This is part 2 of the Shaoxing rice wine series. Click here for Part 1.
Determined to investigate taste differences between different grades and producers of Shaoxing rice wine, the Yangs and I scoured the Bay Area for 5 bottles ranging from low-end $2.99 to the highest-end we could find 20-year-aged at $21.99:
1. Shaohsing Huadiao Rice Wine by Kuaijishan Shaoxing Wine Co, 17% alc, $2.99.
2. Nu Er Hong Rice Wine, Yuequan brand, 17% alc, $4.99.
3. Aged Shao Xing Rice Wine, Pagoda Brand by Zhejiang Celeals, Oils & Foodstuffs I/E Co., 17% alc., 8-year-aged, $5.99.
4. Shaoxing Rice Wine by Zhejiang Gu Yue Long Shan Shaoxing Wine Co, 18% alc, 8 year-aged, $5.89 for 500ml.
5. Kuaijishan Shaoxing Rice-Wheat Wine with Caramel color added, specially designed for state banquet, aged in china jar for 20 years, 15% alc, $21.99 for 500ml.
We then opened all of them at once and tried them at room temperature in 3 different ways: with a Chinese meal, by themselves without food, and blind. Our meal was fairly light - no heavy meats and sauces. We had oysters, dan dan mian (noodles with ground pork and shredded cucumber in chili sauce) and tofu custard dishes.
Here are my observations:
1. The wines did not go with our food at all. The spice was exaggerated by the wines, rather than balanced out (such as with Riesling). I suspect that the wines would match heavier Shanghainese food far better. After all, Shanghai and Shaoxing are only a couple-of-hour drive apart.
2. Non-blind, the more expensive wines were more lustrous and lighter in color, less bitter, more oily/viscous, more complex and fruity (but you cannot call these wines fruity, perhaps more like bitter-ish citrus zest or peel - they are very much in the Sherry / Madeira / Scotch camp of "non-fruitiness") with the most expensive wine having more intense yet finer flavor.
3. I finally started noticing slight but quite persceptible saltiness on all of them, with it being rougher and more obvious in the cheaper wines. It comes across more like savoriness than saltiness, but it's there, just like in a trocken Riesling. In fact, the cheap Shaoxing cooking rice wine has very strong salt flavor, while the drinking wines don't. I think that it would be an interesting experiment to use these better-quality drinking wines for cooking.
4. Tasted non-blind, we all agreed that the 8-year-aged Gu Yue Long Shan wine provided the best QPR (quality-price-ratio). But the real test was blind-tasting. While I easily identified the most expensive wine, everything else I got wrong. Tasted blind, I thought they all had similar texture. The cheapest wine had the darkest, muddiest, most opaque color, but while I could pick up on differences in flavors, I could not tell which one was better or worse.
5. Therefore, we concluded that the cheapest wine provided the best everyday QPR, while the most expensive wine was something worth having for special occasions.
Even higher end, 50- and 100-year old Shaoxing wines are available in China. I might try those some day soon. In the meantime, I will be searching for the best food-and-Shaoxing-rice-wine pairings in the Bay Area.
Click here for Part 3.