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Savoring the sweet taste of Central Taiwan's wines and liqueurs

By Lishea Cheng Translated by John Johnson

      The arrival of spring in Central Taiwan this year brings with it a very special fragrance, the sweet smell of various wines and liqueurs that are now being produced in growing abundance throughout the region. Thanks in large part to the relaxation of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly's grip on the local liquor business, the area has seen the recent establishment of numerous wineries and vineyards, which are wasting no time in catching up with the rest of the world. These local efforts and resulting spirits produced from local fruit mean that consumers are almost certain to find something to please their palates. Below is an introduction to some of the latest options.

Taiping Winery, Taichung County (04-22705991)

Located in the mountains of Toubian in Taiping city, this winery uses seasonal fruit to produce its own full-bodied fruit liqueurs: a sweet litchi fruit liqueur, named Guifeilianyi, or "Guifei Ripple", and a white, 48-proof litchi wine, which both preserve original litchi flavors. There is also a nice longan fruit wine. For a milder, more traditional taste, try the "Cecong jiu" made from Taiwanese onions or chives. Despite its strong aroma, it has a taste reminiscent of orange soda from the ླྀs. The Zuixiangsi, or "Strong Pining", is a 27-proof plum liqueur. Opened at the end of February, 2004, the Taiping Winery is now producing loquat, red, white and other wines. This winery also provides a do-it-yourself service for those who want to make their wine at home.

Chateau Shu-Sheug (04-26833298)

The specially produced "President Memorial Wine", put out on the market for last year's opening, uses locally grown grapes and blueberries imported from New Zealand, producing a slightly acidic taste. Shu-Sheug Superior Wine has a full-bodied bouquet with a taste of chocolate and the sweetness of pine, which goes well with stronger-flavor dishes. The Golden Muscat White Wine is an elegant wine with a sweet-and-sour taste. The excellent and reasonably priced "Enjoy", just put on the market at the end of 2003, is one of the more popular brands. For a something sweeter, try the ice wines with a sweet, fruity grape flavor. All of these wines contain an alcoholic content percentage of 8 to 13 percent. There are only two liqueurs with a content percentage of 18, which can be mixed using a one-part-to-one-part drink mix. One, the "Mambra Liqueur", tastes like red wine and coffee. The other, "Peppermint", is a strong liqueur that you can feel all the way down and is perfect as an aperitif or cocktail. You can enjoy a European-like atmosphere here and including a bottle of "Summer Wine" will add some romance to your experience. You can also preserve your memories by having your photograph affixed as a wine bottle label. This winery's wines are also featured this month at The Landis Taichung Hotel's "Taiwan Wine and Fine Dining Festival" from April 10 to 25 (see "What's Cooking" listing on p. 14-15 for more information).

Che Cheng Chateau, Checheng, Nantou County (049-2870399)

Adjacent to the CheCheng railway station, this winery uses a Japanese favorite--the Shuili plum--in the fermentation process to produce the 12-proof Tiedao Gongzhu, or "Railroad Princess" liquor, best served chilled to bring out the plum flavor. There is also the popular, 19-proof CheCheng Laozhanzhang, or "CheCheng Station Manager", using ripe plums as the main ingredient and is completed with crystal sugar and storage at low temperatures. The 29-proof Liechezhang, "The Engineer", is similar to the Railroad Princess but distilled three times, resulting in a clear plum liqueur fermented at a low temperatures. Popular choices with visiting children are the plum liqueur-flavored popsicles and sausages. Another attraction is the second-floor wine tasting room where one can relax and sample the wine.

Xinyi Plum Winery, Xinyi, Nantou County (049-2791949)

After opening to the public in 2002, this winery obtained status as Taiwan's first recognized winery. Due to its location next to the New Central Cross Island Highway and its considerable size, this establishment is hard to miss. It already produces six types of distinct spirits. The 2002 Kuangye, or "Wilderness" liqueur, is 40-proof and combines natural spring water from the foot of Yushan (Jade Mt.) with specially selected plums for the fermentation process. Using local traditional fermentation techniques, the Huajianzui, literally "The Intoxication of Flowers", liqueur is 18-proof and has a smooth plum taste. The 12-proof Roushui, "Gentle Water", is a delicate liqueur. Similar spirits are the 12-proof Meizi Taowu, "Plums Dancing"; the smooth Wangji Huijia, or "Forgetting to Return Home", rated with a smoothness level of 25; and the 40-proof plum and honeydew Zhanglao Shuohua "Elders Speaking" liqueur. These come in appealing, cone-shaped bottles (600cc or 1000cc quantities) or the stand-out, delicate 100cc bottles. There is also the 23-proof Xiaomi Changge "Singing of Rice" liqueur, which compares favorably to Japanese sake; and the red Sanjiao Guanxi "Triangle Relationship" liqueur, so named because the bottle resembles a pyramid. The newest edition this year is the Shanzhu Milu, or "Lost Boar", a 40-proof whiskey which is often in short supply, a problem that should be solved by May. There is also a free book, "Nine Recipes for Plums", about preparing various plum treats.

Yiqing Ranch and Winery, Yiqing, Nantou County (049-2821900)

This place allows visitors to make their own wine from green plums and Jufeng grapes and store it over a long period. Yuemei, or "Beauty of the Moon" liqueur, is 11-proof and requires two year's fermentation before being bottled and stored in a wine cellar. Huolie "Fire" plum liqueur, is 45-proof and stored for one year, then distilled at a high temperature to bring out an 8-percent alcoholic content. The 11-proof, grape/plum combination Yueguang "Moon Light" liqueur is stored in a cellar for three years to bring out its true flavors. The fermentation brewing process brings out the sweet flavor in the similar, 11-proof Qubing ice wine. This is expected to be a world-quality ice wine, perhaps even setting new standards. Another plum wine, the Queqiao "Magpie Bridge", has a full, strong plum taste. The winery, built with a Tang Dynasty-style architecture, helps you imagine that you are back in the days of the famous Chinese writers and poets, passing your time with poetry and drinking contests.

The Puli Agriculture Village Chateau, Nantou County (049-2423828)

Situated next to the scenic Puli Carp Pond, the Puli Village Chateau specializes in wine made from blossoming or flowering trees. The first product put out was the 16-proof Zhenqing Meigui, "Roses of True Love". Sugar cane is used as the main ingredient and steeped in specially selected rose petals, while the low-temperature storage brings out a nicely-colored rose wine with a rose fragrance and pleasant taste. Miwisenlin, "Forest of Fog", is 39 proof and has a distinct pine taste, producing a relaxing, mellow feeling with every sip. The flavorful Baili Piaoxiang, or "Passion Fruit Fragrance", will be offered after five months or so. Other wines from local fruit are planned.

The Dongshi Tangerine Grove Winery, Taichung County (04-25771028)

This tall, two-story, circular building resembles an orange seed. Just opened three months ago, the winery, located near Shigang Dam, uses fresh tangerines in the fermentation process. The 12-proof Juxiang Xianzi, "Fairies of Tangerine Village", is a delightful, refreshing drink. The Juxiang Ganquan, or "Juxiang Sweet Springs", has a slight bitter, acidic taste reminiscent of one's longing for home and suitable as an aperitif. The Juxiang Miyu, "Whispers of Juxiang", is a 38-proof liquor with the pleasant taste of tangerine. The winery's interesting circular tower gives good views of the entire wine-making process.

Dongshi, Shiweiqiang Winery, Taichung County (04-25879197)

All of the liqueurs from this red-brick building have a rouge tint level of about nine. The 25-proof spirits have the fresh taste of plums. For a stronger flavor, this winery offers 43-proof spirits made from plums, grapes, pears and starfruit, all with a slight rouge tint. For an even stronger taste, there is the 70-proof sake.

Dahu Village Chateau, Miaoli County (037-996736)

When visiting this strawberry producing area, you can sample Dahu's 11-proof, golden strawberry liqueur, Humeilian, or "Lake Berry Affection", which manages to preserve the freshness and spirit of its main ingredients. Taoran Hong--literally "A Content and Happy Red"--is a sparkling pear spirit with a taste that is reminiscent of a lover whispering in your ear. Besides tasting liqueurs at this European-style winery, you can savor wine-flavored desserts, such as the strawberry, pear or other flavors of ice cream. You can also wander through the strawberries farms to enjoy the fruit and their fragrance.

All of these wine and liqueur producers have a lot to offer and, if you intend to visit them, you will certainly be impressed by the unique experience of viewing the fermentation process. Whether this interests you or not, a visit to the vineyards offer an excellent opportunity to sample locally produced spirits. Salut!

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