A Bite of China – transformation from rice to wine
In terms of diet, flavor overwhelms anything else. Chinese never bind themselves to a stuffy food list. People persist to seek the inspiration of transformation through continuously trials. They seem to be born with the ability to utilize microorganisms like yeasts, fungus and bacteria. Wine should be the oldest sample of bringing ferment of microorganisms into full play. Rice Wine, a Chinese beverage that is made from grains like rice, millet or wheat with Jiuqu starter culture, is one of the oldest alcohols in China. It is also called Yellow Wine (Huangjiu) and has lower alcohol than White Spirit. Different type of Yellow Wine shows slightly different color such as ecru, tawny and reddish brown. Moreover, it is often used as a condiment in cooking to remove fishiness and promote flavor.
Shaoxing, a prefecture-level city located on the south bank of Qiantang River estuary in Zhejiang Province, where the Chinese famous writer Lu Xun’s Residence, Tomb of Yu the Great and East Lake can be found, is the origin of Huangjiu. Winter falls in Shaoxing with a morning drizzle, which is regarded as a good omen by winemakers, since yeasts prefers prolonged and moderate coldness in Yangtze River Delta region. The first day of Li-Dong (Beginning of Winter, the 19th solar terms in China and usually falls around November 7 and ends around November 22) is also the day to greet the god of wine. Annual ritual is held on this day to show respect for Mother Nature, marking the beginning of winter brewing. Winemakers are busy with preparing tributes for sacrifice. Nobody would have a single bit of slight. Even the best winemaker can not ensure a good wine to be made on account of changeable weather, wind, air and microorganisms. Shaoxing Wine, namely the Chinese Rice Wine, Yellow Wine, has a high reputation domestically and internationally. The water used for brewing is taken from the Jianhu-Mirror Lake. Shaoxing is a typical water town. Walking along the river bank of Shaoxing, you will find a Chinese ink painting right before your eyes. Dwelling houses are built along rivers which are dotted with gray boats. Boatmen occasionally have a drink of Shaoxing Wine. Shaoxing natives like sipping the Yellow Wine. A bottle of wine is often finished at the end of a day. In Shaoxing, you will find lots of old people chatting and sucking a mouth of Yellow Wine at times. And also, walking on the alleys, you will find lines of signboards of pubs.
In Xiuning County of Anhui Province, which is of the identical latitude with Shaoxing County and administrated by Huangshan City, people are also engaged with winter brewing. Brewing is by no means a tough task for the elders. Rice is an indispensable part of daily life in the fertile and populous land of lower reach of Yangtze River. The period before the coming of Chinese New Year is the slack season for farmers. It couldn’t be more natural to make jars of rice wine to treat both guests and themselves. Jiuqu, a marvelous invention of Chinese, is the oldest and successful sample in people’s attempts to domesticating microorganism. It is a mixture of various yeasts, molds and bacteria which are cultured in grains and stored in the form of paste or powders and is crucial to make good wine. All sorts of microorganisms sleep soundly in the mixture of rice and Polygonum hydroper, waiting for a right moment to wake up. Crushed Jiuqu is first mixed with boiled sticky rice in a stoneware jar, then a dimple is dug by hands and the last handful of Jiuqu is spread on the mixture. Finally, everything is left to time. Those funguses will turn the glutted rice into sugar while the yeasts will turn sugar into alcohol. As time passes by, the wine becomes increasingly mellow.
The Chinese Rice Wine has a long-lasting and full-bodied taste. Chinese can taste the states of gentleness and firmness. Nurtured by Yellow Wine, Shaoxing natives have mild disposition. Their adherence to tradition also flows on their tongues.
---By Sunny (VisitOurChina)