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Tasting Culture Through Wine-Drinking Customs by Gu Wentong06/07/2016  

While you have been enjoying luscious wine with your sweetheart and/or friends, has it ever occurred to you that the liquid in your goblet is rich culturally? Good wine — which many people consider to be a temptress — is irresistible. It has enthralled people throughout the world for thousands of years. Women of China English Monthly recently interviewed three people, from different countries, about their understanding of wine culture in their countries. They wrote their own comments.

Varieties of Wine

Wu Jiancheng, Chinese

I enjoy savoring wine. Many of my friends call me a "wine expert."

Chinese wine culture dates back more than 5,000 years, to the time when rice wine was first distilled in Jiaxing, a city in East China's Zhejiang Province. However, China's most representative wine is baijiu (liquor usually distilled from sorghum or maize). Given its long history (about 4,000 years), and the mature technologies used to produce it, baijiu is the distilled wine with the largest output in the world.

Martin Rodin, French

France is one of the largest wine producers in the world. French wine traces its history to the sixth century BC, with many of France's regions dating their winemaking history to Roman times (27 BC-476 AD).

We (French) use fruit, commonly grapes, to make wine. Compared with China, France tends to have warm summers and cool winters, and the region tends to be wet all year. The region is not conducive to growing food crops. Instead, we cultivate, in large quantities, drought-enduring grapes to make wine.

Matiko Kubota, Japanese

Sake, a Japanese rice wine, is world renowned. It is made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes, sake is produced through a brewing process more like that of beer, where the starch is converted into sugar, before it is converted to alcohol. Records indicate sake originated around 713 AD.


Wu Jiancheng

Given its mellow, delicious taste, Chinese wine has been popular since ancient times. Chinese wine culture, which has been deeply rooted in the fertile "soil" of the national culture, has long been integrated with various art forms, such as poetry, calligraphy and painting.

As the saying goes, "The drinker's heart is not in the cup." Chinese tend to use wine as a communication tool. For example, in ancient times, men of letter often drank wine when they gathered to write poems. Nowadays, businessmen use wine as their trump, or master card, to establish or strengthen friendly ties … so they can reach favorable agreements with them.

Martin Rodin

It seems to me Chinese tend to pay more attention to the wonderful effects that wine brings to them, rather than the scientific, systematic analyses and evaluation on the product. In contrast, we (French) tend to drink wine … to enjoy its good taste. Although wine also helps promote communication, people tend to pay more attention to savoring its wonderful flavor.

While enjoying the good wine, drinkers are pleased spiritually. Therefore, wine not only greatly influences people's ideas, behavior and relationships, it also inspires them to create a romantic, pleasant cultural environment.

Matiko Kubota

In recent years, as Japan has developed at a rapid pace, many people, most of whom are men, have had to cope with intense daily pressures and incredibly tight work schedules. As a result, many of those people have felt nervous and emotionally tired. Given the increasingly intense competition in the job market, many co-workers drink wine when they get together, so they can lift their mood, reduce anxiety and relieve stress. Wine can also help improve their relations.

My husband is a sales manager at a privately run enterprise in Tokyo. I understand it is part of his job to drink … wine with his customers. So I never complain about that. Each time he returns home at midnight, dead drunk, I help put him to bed.

Etiquette and Customs

Wu Jiancheng

Chinese and Western wine cultures differ greatly in terms of wine-drinking etiquette and customs. Chinese tend to stress the atmosphere of drinking wine — it is the people with whom one drinks wine that count.

Regarding wine-drinking etiquette, Chinese show their respect to the drinkers. Usually, the host leads his/her guests to their seats. In accordance with Chinese customs, the seat to the left, which typically faces the gate of the restaurant/house, is considered the seat of honor. When the feast starts, the host stands up and proposes a toast to every one. After that, the guests toast each other.

When toasting someone, you should fill the person's cup with wine, to show the person respect. In particular, when you toast your superior, you should empty your cup with one gulp first. Sometimes, people play games, such as the drinkers' wager game and finger-guessing game, to add to the atmosphere. Obviously, China's wine culture is deeply rooted in the country's traditional culture, which stresses elders should be respected and treated differently than others.

Martin Rodin

We Westerners tend to pay more attention to the variety and taste of wine rather than drinking etiquette. For us, wine drinking is an art. For example, when we drink wine made from grapes, we usually admire the color and fragrance before tasting it. We usually drink white wine before red wine, lighter wine before stronger wine, and younger wine before older wine. In this way, we can enjoy the gradual changes in the flavor of the wine.

Moreover, we usually choose our wine containers carefully before we take our first sips. We have a wide choice of wine containers, such as tulip-shaped goblets, whose mouths send out wine's fragrance, and various shaped wine decanters, which are used to hold the decantation (a process for the separation of mixtures) of wine, which may contain sediment. Our wine-drinking customs and culture reflect our respect for the wine.

Matiko Kubota

Japanese enjoy drinking slowly, in small cups. Many Japanese love drinking sake, which contains a little alcohol. Many of us also drink soju (a distilled beverage native to Korea), added with warm or cold water.

Sometimes, when we are in high spirits during a get-together, we drink to our hearts' content in several bars and/or restaurants … Often at night, you can see drunk men lying on the ground.