What Is Shaoxing Wine?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Pickled duck and a small glass of Shaoxing wine

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Shaoxing rice wine is consumed as an alcoholic beverage and is also used as an ingredient in Asian dishes, especially Chinese cuisine in the Shanghai style. It is made from fermenting and distilling rice, where the rice starch is converted to sugars. It's well known and easily available in China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. It's worth seeking out, however, as it often makes the difference in reproducing the taste of something you may have had at a Chinese restaurant, such as drunken chicken and kung pao chicken.

Fast Facts

Place of Origin: China

Most Common Uses: drinking, cooking

Other Names: shao hsing, shao xing, shaohsing

What Is Shaoxing Wine?

Shaoxing rice wine (紹興酒), also known as shao hsing, shao xing, or shaohsing wine, originates from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, which is known for its rice production. It's made from fermenting rice, water, and a tiny amount of wheat, which means it's not gluten free. Shaoxing rice wine is brown in color, and the flavor is much stronger but sweeter than mijiu, which is another rice wine that's popular in Chinese and Tawainese cooking.

The alcohol content of Shaoxing wine is somewhere between 18 and 25 percent, making it a strong drink compared to beer (averaging 5 percent) and wine (coming in around 12 percent). There are many different types of rice wines, and in parts of South, Southeast, and East Asia, they are mainly enjoyed as a beverage.

Shaoxing wine has different variations, and one is called nu'er hong (女兒紅). Nu'er means "daughter" in Chinese and hong means "red." Red is a lucky color in both the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, and it adds a special significance to this celebratory wine. Every family in Shaoxing will make this version of Shaoxing wine when their daughter is 1 month old and bury the bottle in the ground until the day of their daughter’s wedding when they open it and drink it to celebrate.

Shaoxing Wine vs. Mirin

Some sources will tell you that mirin is a great Shaoxing wine substitute, and it will do in a pinch if you cut the sugar out of your recipe. A better, closer choice is dry sherry (not cooking sherry). Mirin is sweeter than Shaoxing wine, which has a deep, aromatic, and slightly sweet flavor. In fact, sometimes you may see dry sherry listed as an ingredient in recipes for Chinese dishes not because it's used extensively in China, but because it's more familiar to Americans than Shaoxing wine, and because it's an acceptable substitute.

Varieties

There are two types of Shaoxing wine. Aged Shaoxing wine is often sold in a ceramic jug and is served warm as a beverage, but you can and should cook with it, too. The type labeled "cooking wine" has salt added to it so it can be sold in grocery stores and, increasingly, online with ease. It's not a wine you would necessarily enjoy drinking. You can use either of them in cooking, depending on budget and taste preferences.

How to Cook With Shaoxing Wine

Shaoxing wine lends flavor complexity and depth to dishes. It's often used in marinades for meats, or in wonton or dumpling fillings. Recipes for many slow-cooked/braised meat dishes such as dongpo pork require it, and it is necessary for the brine in drunken chicken and drunken prawns. It's key to Chinese West Lake beef soup and white cut chicken, and just a dash of it perks up Chinese chicken stock.

What Does It Taste Like?

It's an amber-colored clear beverage that's slightly spicy and slightly sweet. Some liken the taste to caramel; some say it's nutty, and others detect notes of vinegar.

Shaoxing Wine Recipes

This ingredient is used extensively in Chinese cuisine, especially in the most popular takeout dishes such as kung pao chicken or oyster sauce chicken. You can use it in any Chinese recipe that calls for rice wine; it's usually what they're referring to. Try it in these braises and stir-fries.

Where to Buy Shaoxing Wine

You can find Shaoxing wine in Asian groceries (especially Chinese) and online. Some well-stocked supermarkets carry it in their international section.

Storage

Shaoxing wine—the aged type—will keep well for up to six months if it's sealed and stored in a cool, dark place. If you don't anticipate using it often, you can store it in the refrigerator. Shaoxing cooking wine doesn't require refrigeration. Store in the pantry and just keep track of the expiration date.