China Wine: Rebirth of an Ancient Tradition

The origins of fermenting and drinking wine in China go far back in time. Chinese ancestors either used wine as a libation to their forefathers to express reverence, or enjoined it by themselves while writing poetry, prose, or toasted their relatives and friends during a feast.

There are many contradictory views about when and by whom the first wine was made. Dou Ge (AD 960-1279), author of the History of Wine, said in his book that it was not one individual, but were people from generation to generation gradually mastered the technique of wine-making. Three thousand years ago people realized that wine could be made with years and sprouted grains. In the beginning, wine was made because of the needs of religious ceremonies. 

The other view thinks a person named Du Kang once invented wine. It is believed that Du Kang once put some leftover rice into the hole in a tree by accident. The rice fermented later and the nice smell flowed here and there. Du Kang thus invented the way of making wine. The theory was accepted by most people, including Cao Cao who wrote “nothing but Du Kang can alleviate one's sorrow”.

Unlike Western wines, Chinese wine is distilled from rice, millet and other grains, as well as herbs and flowers. A wide variety of tonic wines are made with traditional ingredients. The most popular types are the rice wine and the sorghum based fiery distillations with alcoholic content of 50-70 percent. These are definitely best sampled after a hearty meal. Rice wines had been the most popular alcoholic drinks for Chinese in ancient times, and are still one of the popular alcoholic beverages, especially in South China. Shaoxing Yellow Wine and Jiujiang double distill wine are the most popular ones. They taste similar to medium-dry sherry and go well with a wide range of Chinese cuisine, especially during the cool season.

As to the sorghum based beverage, Maotai Liquor is honored the National Treasure in its kind. It has a production history of over 200 years. It is named after its origin at Maotai town in Guizhou Province. The brewage of the liquor will go though 8 times of ferment and 9 times of distillation, the whole process lasts one year. After the process, the liquor will be stored for years. The specific techniques of brewage make the strong liquor suitable for drinking and beneficial to the health. This wine is made famous to the world when the Chinese government served it in state banquets. It is consumed in very large quantities during festivals, at social gathering, especially in winter.