Wine: Epilogue

Other than that, Suzhou’s Nuqi, Fuqi’s Wanzao, Xuanzhou’s Zaoerhong, are all subpar and unworthy of consideration. Like the quince1 from Yangzhou, they taste crass and vulgar.

此外如蘇州之女貞、福貞元燥,宣州之豆酒、通州之棗兒紅,俱不入流品,至不堪者,揚州之木瓜也,上口便俗。

Note:
1The Chinese term for quince is “wood melon” (木瓜). Depending on your the ancestral region of Chinese heritage, the term may indeed refer to quince as it has for many that come from more temperate regions of China. But for those of us from the tropics or diaspora overseas where quince is rare and papaya are much more common, the “wood melon” refers almost exclusively to the fruits of Carica papaya.

Wine 6: Changzhou Lanling Wine (常州蘭陵酒)

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.

常州蘭陵酒
唐詩有「蘭陵美酒鬱金香,玉碗盛來琥珀光」之句。余過常州,相國劉文定公飲以八年陳酒,果有琥珀之光。然味太濃厚,不復有清遠之意矣。宜興有蜀山酒,亦復相似。至於無錫酒,用天下第二泉所作,本是佳品,而被市井人苟且為之,遂至澆淳散樸,殊可惜也。據云有佳者,恰未曾飲過。

Note:
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。”

Wine 4: Shaoxing Wine (紹興酒)

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.

紹興酒
紹興酒,如清官廉吏,不摻一毫假,而其味方真。又如名士耆英,長留人間,閱盡世故,而其質愈厚。故紹興酒不過五年者不可飲,摻水者,亦不能過五年。余常稱紹興為名士,燒酒為光棍。

Notes:
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.

Wine 3: Sichuan Pitong Wine (四川郫筒酒)

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.

四川郫筒酒
郫筒酒,清冽澈底,飲之如梨汁蔗漿,不知其為酒也。但從四川萬里而來,鮮有不味變者。余七飲郫筒,惟楊笠湖刺史木簰上所帶為佳。

Notes:
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

Wine 2: Dezhou Lu Wine (德州盧酒)

Made in the household of Transport Officer Lu Yayu. The colour is similar to most wines but its flavours are more concentrated.

德州盧酒
盧雅雨轉運家所造,色如于酒,而味略厚。

Note:
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.

Wine (酒)

It is in my nature to not drink. And since I am strict and discerning in what I consume, I have in turn gained a deep understanding and knowledge in the flavours of wines.1 Today, Shaoxing is ubiquitous all the way from the sea to deep inland, but considering the delicate freshness of Cang wine, the cool purity of Xun wine, the fresh sweetness of Chuan wine: how could they be ranked lower than Shaoxing! In general, wine could be compared to a old and aged Confucian scholar: the older the more precious. That from a freshly opened jar is the best, as indicated by the proverb: “Wine heads, tea feet”.2

However, when wine is inadequately warmed, it will taste too cool, if over-warmed it will taste weak and flavourless, and when warmed too close to the flames its flavours will change. For the best results one should warm it by simmering it in water, carefully covering the opening of the warming vessel where the vapours could escape. I have chosen the more drinkable wines and listed them below.


余性不近酒,故律酒過嚴,轉能深知酒味。今海內動行紹興,然滄酒之清,潯酒之冽,川酒之鮮,豈在紹興下哉!大概酒似耆老宿儒,越陳越貴,以初開壇者為佳,諺所謂「酒頭茶腳」是也。燉法不及則涼,太過則老,近火則味變,須隔水燉,而謹塞其出氣處才佳。取可飲者,並列於後。

Notes:
1 Whether Chinese rice wine should be even call “wine” continues to be a matter of active debate in the Chinese and Chinese culinary studies, with otherwise sane and well-meaning people arguing that it should be call everything from “liquor”, to “ale”, and even the long-winded “Chinese alcoholic beverage”. My own belief is that the product itself is unique enough from a manufacturing and chemistry standpoint that no Western term can adequately encompass it, and the best way is to adopt the Chinese word “jiu” and leave it at that. However, given that these blog posts are for laypersons mostly likely not directly embroiled in the academic terminology tussle, I’ve decided to just use the well-worn English term (more than a century) for referring to Chinese alcoholic beverages “wine”.

2Not sure what this is supposed to mean. Maybe the aged wine is best at the beginning when the jar is cracked open (like vintage port) and tea is better nearer to its end (when the tea leaves has fully opened up)?

Tea and Wine

After seven bowls, a person turns manic like the wind. Even after just one cup they would not have a care in the world. One cannot avoid mentioning the “six clear”1 items. As such, I wrote the “List of tea and wine”.

茶酒單
七碗生風,一杯忘世,非飲用六清不可。作《茶酒單》。

Note:
1 Important drinks from the Zhou dynasty included: plain water, clear wine, unfiltered wine, roasted rice tea, medicinal wine, diluted congee (水, 漿, 醴, 涼, 醫, 酏). Yuan Mei refers to them here to indicate that one cannot avoid talking about all the important drinks if one want to drink.

*It’s been rather hectic this last while. But in any case…We’re on the the LAST CHAPTER of the book!!!