Since the invention – more likely to be accidental than intentional – of grain-based beer, fruit-based wine and grain-based cereal wine predates written history, it falls on the shoulders of archaeologists, not historians, to delve into the origins of these nectars. Although they first emerged in ancient Egypt, Georgia and China independently, there is a common thread to beer, wine and cereal wine, in that a mere drink quickly became divine libation, intricately linked to national memory, mythology and religion.
Legend has it that cereal wine was invented in around the mid-3rd millennium BC by a minister of the Yellow Emperor, Du Kang, whose name would go on to become a synonym for brewers and distillers in the Chinese language, as well as the revered job title – Toji – of sake brewers in Japan. Predating the oracle bone script, Chinese cereal wine was recorded thereby and later on institutionalised by the Rites of Zhou during the eponymous dynasty.
As previously discussed in the Japanese sake series, “cereal wine” is an umbrella term, convenient but imprecise. Wine sensu stricto is made by fermenting sugars naturally existent in fruits, while cereal wine is made by fermenting sugars converted from starch inherent in grains. Both beer and cereal are brewed, but they differ from each other in that beer depends on enzymes for fermentation, whereas cereal wine relies on microbes, usually in the form of a starter culture (“jiuqu” in Chinese). Therefore, saccharification and fermentation occur separately in beer, but simultaneously in cereal wine.
Cereal wine can make use of a wide range of grains as ingredients, including but not limited to barley, coixseed, millet, rice, sorghum and wheat. Chinese mijiu (literally: rice wine), popular mainly in the southern half of the country, is the progenitor of Japanese sake (literally: clear liquor, not distilled) and Korean cheongju (literally: clear liquor, not distilled), while Chinese baijiu (grain-based spirit) has the upper hand in the northern half of the country. A style of mijiu, huangjiu (litrally: yellow wine) produced in the Jiangnan region is particularly well-known, especially to those from Zhejiang province and indeed the city of Shaoxing, whose name has become synonymous with huadiao (literally: flowery carving, a style of huangjiu named after its embossed container).
To be continued…
Bright mahogany with copper-tawny reflex, the fragrant nose offers dried date, salted plum, black bean paste and dried mushroom. With a suave texture, fresh acidity and rich umami, the expressive palate delivers wolfberry, oolong tea, chicken consommé and dried mussel. Medium-bodied at 17%, the tangy entry continues through a mushroomy mid-palate, leading to a woody finish.
Guyuelongshan Celadon Premium Huadiao 8 Year Old
Rich mahogany with bronze-persimmon reflex, the aromatic nose presents jujube, dried sweet potato, red bean paste and dried cordyceps flower. With a rounded texture, lively acidity and bounteous umami, the vibrant palate supplies brown sugar, conch consommé, shitake mushroom and dried tiger daylily. Medium-full bodied at 17%, the dense entry evolves into a vinous mid-palate, leading to a supple finish.
Guyuelongshan Shaoxing Huadiao 8 Year Old
Luminous mahogany with auburn-maroon reflex, the redolent nose effuses dates, miso, lingzhi and conpoy. With an urbane texture, animated acidity and abundant umami, the tasty palate emanates dried longan, five-spice powder, conch consommé and dried shrimps. Medium-full bodied at 17%, the poised palate persists through a complex mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
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