Shaoxing rice wine - learning the taste

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.


Amy said…

I wanna ask you a question, how to check the vintage of the Shaoxing rice wine on the bottle itself?

I bought a few bottles of Chinese rice wine for my research in my uni. I can't see any "date" mentioned on the bottle as i turned around.

Hope u can give me some guidance. Thanks a lot!!!
Anonymous said…
Do you have any idea where you can purchase chinese rice wine? I cant seem to locate ANY in my area.
Iron Chevsky said…
Amy: To my knowledge, the label of Shaoxing wine is more like the liquor than the wine of the western countries. For the wine, it is clearly marked in the label which year the wine is made in most cases. But this is not the case for liquor, for example, on the labels of Vodka, in most cases it is not marked which year the vodka was made. For whisky, only those expensive ones mark the year of vintage, for example, Black Label has a 12 year mark on its label, but not for Red Label, the inexpensive one.

I assume Shaoxing wine adopts the similar practice in marking its vintage as whisky , that is, the cheap ones do not mark the year while the expensive, luxurious ones do mark its year of vintage on its labels, say, 5, 8 or 12 or even longer. Those numbers are in Chinese character, not in Arabic. So help from some one who is able to read Chinese would be needed for researching the Chinese rice wine. Turning to the reliability of the vintage claims of the expensive Shaoshine wine, one might need to take a grain of salt as the Chinese markets are yet to be properly regulated.

Anonymous: I purchase the rice wine in Asian supermarkets. If there is none in your area, try

Best regards,
Iron Chevsky.
Iron Chevsky! Thanks for the shout out on This is the best English description of the taste of Chinese rice wine I have found. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to post excerpts from your blog on my new website With full credit to the "Iron Chevsky" of course...
Iron Chevsky said…
Hi China Connection. Thank you for reading and contributing!
Please feel free to post links and excerpts on your site (with proper attribution).
Yours and your customers' comments and feedback always welcome.
Rick Ong said…
Interesting stuff Gary! I learned a lot about Shaoxing wine on your blog

Anonymous said…
I've finally hunted down a bottle (for a recipe for Tee Pon Pork that sounds delicious). I've got the pork cooking now, but -- in part because I cannot read Chinese -- I'm wondering how best to store the rest of the bottle. Refrigerate? Up in the cupboard? Thoughts? Thanks!
Iron Chevsky said…
Hi Anonymous,
Remember that Shaoxing wine is a wine, so as it is exposed to air, it will oxidize and will eventually turn into vinegary taste. It won't oxidize as quickly as grape-based wine because Shaoxing has slightly oxidative taste to begin with, due to the way it's aged, but it will eventually go bad (perhaps after a couple of weeks) - it will last longer for cooking purposes, but not for drinking. To preserve it, use the same techniques you'd use on any wine - definitely refrigerate. Also, if you have an air removal pump or a gas device for wine, use those. You can also pour the remaining wine into a smaller container to reduce the amount of air remaining in the bottle.
Zhejiang Guyue Longshan Shaoxing Wine is the leading rice wine enterprise in China. Also, it is gradually gaining popularity outside China.With more innovation in taste and technology, it is going to have greater market. This is an article I wrote about this wine.
Hope you can read it and we may exchange ideas.
Zhejiang Guyue Longshan Shaoxing Wine is the leading rice wine enterprise in China. Also, it is gradually gaining popularity outside China.With more innovation in taste and technology, it is going to have greater market. This is an article I wrote about this wine.
Hope you can read it and we may exchange ideas.
atsing said…
Hi my name is Amanda from Malaysia. Love your post and comments on shaoxing rice wine. Where can I buy 20,30year wine.

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