan Wine was popular among the upper class at that time.

As a model of ripe wine produced in Jiangsu province, Huiquan Wine was made from the water of an underground spring and high-quality glutinous rice in Jiangnan (the south of Yangtze River). It is a yellow wine with a relatively high proportion of sugar. With thousands of years of cultural accumulation and technical improvement, it became a famous wine in Jiangnan during the Ming Dynasty and an imperial wine during the Qing Dynasty. Huiquan Wine is legendary because it developed from a folk wine into an imperial wine and still maintains its popularity today.

Huiquan Wine has become perfect due to advanced techniques and scientific management. Soft, fragrant and delicious, it has a long aftertaste that will make you delightful.

Fangxian Yellow Wine

Fangling (Fangxian county) Yellow Wine was once an imperial wine bestowed by emperors onto officials.

According to historical records, Shaoxing Yellow Wine came into being in 492 BC (during the reign of Goujian), while Fangling Yellow Wine became an imperial wine in 827 BC (during the Western Zhou Dynasty around 1100-771 BC).

Yin Jifu, writer of the Book of Poetry, was born in Fangling. As Taishi (an official assisting the king in governing the country), Yin was appointed to be an envoy and was dispatched by the king of the Chu State to offer tribute to King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty (about 1100-221 BC). He took a jar of Baimao (yellow wine) produced by Fangling people and dedicated it to King Xuan. When the jar was opened, the wine spread its fragrance through the whole palace. After a sip, King Xuan gave the drink high praise and made it an imperial wine. King Xuan ordered Baimao be offered yearly by Fangling people using jars of different sizes and bestowed it to vassals.

Fangxian Yellow Wine boomed in the Tang Dynasty. Li Xian (Emperor Zhongzong of the Tang Dynasty) was dethroned and demoted to be Lord Luling by Wu Zetian (a queen from the Tang Dynasty). He was then exiled to Fangling and lived there for 14 years. He was accompanied by 720 court artisans who managed to improve the brewing methods of yellow wine in Fangxian county. After ascending the throne again, Li gave Fangxian Yellow Wine the title of "Huangdi Yujiu (the emperor's wine)".

With a white or yellowish color and a sweet-and-sour flavor, yellow wine is indispensable for Fangxian people all year round in various ceremonies like weddings and funerals.

Classification and Drinking Method of Yellow Wine

With thousands of years of development, the types of yellow wine have increased continuously. Yellow wine boasts a wide variety of categories and abundant names.

In ancient times, the most common classification of yellow wine was based on its place of production. There was Shaoxing Wine, Jinhua Wine, Danyang Wine, Jiujiang Fenggang Wine and Shandong Lanling Wine.

Yellow wine can also be classified according to its various ingredients and flavors. For instance, both Jiafan Wine and Huadiao Wine are usually a kind of yellow wine with 0.41-1.2 percent of sugar. Fenggang Wine (also called Xiangxue Wine in Shaoxing City) is a sweet wine or extremely sweet wine. Shanniang Wine was a yellow wine with a relatively high proportion of sugar.

According to its appearance (such as color and turbidity), wine can be divided into clear wine, turbid wine, white wine, yellow wine and red wine (a wine made from monascus). According to the raw materials, wine can be divided into glutinous rice wine, black kerneled rice wine, corn yellow wine, millet wine and highland barley wine.

In ancient times, wine could be classified into distilled wine and non-distilled wine. Wine could even be classified according to its target customers. For example, Jingzhuang was the wine sold in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty.

There are some habitual wine names, such as Shui Wine in Jiangxi province, Chou Wine in Shanxi province and Laobai Wine in Jiangnan. Aside from liquid wine, there is also semi-solid wine, called Jiuniang. All of these names possess local characteristics. If one wants to accurately know the different types of yellow wine, one must learn its classification.

Traditional Drinking Method: Drinking after Heating

Put the wine vessel into hot water or on a fire to heat the wine. After heating, the wine will be characterized by its fragrant and soft taste. However, the wine should not be heated for too long of a time or the alcohol will volatilize and take away its flavor.

Generally speaking, drinking wine after heating is popular in the winter. During summer, adding ice or cold soda water to sweet yellow wine can decrease its alcoholic strength and make it cool and delicious.

Wine can also be drunk when it is of normal temperature. However, drinking wine after adding ice to it is popular in Hong Kong and Japan.

Garnishing yellow wine with various dishes to appreciate its unique flavor (take Shaoxing wine as example):

Yuanhong Wine (a wine with little sugar) should be garnished with cold dishes like vegetables and jellyfish.

Jiafan Wine (a wine with 0.41-1.2 percent of sugar) should be garnished with meat (like steamed crab).

Shanniang Wine (a wine with a relatively high-proportion of sugar) should be garnished with chicken and duck.

Xiangxue Wine (a sweet wine) should be garnished with sweet vegatables.

Yellow wine is important Yaoyinzi (auxiliary ingredients) in the field of medicine. In the prescription of traditional Chinese medicine, yellow wine is usually used for steeping, boiling and steaming herbs, or making various pills and medicated wine. According to statistics, over 70 kinds of medicated wine are made from yellow wine.

Yellow wine can also be used as flavoring. With moderate alcoholicity, a mellow flavor and abundant amino acids, yellow wine is a preferred flavoring. When cooking meat, especially mutton and fresh fish, a bit of yellow wine can not only remove the strong smell but also add a nice flavor.

Seven Reasons for Drinking Yellow Wine:

With abundant nutrient substances, yellow wine is called "Liquid Cake". It has surpassed beer (also called "Liquid Bread") and grape wine in terms of nutritious value.)

1. There is an abundant amount of amino acid in yellow wine. Yellow wine contains ethanol, water and 18 amino acids, among which, eight categories are necessary but cannot be synthesized by the human body. The content of the eight amino acids in yellow wine is higher than that in beer or grape wine.

2. Yellow wine digests easily. With various kinds of nutritious substances that can be digested quickly by the human body, yellow wine has a high-proportion of nutrition and a low-proportion of alcohol.

3. Relax the muscles and stimulate the blood circulation. Yellow wine is bitter, sweet and vinegary. In winter, drinking the right amount of yellow wine regularly can stimulate blood circulation, promote metabolism, tonify the blood, improve looks, dispel a cold, activate the channels and collaterals and take precautions against catching cold.

4. Improve looks and fight against ageing. Wine contains an abundant amount of vitamin B. Drinking wine regularly can help you to improve your looks and fight against ageing.

5. Improve the appetite. With a high proportion of zinc, yellow wine can help you to improve your appetite.

6. Protect the heart. Yellow wine contains trace elements that can prevent the elevation of blood pressure and the formation of thrombus. Therefore, drinking the right amount of yellow wine can help prevent cardiovascular disease and protect your heart.

7. Yellow wine is ideal Yaoyinzi. Compared with white spirits and beer, yellow wine contains moderate alcoholic strength, so it can works as an ideal Yaoyinzi. Although spirits can dissolve Chinese drugs easily, it is an irritant to the patients. Beer contains a low proportion of alcohol, so it cannot dissolve Chinese drugs fully. Furthermore, yellow wine is an important auxiliary ingredient for making Chinese drugs in the forms of bolus, powder, plaster, pellet and tablets.


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