Continued from “The Progenitor of East Asia” on 8 December 2016)
Although “huangjiu” literally means “yellow wine”, it is not quite yellow in colour, but more like blackish brown, similar to Oloroso or Dulce styles of sherry. The Shaoxing style of huangjiu generally uses rice as the main ingredient: glutinous rice is preferred, followed by long-grained rice and short-grained rice.
The production process of huangjiu is strikingly similar to that of Japanese sake; for one thing, both paddy field and starter culture (“jiuqu” in Chinese or “koji” in Japanese) spread from China to Japan. The rice is first dehusked, and then degermed. Whereas rice polishing is a key step in Japanese sake, it is rarely applied in huangjiu. The rice is then soaked in water and thoroughly cooked by steaming; since a large amount of water is used during the production process, the quality and purity of water are a major factor affecting the taste of both sake and huangjiu.
A starter culture is then added to the cooked rice, hence starting saccharification and fermentation simultaneously. The application of starter culture, duration and temperature determine the style and taste of the final product. Once saccharification and fermentation complete, the liquid is pressed to separate from the lees. In modern times, the nectar is usually pasteurised and filtered before it undergoes maturation, and is finally bottled for sale.
Numerous styles of huangjiu are produced in various provinces stretching from eastern to southern China, and not least Taiwan. The epicentre of huangjiu of Zhejiang province, the city of Shaoxing alone produces several styles of huangjiu, such as: i) the fully dry and very elegant zhuangyuanhong (“champion’s red”); ii) the complex and aromatic nüerhong (“daughter’s red”); iii) the off-dry jiafan (“added rice”); iv) the off-sweet shanniang (“best made”); v) the fully sweet fenggang (“sealed vessel”); and vi) the luxuriously sweet xiangxue (“fragrant snow”).
Bright mahogany with tawny-vermillion reflex, the energetic nose offers sour prune soup, red bean paste, dried mussels and osmanthus. With a suave texture, lively acidity and rich umami, the melodious palate delivers candied hawthorn, hazelnut, chicken broth and shitake mushroom. Medium-bodied at 17%, the supple entry continues through an animated mid-palate, leading to a tasty finish.
Deep mahogany with carnelian-copper reflex, the fragrant nose presents jujube, salted plum, beef jerky and dried cordyceps flower. With a velvety texture, dynamic acidity and rich umami, the complex palate furnishes dark soya sauce, wood ear, dried tiger daylily bud and dried oyster. Medium-full bodied at 18%, the poised entry evolves into a chiselled mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
Rich mahogany with coral-tangelo reflex, the vigorous nose provides ume, wolfberry, demerara and dried mushroom. With a silky texture, bright acidity and rich umami, the harmonious palate supplies dried dates, walnut shell, dried shrimps and miso soup. Medium-bodied at 17%, the composed entry persists through a rounded mid-palate, leading to a savoury finish.
To be continued…
To re-discover the national treasure of huangjiu, contact Mr John Ng, Managing Director of Agência Superar; E: email@example.com; T: 2871 9978; F: 2871 7936; A: Rua dos Pescadores No. 354-408, Edificio Industrial Nam Fung Bloco II, Andar 4F.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages