When Jerez Met Shaoxing

Wine image
Rice Wine or Lice Wine?

This week’s discovery: sometimes, if you can’t get an exotic ingredient, it’s because it isn’t any good.

Having been on something of an asian cooking kick recently, I noticed that I kept seeing recipes that called for Shaoxing rice wine, which is more or less impossible to find here in Pennsylvania.  The longer I went without any, the better is sounded.  Finally, the grass growing intensely green, and sucked in by the marketing promises of  “drinking quality” rice wine, I asked my friend Steve to pick some up in Portland and ship it to me.

Here’s the thing about the phrase “drinking quality.”  There are people in this world who drink Sterno, too.

Chinese rice wine is cheap sherry.  Note: I’m not saying that it shares some characteristics with cheap sherry.  I’m saying that as far as I could tell, there might be a warehouse somewhere where some bastard is uncapping bottles of Taylor’s New York Sherry, pouring it into a smaller fancy bottle, and charging a 600% markup on it to suckers honoured customers like myself.  There is absolutely no reason to use Shaoxing rice wine for cooking (or drinking) if you have access to cheap sherry, which you do.

Undoubtedly, there is some person, somewhere, who will insist that for authentic Chinese flavors, only the authentic Shaoxing rice wine will do.  That person is a damn dirty liar, and you can tell them I said that.

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