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A trip to Shaoxing: The home of China’s ‘yellow’ wine

If it is not easy to describe what a Master of Wine ‘does’ (winemaker, viticulturist, marketer, wine buyer, consultant, journalist, writer, business owner, educator, event organiser, wine-judge, retailer, wholesaler etc. being just some of the areas in which MW’s work) then defining what a Master of Wine ‘is’, presents even more of a challenge. For me working in wine was really a choice based on my love of taste. That fundamental appreciation of flavour and aroma stems from having grown up with a grandmother, a professional cook, whose preparation of plentiful, varied and deeply satisfying food made her house my favourite place in which to spend holidays or weekends. I was also fortunate to have a London based aunt and uncle who both shared and fostered my fascination with flavour. They would take me to restaurants throughout the capital that exposed me at a tender age to the deliciousness and diversity of global gastronomy including my first Peking Duck, in all its burnished succulence, some 35 years ago.

Wine is neither inferior or superior to the stuff that we eat, it is simply an extension of food in liquid form. What makes wine remarkable is that the wide range of varieties cultivated, the differences in the climatic conditions in which those varieties are grown and the scope of methods employed by winemakers in its production, ensures that wine has a breadth of aroma, flavour and texture that is intellectual in scale. Being a Master of Wine indicates that those who hold this title have a certain understanding of exactly this, i.e. that wine is complicated. Having earned this particular status does not mean however that I have the language or experience necessary to comfortably describe or assess the wines made from something other than grapes. This was why I received an invitation asking me to visit and then review the rice wines of Shaoxing with excitement but also a little trepidation; after all, none of us wants to look like a fool.

In the West (and in some parts of western China), the rice wines of Shaoxing are used more for cooking than for drinking. Even in Hong Kong, Taipei or Shanghai, friends when questioned stated that they usually consumed the wines from this area with the older generations of their respective families or at particular times of year such as in late autumn served warm with hairy crab. What I was interested to find out was with the rice wine of Japan (Sake) enjoying an increasingly appreciative audience beyond its homeland, whether the wines of Shaoxing were also capable of international appeal. Luckily for me my journey to Shaoxing saw me accompanied by Shanghai native and expert, Jennifer Chen, who over the three days we were together helped me build a picture of what the ‘good’, ‘better’ and the ‘best’ wines looked like.

We visited three famous winemaking institutions (Kuai Ji Shan, the family owned Chen Yuangxing otherwise known as the Shaoxing Wine Company and Pagoda) and having witnessed the winemaking process I began asking questions about how the flavour and aroma present in any given rice wine is controlled by the producer. What I was trying to understand was whether the criteria for successful and controlled fermentations in grape wine were the same for wine made from rice. A winemaker (grape) can most easily influence the style of any given wine they are producing through the yeast that they use to ferment the juice and by the temperature at which they allow that fermentation to take place. Most of the producers visited had no access to facilities that allowed them to effectively control the temperature (no refrigeration equipment was installed) and no one was either prepared or wished to reveal the strains of any particular yeasts that were being used other than to say that it was ‘local’ yeast.

My next set of questions centred on the provenance of the raw ingredient, the rice. Anyone with more than a passing interest in wine produced from grapes knows that the influence of a particular place with its associated soil, climate etc has a marked effect on the style, quality and price of the wines produced. What became obvious was that the determining factor in the selection of rice was about the proximity of the time of harvest of the rice to the fermentation and subsequent beginnings of the maturation period of the wine itself. The commonly held belief is that the fermentation and early part of the maturation needs to be controlled/slowed by the effects of the cool weather (especially as there is no temperature control present in the majority of the wineries), hence the best time to make wine being late Autumn and winter. This does mean that the rice used has to come from those areas that harvest their rice at this time, irrespective of whether this is the ‘best’ rice. Zhejiang and Anhui are the regions from which most rice is currently sourced.

On my return to Shanghai I blind-tasted my way through sixty examples of yellow wine from Shaoxing and what was slowly revealed to me was that as with grape wine, the rice wines of Shaoxing can be just as layered. Many of the better wines have a complex oxidative character that is dominated by the strong umami characters of mushroom soy (or dried Porcini) and an earthy meatiness. The best had these savoury elements but were also perfumed. This perfume often centred on a sweet citrus peel (dried or burnt orange) and a roasted hazelnut character that channelled an aromatic profile that fell somewhere between an aged Oloroso sherry and a good Negroni.

What was evident was that although there are already many great wines being produced, there exists the opportunity to modernise the style without losing the fundamental characteristics that make the best of these wines so appealing. With some investment, wineries could create a situation that would allow greater flexibility and stylistic choice. With temperature control and some research and development into producing wines with rice from alternative sources, studies into yeast strain application and maturation that varied in length (and temperature) that thus exposed the wines to a greater or lesser extent of oxidative ageing, these wines could see a slow but real growth in sales that extend beyond the older generations of eastern China and Japan. Packaging is also an area that I believe could be improved to attract and appeal to a younger consumer.

Perhaps most importantly, China places much importance on authenticity and cultural heritage. Yellow wine is rich in both of these attributes and if this waiguo ren can learn to appreciate the distinctive, savoury and complex nature of China’s original wines, then the future is bright, in fact the future could well be yellow.

Some of my favourites from the tasting are listed below:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
Earthy, slightly vegetal but with a little accompanying peachiness. Bright palate with acidity that refreshes. High levels of savoury complexity and citrus peel and medicinal characters that make this a rewarding glass of wine. 17

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
A little muted on the nose but with a subtle nuttiness and fruitiness that makes this instantly appealing. Viscous palate supported by sufficient acidity with the orange peel fruit and nuttiness the main characteristics experienced in the mouth. Concentrated and long. Impressive. 17

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
Very powerful nose that is rich in umami with a soy and marmite/twiglet character (for those of you familiar with these products from the West). This power continues onto the palate where we have a concentrated core and long finish. 17

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
Mushroom soy and a roasted hazelnut aroma make this a very appealing wine. Bright acidity, supple texture and an appealingly long finish. Very good. 17

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
Cooked brown rice, toasted hazelnut and orange peel aromatics. Very fruity and nutty with a lovely palate enveloping viscosity that is balanced by ample acidity. Long finish. A yellow wine for those of you that love Putao Jiu. 16.5 

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
Almost floral with its orange peel/blossom and toasted hazelnut aromatics. Viscous but not heavy, it exhibits both a sweetness and savouriness that balance each other perfectly. This is a wine for lovers of Oloroso. 16.5 

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
Very sweet smelling and aromatic with a floral perfume accompanied by toasted hazelnut and coconut. Soft and elegant on the palate the finish is almost negroni like with its bitter orange peel character. Impressive. 17

 

紹興之旅:中國黃酒之鄉

釀酒人、酒農、葡萄酒行銷、葡萄酒採購、顧問、記者、作家、自營業者、教育家、活動策劃人、葡萄酒評審、經銷商、大盤商等等,這些都是葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine)工作範圍內的一部分。但如果要解釋葡萄酒大師在做什麼,已經不是一件易事,那麼試圖定義這頭銜到底為何,可能還更加困難。對我而言,從事葡萄酒相關工作是出自於個人喜好。我對於風味和香氣的熱中和欣賞,源自於從小受到外婆影響。身為專業廚師的她,總是會準備豐盛、多樣化,且令人心滿意足的各色佳餚,這也讓她家成了孩提時代的我最愛在週末假日造訪的地方,至於倫敦的阿姨與姨丈家,則成了另一個可以我能夠繼續鑑賞各種風味的落腳之處。他們帶我造訪城裡各家餐廳,讓我在年紀輕輕之時,就得以體驗世界各地多元的美食。早在約末三十五年前,我就已經品嚐到了人生第一隻光亮可口的北京烤鴨。

相比我們所吃的東西,葡萄酒既不優也不劣,純粹是食物的延伸,是液態的食物。葡萄酒之所以非凡,是因為有種類多元的釀酒品種,其種植的氣候條件與釀酒師可依循的釀酒方法,更是相當廣泛,這使得釀成的葡萄酒無論就香氣、風味,或質地而言,都展現出了相當程度的多樣化與知性。而既然是葡萄酒大師,我對於葡萄酒當然有所了解,即我知道葡萄酒是很複雜的,不多也不少。不過,擁有這個頭銜,卻不代表我就能夠理解其它釀造酒的知識,也不代表我能夠輕而易舉地形容或談論它類酒款。因此,當我受邀參訪中國紹興市,並品鑑該產區的米酒時,你可以想見我既興奮又驚恐的心情;畢竟,沒人想被當成笨蛋耍。

與其用作飲用酒,西方國家與中國西部的一些省分更常將來自紹興的米酒用作料理酒。即便是在香港、台北或上海的朋友們,也總是說他們最常與家中長輩一同品飲紹興,更常於秋末時分,搭配毛蟹料理一同享用。而我想知道的則是,隨著同樣以米釀成的日本清酒逐漸受到國際矚目,並開始在家鄉以外累積粉絲群,來自紹興的米酒,能否也展現出同樣風靡國際的魅力。這次為期三天的參訪,我很幸運地能與專家Jennifer Chen同行,她幫助我辨認紹興酒由質佳到優良、甚至傑出的風味樣貌分別為何。

我們造訪了三大知名酒廠(會稽山、由家族擁有並經營的陳源興紹興酒,以及塔牌),並見證了紹興的釀酒過程,這讓我對於釀酒人如何控制釀酒過程,以獲得想要的風味與香氣,感到相當好奇,並問了不少問題。要達到成功與受控的發酵過程,釀造葡萄酒的條件,是否與釀造米酒相同;這是我希望能試圖理解的。葡萄酒的釀酒人可以藉由選擇不同的酵母與發酵溫度,來決定釀成酒款的風格,然而,這次我造訪的酒廠中似乎普缺乏有效率的發酵溫控設備(沒有安裝冷藏設備),也沒有任何一家準備或願意公開自家使用的酵母菌種,只說明酒廠使用的是「在地」酵母。

我的下一長串問題,是關於原物料──即稻米──的來源。只要對葡萄酒稍有興趣的人,都知道葡萄產區的土壤或氣候等因素,會對釀成酒款的風格、品質與價格,帶來顯著的影響。原來,選擇稻米的決定性因素,是與稻米的收割時間夠接近發酵時間以及接踵而來的熟成期有關。一般認為,米酒的發酵過程與最初的熟成期必須控制得宜,即透過冷天候來降低發酵速度(這尤其重要,因為絕大多數的酒廠沒有溫控設備),因此,釀酒最理想的時間點應該是秋末入冬之際。這也表示,酒廠所使用的稻米最好是同時間收割的米,至於稻米本身的品質,則不是最重要的考量。釀造紹興酒,最常使用的是來自浙江與安徽的稻米。

在我啟程回上海之前,有機會矇瓶試飲了六十款來自紹興的黃酒,並發現紹興米酒和葡萄酒相同,能夠表現出非常多樣化的層次。表現較佳的酒款多有複雜的氧化調性,主要帶有強烈的旨味,令人聯想到香菇醬油(或乾燥的牛肝菌)或帶有土壤調性的肉味。表現最傑出的酒款,則多有鹹鮮調性與香氛氣息,後者多以甜美的橙皮(乾燥或燒焦的橙皮)與烘烤榛果的調性為主,近似於陳年的歐洛羅香雪莉酒(Oloroso)與品質優良的內格羅尼(Negroni)雞尾酒。

顯而易見的是,這裡雖然已釀出了許多偉大的紹興,但酒款的風格仍有更現代化的空間,同時兼顧其原本誘人的特色。只消更多投資與發展,酒廠想必能有更多釀酒的彈性與風格的選擇,諸如溫控設備、研究與發展不同稻米來源與不同酵母菌株的運用,以及酒款熟成時間的長短(和溫度)──即酒款氧化陳年的程度等,這些都有助於紹興酒建立起更穩定、實際的銷售量,而非僅限於中國和日本年長一代的消費者。除此之外,如果酒款有更新穎的包裝,想必也能夠吸引較年輕的客層。

但我想最重要的是,對於重視真實性與文化傳承的中國而言,黃酒是兼具兩者的文化酒款,而如果像我這樣的外國人也能夠欣賞到其特出、鹹鮮且複雜的特性,那麼黃酒的未來肯定大有可為。(編譯/艾蜜・emily)
以下列出一些我最喜愛的酒款:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
帶有土壤調性與些許植蔬味,另摻有一些水蜜桃果香。口感明亮,酸度爽口。這款酒展現了極大量的鹹鮮風味與複雜度,另有橙皮與藥草調性,使得酒款嘗來令人滿足。(17 / 20分)

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
香氣略微閉鎖,但其細緻的堅果和果香,已足以擄獲人心。口感油滑,但支撐以大量的酸度,並展現出橙皮和堅果風味。風味集中且綿長,令人印象深刻。(17分)

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
香氣強勁,旨味濃郁,令人聯想到醬油與marmite醬或twiglet零食(如果你熟悉這些西方產品的話)。而這香氣的力道更一路延伸至口中風味,集中而餘韻綿長。(17分)

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
這支怡人的酒款帶有香菇醬油與烘烤榛果調性。酸度明亮,質地細緻,餘韻綿長怡人。非常優秀。(17分)

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
煮過的糙米、烘烤榛果與橙皮香氣。果香味與堅果味非常濃郁,而其討喜的風味被包覆在油滑的質地之中,並支撐以大量的酸度。餘韻綿長。這是款愛葡萄酒的飲者會喜歡的黃酒。(16.5分)

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
橙皮/橙花香散發幾近花香的調性,另有烘烤堅果香氣。口感油滑但不濃重,嘗來既甜美又鹹鮮,兩者平衡地恰如其分。如果你愛歐洛羅香,想必也會喜歡這款酒。(16.5分)

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
聞起來非常甜美、香氣充沛,帶有花香與烘烤榛果和椰香。質地柔軟、高雅,餘韻則宛如內格羅尼雞尾酒中那帶有苦味的橙皮調性一般,令人印象深刻。(17分)

 

绍兴之旅:中国黄酒之乡

酿酒人、酒农、葡萄酒营销、葡萄酒采购、顾问、记者、作家、自营业者、教育家、活动策划人、葡萄酒评审、经销商、大盘商等等,这些都是葡萄酒大师(Master of Wine)工作范围内的一部分。但如果要解释葡萄酒大师在做什么,已经不是一件易事,那么试图定义这头衔到底为何,可能还更加困难。对我而言,从事葡萄酒相关工作是出自于个人喜好。我对于风味和香气的热中和欣赏,源自于从小受到外婆影响。做为专业厨师,她总是会准备丰盛、多样化,且令人心满意足的各色佳肴,这也让她家成了孩提时代的我,最爱在周末假日造访的地方,至于伦敦的阿姨与姨丈家,则成了另一个可以我能够继续鉴赏各种风味的落脚之处。他们带我造访城里各家餐厅,让我在年纪轻轻之时,就得以体验世界各地多元的美食。早在约末三十五年前,我就已经品尝到了人生第一只光亮可口的北京烤鸭。

相比我们所吃的东西,葡萄酒既不优也不劣,纯粹是食物的延伸,是液态的食物。葡萄酒之所以非凡,是因为有种类多元的酿酒品种,其种植的气候条件与酿酒师可依循的酿酒方法,更是相当广泛,这使得酿成的葡萄酒无论就香气、风味,或质地而言,都展现出了相当程度的多样化与知性。而既然是葡萄酒大师,我对于葡萄酒当然有所了解,即我知道葡萄酒是很复杂的,不多也不少。不过,拥有这个头衔,却不代表我就能够理解其它酿造酒的知识,也不代表我能够轻而易举地形容或谈论它类酒款。因此,当我受邀参访中国绍兴市,并品鉴该产区的米酒时,你可以想见我既兴奋又惊恐的心情;毕竟,没人想被当成笨蛋耍。

与其用作饮用酒,西方国家与中国西部的一些省分更常将来自绍兴的米酒用作料理酒。即便是在香港、台北或上海的朋友们,也总是说他们最常与家中长辈一同品饮绍兴,更常于秋末时分,搭配毛蟹料理一同享用。而我想知道的则是,随着同样以米酿成的日本清酒逐渐受到国际瞩目,并开始在家乡以外累积粉丝群,来自绍兴的米酒,能否也展现出同样风靡国际的魅力。这次为期三天的参访,我很幸运地能与专家Jennifer Chen同行,她帮助我辨认绍兴酒由质佳到优良、甚至杰出的风味样貌分别为何。

我们造访了三大知名酒厂(会稽山、由家族拥有并经营的陈源兴绍兴酒,以及塔牌),并见证了绍兴的酿酒过程,这让我对于酿酒人如何控制酿酒过程,以获得想要的风味与香气,感到相当好奇,并问了不少问题。要达到成功与受控的发酵过程,酿造葡萄酒的条件,是否与酿造米酒相同;这是我企图理解的。葡萄酒的酿酒人可以借由选择不同的酵母与发酵温度,来决定酿成酒款的风格,然而,这次我造访的酒厂中似乎普缺乏有效率的发酵温控设备(没有安装冷藏设备),也没有任何一家准备或愿意公开自家使用的酵母菌种,只说明酒厂使用的是“当地”酵母。

我的下一长串问题,是关于原物料──即稻米的来源。只要对葡萄酒稍有兴趣的人,都知道葡萄产区的土壤或气候等因素,会对酿成酒款的风格、品质与价格,带来显着的影响。原来,选择稻米的决定性因素,是与稻米的收割时间够接近发酵时间以及接踵而来的熟成期有关。一般认为,米酒的发酵过程与最初的熟成期必须控制得宜,即透过冷天候来降低发酵速度(这尤其重要,因为绝大多数的酒厂没有温控设备),因此,酿酒最理想的时间点应该是秋末入冬之际。这也表示,酒厂所使用的稻米最好是同时间收割的米,至于稻米本身的质量,则不是最重要的考量。酿造绍兴酒,最常使用的是来自浙江与安徽的稻米。

在我启程回上海之前,有机会矇瓶试饮了六十款来自绍兴的黄酒,并发现绍兴米酒和葡萄酒相同,能够表现出非常多样化的层次。表现较佳的酒款多有复杂的氧化调性,主要带有强烈的旨味,令人联想到香菇酱油(或干燥的牛肝菌)或带有土壤调性的肉味。表现最杰出的酒款,则多有咸鲜调性与香氛气息,后者多以甜美的橙皮(干燥或烧焦的橙皮)与烘烤榛果的调性为主,近似于陈年的欧洛罗香雪莉酒(Oloroso)与品质优良的内格罗尼(Negroni)鸡尾酒。

显而易见的是,这里虽然已酿出了许多伟大的绍兴,但酒款的风格仍有更现代化的空间,同时兼顾其原本诱人的特色。只消更多投资与发展,酒厂想必能有更多酿酒的弹性与风格的选择,诸如温控设备、研究与发展不同稻米来源与不同酵母菌株的运用,以及酒款熟成时间的长短(和温度)──即酒款氧化陈年的程度等,这些都有助于绍兴酒建立起更稳定、实际的销售量,而非仅限于中国和日本年长一代的消费者。除此之外,如果酒款有更新颖的包装,想必也能够吸引较年轻的客层。

但我想最重要的是,对于重视真实性与文化传承的中国而言,黄酒是兼具两者的文化酒款,而如果像我这样的外国人也能够欣赏到其特出、咸鲜且复杂的特性,那么黄酒的未来肯定大有可为。(编译/艾蜜‧emily)

以下列出一些我最喜爱的酒款:

Pagoda Year 2011塔牌 2011 懒画眉
带有土壤调性与些许植蔬味,另掺有一些水蜜桃果香。口感明亮,酸度爽口。这款酒展现了极大量的咸鲜风味与复杂度,另有橙皮与药草调性,使得酒款尝来令人满足。(17 / 20分)

Pagoda Year 2011 Winter Craft 塔牌2011冬酿
香气略微闭锁,但其细致的坚果和果香,已足以掳获人心。口感油滑,但支撑以大量的酸度,并展现出橙皮和坚果风味。风味集中且绵长,令人印象深刻。(17分)

Pagoda Year 2005 塔牌2005 五般宜
香气强劲,旨味浓郁,令人联想到酱油与marmite酱或twiglet零食(如果你熟悉这些西方产品的话)。而这香气的力道更一路延伸至口中风味,集中而余韵绵长。(17分)

Bai Ta Aged 5 Years白塔 五年陈酿
这支怡人的酒款带有香菇酱油与烘烤榛果调性。酸度明亮,质地细致,余韵绵长怡人。非常优秀。(17分) 

Bai Ta NV 白塔原绍
煮过的糙米、烘烤榛果与橙皮香气。果香味与坚果味非常浓郁,而其讨喜的风味被包覆在油滑的质地之中,并支撑以大量的酸度。余韵绵长。这是款爱葡萄酒的饮者会喜欢的黄酒。(16.5分)

Gu Yue Long Shan Golden 5 Years 古越龙山金五年
橙皮/橙花香散发几近花香的调性,另有烘烤坚果香气。口感油滑但不浓重,尝来既甜美又咸鲜,两者平衡地恰如其分。如果你爱欧洛罗香,想必也会喜欢这款酒。(16.5分)

Shao Yuan Chun Reserva NV 绍源春珍藏级
闻起来非常甜美、香气充沛,带有花香与烘烤榛果和椰香。质地柔软、高雅,余韵则宛如内格罗尼鸡尾酒中那带有苦味的橙皮调性一般,令人印象深刻。(17分)