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June 17th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Yellow Wine – Shaoxing Wine

Several years ago I was visiting Shanghai a couple of times a year and I read about a famous local drink from the Shaoxing area of China, just south of Shanghai. I became very interested in this drink becoming more and more curious. It was a drink made from rice and a local koji that was more than just Aspergillus oryzae but also Rhizopus and lactobacillus as well as yeast and wheat or barley flower.

Two Shaoxing Wine Bottles and a Glass of Shaoxing

Two Shaoxing Wine Bottles and a Glass of Shaoxing

My colleagues, not being drinkers were unfamiliar with the drink but agreed to locate some for me. They got me the bottle on the left in the above picture. When I tasted it, it was vary salty and I wondered whether this was meant for cooking rather than drinking but my interest waned over time. However, this would not be the end of it.

Recently, I was again in Shanghai and was having dinner with a couple of colleagues. One of them was looking at the wine menu and asked: yellow wine? What is yellow wine? Bing, bing, bing, bing… my mind lit up! Yellow wine, I know what that is, I was recalling Shaoxing’s famous drink; made in a similar way, but different to sake. I explained the little bit that I knew about Shaoxing’s yellow wine. Getting no help from the staff I chose one pretty much at random to try. Two of us gave it a try, it was very similar to sherry and it did not last very long. A small 500ml bottle does not go a long way between two people.

Later that night I realized that I had made a mistake in not keeping the bottle to show others, for example you. Now, realizing how to find it, I looked for it at the next dinner and there it was on the wine list. This time it was under Shaoxing wine rather than Yellow wine but there it was none the less. Having a little more experience I chose another bottle, still mostly at random I chose: Shi ku men No. 1 Red Label. This is the bottle on the right side of the picture above. This time we had several more people try it so it again did not last, but I did keep the bottle as you can see. Shi ku men was very similar to what we had the night before, very sherry like.

Interestingly enough, there is always speculation about how sake making developed and how much impact China had, based on its own traditions. Yellow or Amber wine goes back farther than does sake so it is reasonable to believe that the original ideas or some of the refinements came from China. Even the early Japanese Wo people of Japan may have originated in China from the Kingdon of Wu. Incidentally the Kingdom of Wu was just north of Shaoxing.

All in all, this was a happy coincidence and makes me even more curious about what is…

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  • Ben Bell
    5:10 am on June 18th, 2012 1

    This is some interesting insight into a traditional Chinese drink. I have been trying get info on the range of drinks in China and southeast Asia but it is slow going. I’m sure at some point an organization such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust or Court of Master Sommeliers will gather that info and make it more readily available, but that certainly hasn’t happened yet.

  • Kip
    10:19 am on July 21st, 2012 2

    That’s really cool will. Is this drink made with normal style Koji or is this the one made from the red Koji? Do you think you’ll try your hand at making yellow wine?

    Traditions and alcolic beverage history is so fascinating. So many of these cool drinks have been lost to world. Hopefully we can all help to bring them back.



  • Will
    8:10 am on July 23rd, 2012 3

    Hey Kip,

    This one is made with a “yeast ball” that includes several molds like, Mucor, Rhizopus, Absidia, Aspergillus and Monascus as well as a local strain of yeast. The actual molds in a particular version seems to vary but beni koji (red yeast rice or Monascus purpureus) is not a major contributor. When researching this I fond another style that does use beni koji. I’ll try to do a quick write up on that one soon.

    The yeast balls are made in different ways to get different molds and seem to have several names for each type. I believe the details to these are important as well but they seem very sketchy.

    Anyway, this is all very interesting 🙂


  • Drain
    6:06 pm on September 7th, 2014 4

    I suggest you check out Cultural Trilogy- The World of Liquor on Amazon. I talks about Shaoxing jui, Makgeolli, and Nihonshu. My interest is primarily in Makgeolli since it is what I have been making recently.

  • Mikiko
    6:19 pm on April 11th, 2015 5

    Hi Ken,

    Thank you for talking at katagiri, Japanese store. I checked the rice for making sake, it is not regular rice, it should be special rice for sake. Our rice, kinmemai is not for sake. As soon as I get more information for you, I will let you know it.


  • Yael
    5:01 am on February 22nd, 2017 6

    Can huangjiu be opened and left in bottle for later use, or must be finished in one go?

  • Will
    12:32 pm on February 22nd, 2017 7

    Yael, Hi,

    I don’t believe you have to finish it all at once. Once opened, however, it will start to oxidize so you would not want to wait too long.



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