A: You are listening to Listeners' Garden. I'm LPC.
B: And I'm JS. Alcohol has been an integral part of Chinese life and culture for thousands of years. In ancient times, alcohol was a sacrificial object in worshipping gods and ancestors, and it was an essential part for celebrating festivals and other happy events.
A: In the old days, at a baby's birth or 100th day of life, it was tradition for parents to invite relatives and friends for a good drink. Alcohol was also indispensable at many other happy occasions, such as birthday parties, wedding ceremonies, gatherings of friends, moving into a new house and starting a business. And to add fun, people also played many interesting games to go along with drinking.
B: Many ancient artists and men of letters were said to be fond of drinking alcohol, which they thought was a source of inspiration.
A: For example, Li Bai, one of the greatest poets of ancient China, was known for his love of alcohol. He created many masterpieces while drunk, and many of his poems are about drinking.
B: Traditional alcohols in China generally fall into two categories - liquors and rice wines. Both are made of grains and have a pleasant aroma and mellow taste. The difference is that liquors are the product of several rounds of distillation, while rice wine is directly brewed from fermented grains and contains less ethanol.
A: Chinese liquors are made from such grains as sorghum, corn, barley or wheat. Among hundreds of liquor brands in China, Maotai is the most famous. It's crowned as the national drink of China, and is often presented as state gifts or served to distinguished guests at state banquets.
B: The liquor is named after Maotai town where it was produced. The town is located by a river in southwestern China's Guizhou Province. It's blessed with a unique climate, favorable geographic location and high-quality water resources, which are believed to contribute mainly to the extraordinary aroma and taste of the Maotai liquor.
A: Sorghum is the major ingredient for making Maotai, and the whole production process takes five years.
B: Maotai achieved an international reputation in 1915 when it won a gold medal in a liquor competition at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Since then, the liquor has won hundreds of prestigious awards at home and abroad. It's acclaimed as one of the world's three best-known liquors together with Scotch whisky and French cognac.
A: Besides Maotai, China has many other high-end liquor brands, such as Wuliangye, Fenjiu, Jiannanchun, Swellfun and Luzhou Laojiao. Each of them is made with unique production techniques and has an unparalleled taste.
B: We've talked about Chinese liquors. Now let's have a sample of the Chinese rice wine, another major category of traditional Chinese alcohol.
A: Rice wine is a kind of amber-colored alcoholic drink made of rice or glutinous rice. It can be drunk at room temperature, chilled in summer or heated on cold days. Many Chinese people prefer rice wine to liquor because it tastes mellower and is much lower in alcohol content, usually no more than 20 percent.
B: The making of rice wine in China has a history of more than three thousand years. Good-quality rice wine can be stored for decades, and its flavor grows better with the passage of time. The longer it's sealed, the more fragrant it becomes. But inferior brews will have a short life span.
A: What makes rice wine popular with Chinese people is not merely its taste, but also its high nutritive value, which is believed to be beneficial to one's health.
B: The wine is rich in nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Many people also like to soak some medicinal herbs in the wine to make it more beneficial to the health.
A: Rice wine is produced in many regions around China, but it's said that no place can make better rice wine than Shaoxing, an ancient city in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. In ancient times, the local wine was often presented as a tribute to emperors.
B: Shaoxing rice wine is made of top quality polished glutinous rice and the water of Jianhu Lake. It has been exported to dozens of countries around the world.
A: Shaoxing rice wine is also a popular seasoning in Chinese cuisine, as it can give dishes a rich flavor and fragrance.
B: Today the wine is still made using traditional brewing methods. In rural areas, many households can make the rice wine themselves.
A: The traditional Chinese rice wine is favored by many people for its mellow taste and high nutrition. But in recent years, as Chinese people have become more exposed to Western lifestyles and socializing skills, the Western grape wine has been growing in popularity in China.
B: Chinese people's growing interest in grape wine is in line with their increasingly sophisticated tastes and improving quality of life. More and more urban residents are showing a preference for red wine because of its health benefits. And a burgeoning class of young people is developing a taste for wine because it's regarded as a symbol of social status, refined taste and a trendy lifestyle.
A: In fact, Chinese people knew little about grape wine 30 years ago. But today, the country has become the world's fastest-growing wine market. Red wine has become a mainstay on the dinner tables of many urban households as well as at parties, receptions, business dinners and social gatherings.
B: As China emerges as one of the world's largest wine consumers, foreign wine makers are exploring the Chinese market more than ever before.
A: China has cultivated a number of big-name brands, such as Great Wall, Changyu, Longhui and Dynasty. Their products are all of high quality.
B: A few years ago, most Chinese people had little knowledge of wine appreciation. Affluent consumers tended to opt for the much more expensive imported wines simply because they thought foreign wines were better than domestic brands. But nowadays, Chinese wine lovers are becoming more and more professional at judging quality.