What does Chinese rice wine taste like?

As the importer and distributor of Chinese rice wine, I do a lot of “tastings” here in Portland, Oregon.  In fact, I have two tastings this weekend; Saturday, at H Mart, and Sunday, at Uwajimaya. I feel very lucky to have launched this business here in Portland, as Oregonians have proven to be an extremely receptive market.  Oregonians are open to trying new products, especially “natural” ones that don’t hurt the earth.  The Oregonians I’ve met at the tastings are typically well traveled, educated, and usually multi-lingual.  They seek out new, cultural experiences, and would rather sample, and share something new with their friends, than buy the same ‘ole, same ole wine that everybody brings to the dinner party.

Oregonians are said to be “weird”, and they take pride in that, e.g. the “Keep Oregon Weird” bumper stickers you see on many of the Hybrids zipping around the city. I would also add “inquisitive”.  When we do our tastings we surround ourselves with interesting Chinese items and artifacts, including some of the beautifully designed bottles, that lure people into a conversation. When I tell them that I’m sampling Chinese rice wine, 80% of Americans will respond, “Oh, sake!”, or some similar sake related response. 5% will curl up their nose and walk away, indicating to me that either they don’t drink, or they know what Chinese rice wine is and they don’t like it.  The final 15% will ask “What is Chinese rice wine”?

I try to respond in a consistent manner, but I’ve realized that I haven’t documented what Chinese rice wine tastes like to me.  I’ve been asking local “foodies”, mixologists, friends, family and anybody who seems interested to tell me what they think it tastes like.  So, today’s blog is about providing a description of my experience drinking Chinese rice wine;

- “Tasting” a Chinese rice wine is not unlike how you would taste a freshly opened bottle of wine. Although it can be enjoyed at room temperature, on ice, or as an ingredient in a cocktail, it is typically and traditionally warmed before being consumed.  Not burn-your-mouth hot or luke warm…somewhere in between.
- Once warmed, I’ve found that a brandy glass (a “snifter”), is the best way to capture and concentrate the aroma.
- The aroma is pleasant and soothing, though it doesn’t answer any of your questions about how it will taste. The smell is sweet, earthy and natural.
- The color is brown, like whiskey or brandy. A good customer suggested that “If amber were a taste, it would be Chinese rice wine.”
- It is heavier and bolder than most alcoholic drinks. It is stout like a hand-crafted ale versus a manufactured Lite beer.
- After smelling and admiring the color, the initial taste surprises you. Perhaps because you were expecting it to taste like something else, and it was radically different than that expectation.  Like picking up a glass expecting to drink water, and finding out it was 7-up. At first, you may not like it, because it is so-o-o-o different than your expectation. But let it sit there for a minute.  Let it lie down on your tongue like melted butter.
- As you search your memory for something to compare it to, the after-taste remains, and you’re glad, because “shocking surprise” turns to “pleasant surprise”. Though the after-taste will remain for seconds, if not minutes, you will want another drink, to try to comprehend what you just drank, and if you truly liked it.
- It is a rich taste, and I’ve found that spicy food is an excellent pairing as it is able to match the intense flavors of the Chinese rice wine.

Have you ever tried Chinese rice wine? How would you describe it?

For more info and to purchase Chinse rice wine, visit www.chinesericewine.com

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