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Ming-era winery preserves ancient taste

Updated: 2015-01-24 06:46
By Sun Yuanqing (China Daily)

Ming-era winery preserves ancient taste

[Photo provided to China Daily]

"Why this barrel tastes different from that one and why this gets ripe sooner than that one, these questions are always in my head."

San Bai, which literally means "three whites", refers to the ingredients used for winemaking: rice, water and jiuqu ( a culture of yeast and bacteria). The rice is soaked in water for 10 hours before being steamed on firewood for about 40 minutes until it is cooked thoroughly. The rice is then cooled with well water to 30 C. For every 50 kg of rice, 150 grams of yeast is added.

After 24 hours, the first byproduct is made: fermented rice steeped in sweet rice wine, a popular dessert in South China that can be enjoyed alone or cooked with eggs and glutinous rice balls. The brewer then adds an equal amount of water to the rest of the fermented rice. Some 15 days later, sweet rice wine is produced that is 10-percent alcohol. For those who prefer a mild taste, this is the perfect choice.

The rest of the mixture is filled into smaller containers and stored for three to four months, depending on the room temperature. It is then poured into the squeezer and separated into liquid and rice. The liquid is steamed with the rice on top serving as distiller. The San Bai wine distilled can reach the degree of 50. It is stored for another three years before being packaged in pots and put on the shelf.

The winery produces about 50 kilos of San Bai wine a day, and one kg costs 100 yuan ($16.14). It is only available in Wuzhen.

While the price is quite reasonable considering all the hard work that goes into making the final product, it is being challenged by cheaper artificially mixed alcohols, says Zhu Mingfen, a saleswoman at Gaogongsheng.

The San Bai Rice Wine is usually enjoyed with local delicacies like flavored beans, fried peanuts and stinky tofu. Visitors can tour the winery while sampling the wine for free.