Sage and spirit meet in wine

Updated : 2018-05-16

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This heady brew is a white spirit that is milder than the usual baijiu. It is a sweet wine made with sorghum, wheat, barley and pea, according to the ingredients list on the labels. This is the Confucius Family wine from Qufu in Shandong province.

Perhaps the manufacturers have kept in mind the sage's advice that food and drink should be enjoyed in moderation, hence the white spirit's relative mildness ranging from just below 40 percent alcohol content to about the mid-30s.

Whatever they lack in alcoholic kick, the wines make up for in flavor. Chinese connoisseurs value the "three fragrances" - fragrance on the nose, fragrance on the lips and fragrance in the after taste. They also value the "three perfections" - perfection in aroma, perfection in taste and perfection in body (alcohol content).

The Confucius Family Wine has all of these.

It is a family brand that has been around for thousands of years. Previously known as the Confucius Family Mansion brewery, the enterprise was finally brought over to modern management in the 1980s.

But traditional elements in the making have been retained. The wines are first fermented from cereals such as sorghum, barley, rice and wheat - the balance of the mixture will determine the final flavor - and then distilled. The resulting spirit is then aged in ceramic urns and allowed to slowly mature.

Confucius Family wines take pride in using only spring water from the Mountain of the Sacred Nun, Mount Shenni, a Kong family tradition that has been preserved to this day.

Most of the vintages on sale have been stored for 15 years or more, which explains the steep price tag around the necks of the elegant bottles. Shopping for a bottle can be an education in itself, since you not only have to decide what vintage and strength you prefer, but also choose from a range of packaging.

Vessels can range from fine blue and white porcelain to ornately painted ceramics to rustic stoneware, each style reflecting the characteristics of the spirit within.

The lightness of this baijiu makes it a great wine for the banquet table, and it was said that the Qing Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) once visited Qufu to see how his married daughter was doing. Her husband's family, descendants of China's most famous sage, laid out a feast and plied their royal visitor with the best spirits.

Qianlong was so impressed he promptly made this wine part of the imperial cellar.

There are plenty more such stories, some of which involved the famous alcoholic Tang poet, Li Bai (AD 701-762), who could only write with pen in one hand and a wine cup in the other.

But when all's said and done, it is the spirit itself that speaks volumes. The Confucius Family wines sell best as gifts, especially around the year-end and Spring Festival. It does add cheer to the reunion table, and it's easy enough on the palate that you can knock back several bottles in the right company.

By Pauline D loh (China Daily)

(China Daily 12/05/2010 page13)