On the thirtieth year of Qianlong,1 I was in Suzhou having a drink at Su Mu-an’s house. The wine I had there was sweet and fair, and sticks to one’s lips when drunk. Even when one’s cup was full, the wine still does not spill out.2 After I have had fourteen cups of it, I still did not know what wine it was, so I asked the master of the house, who replied: ”It is a Sanbai wine that has been aged for more than ten years.” Since I loved it so much, the next day he gifted me a jar, but it was an entirely different thing.
Oh…Why must this be?! Indeed, it is hard to acquire the choice items of this world in any quantity!
In An Zhengkang’s annotation of “Zhou Guan”3, the term “Angqi” was defined: “The jar content is old and cloudy white. Similar to modern Zanbai.”4 I suspect this was the wine being referred to.
乾隆三十年，余飲於蘇州周慕庵家。酒味鮮美，上口粘唇，在杯滿而不溢。飲至十四杯，而不知是何酒，問之，主人曰︰「陳十餘年之三白酒也。」因余 愛之，次日再送一罈來，則全然不是矣。甚矣！世間尤物 之難多得也。按鄭康成《周官》注「盎齊」云︰「盎者翁翁然，如今酇白。」疑即此酒
1The year 1765CE
2From this sentence and the one before, perhaps the wine is viscous enough that it does not easy spill out.
3This is from the Rites of Zhou, in 周禮::天官::酒正
4It’s hard to figure out this sentences. I’m assuming “jar’s item” is the wine contained within. The last quoted phrase comes from the Rites of Zhou:”盎猶翁也，成而色翁翁然，蔥白色，如今酇白矣”
I almost never drink. Nevertheless, on the year of bingxu1 at the abode of Auditor Ye in Lishui, I drank sixteen cups of the black rice wine,2 which greatly shocked those around me. All of them pleaded with me to stop. Even though I was wreaking my composure, I could not control myself and put my hand down. Its colour was black with a sweet and fresh flavour that was so incredible that I cannot describe it.
It is told: By the traditions of Lishui, when a daughter is born, one must make a large jar3 of this wine using the fresh milled rice of the utmost quality. It is only on the day of the daughter’s wedding that the wine is drunk. This means that these wines have at the very least been aged for fifteen to sixteen years. When the lid is cracked open4 , there is only half a jar of the aged wine left. Its texture is sticky on one’s lips and it’s aroma can be smelled from outside of the room.
1This is the year 1766CE in the Chinese sexagenary cycle
2The “black rice” here is either the black/purple variety of glutinous rice or white glutinous rice cooked in the leaf juices of Vaccinium bracteatum, a plant from the same genus as cranberries and blueberries. The latter is is still made today.
3These jars are sold by their empty weight, with a small one around 5kg to a large on of 50kgy. A typical size one is around 25 kg, which is up to one’s thigh in height.
4 The actual term is “break the jar” since the large jars are sealed with layers of lotus leaf, an earthenware cap, and then capped with clay and plaster.
In the Tang poems there is a passage: “Lanling’s fair wine, thickly fragrant and golden bright.1 Held in a jade bowl, shimmering amber light.”2 I have travelled through Changzhou, and drank a wine aged for eight years with Liu Lun. It indeed had the brightness of amber, but its flavour was far too concentrated and no longer had that desired long-lasting refreshing flavour. Yixing has a Shu mountain wine that is similar to Lanling.
As for wine from Wuxi, it is made from the water of the second best spring under the heavens, as such it should be one of the best wines. But because it was made improperly by the city’s business-folk, it had been completely water-down and diluted in quality, which is especially regrettable. It is said that there are still good wines there but I have yet to have it.
1It’s also possible that 鬱金香 is refers to a plant with a golden hued rhisome: Curcuma wenyujin.
2One Libai’s poems 李白《客中行》”蘭陵美酒鬱金香，玉碗盛來琥珀光。但使主人能醉客，不知何處是他鄉。”
Huzhou Nanxun1 wine has flavour similar to Shaoxing, but much more refreshing and piquant. Those which have been aged more than three years are the best.
1Nanxun was one of those beautiful, dreamy Zhejiang/Jiangsu towns interlaced by canals and streams. It is contained in Huzhou, just south of Suzhou.
Shaoxing wine is like an upright and incorruptible official, unadulterated with even a hair of fakery, with a flavour that is authentic and true. It is also like a renowned scholar or mature warrior,1 who through their long lives have thoroughly examined and experience everything the world has to offer, thus attaining a complex and substantial character. Shaoxing aged less than five years should not be drank since that with water mixed in does not last more than five years.2 I often refer to Shaoxing as renowned scholars and distilled liquors as common thugs.
1The Chinese character used here is ying 英, which is basically a high ranking military hero. However, I’ve translated it here as “warrior” since it sounds better.
2Basically, by avoiding Shaoxing less than 5 years old, one is effectively also avoiditf adulterated Shaoxing.
Pitong wine is thoroughly refreshing and cool. It is so much like drinking pear or sugar cane juice that one could mistake it for not being wine at all. It is brought in from Wanli in Sichuan province, and thus it is rare to find ones that has not changed flavour. I have drank pitong wine seven times, but the one I had on the raft of Prefecture Governor Yang Lihu was the best.
There has been something of a recent revival in making this alcoholic beverage in China, which basically involves filling the hollow of the bamboo culm with a brewed or distilled alcoholic drink and leaving it for a several months before harvesting the entire stalk of bamboo and emptying out the alcohol from the filled culm(s). Over the season, the alcoholic beverage would have been permeated with a fragrant bamboo aroma and transformed into a rather different drink than its original feedstock. For Chinese readers (or those who are good with just looking at pictures or videos of people doing stuff) see here and here
Made in the household of Transport Officer Lu Yayu. The colour is similar to most wines but its flavours are more concentrated.
The image has likely nothing to do with the alcoholic drink described by Yuan Mei. But considering the complete lack of descriptions, I’m taking the liberty here to post the image here. There.