The Wine List

Wine is a new to Taiwan. At least, western-style fermented grapes are. Five or six years ago it could be found, but only in a few places, mostly high-end grocery stores. The bottles were mainly from France and Australia, but the labels were strange and would be unknown to the American shopper. The liquid itself was sweet.

But by 2010, wine stores and bars could be found all over Taipei, a mini boom. The bottles were now familiar, and included California vintages. However, each time I walked by one of these establishments, it was empty. Partly this is because wine is expensive, maybe thirty-percent more than New York City prices, and the Taiwanese are notably frugal. Possibly only the bold venture in, because the rooms were small and the hard sell, ubiquitous in Taiwan, is applied with a vengeance. If you leave without buying, Hsiao-jie (Miss) will give you the stink eye supreme.

Even though the culture of the wine is no longer unknown, it is still not entirely familiar. I was taken to dinner at a famous duck restaurant and was encouraged to have a glass of wine. The menu, in English, said, “See our wine list.” In my stiff mouthed Chinese, I asked the waitress to bring it, but I figured she couldn’t understand me because she made no moves and only asked would I like red or white. I repeated that I wanted the list. This time—practice makes perfect—I was able to make myself understood because she shuffled off.

When she returned, she had in hand a leather-bound volume, such as encases wine lists in any Western restaurant. She held it and opened it. On the left, filling the page, was an enormous picture of a bottle of red wine (I’ve forgotten the vintner). On the right was a bottle of white, same manufacturer. This was the entire list.

She was very patient with my stupidity, and again asked if I would like the red or white.

I chose red.


  1. Rich

    Not that long ago if you asked for a glass of wine in an English pub the response would have been, “Red or white?”

    I was sometimes tempted to ask for “Beer” and when mine host said, “Which one, sir?” I would have said, “Brown”.

    Wouldn’t work in yer modern gastro pub though.

  2. Bruce Foutch

    You may find this interesting. Seems grape wine has a long history in Mainland China.

    From chapter 3:
    In China grapes have a long history. In old chronicles it is told:
    “In 128 BC General ZHANG Qian [Chang Ch’ien; WG] returned from Asia Minor / Tashkent to his Emperor Wu-di [Wu-ti; WG], and he brought with him grape-stones that were planted near the emperor’s palace in Chang’an (now Xi’an).

    In this way the wine-grape ‘Vitis vinifera’ arrived in China about 200 years earlier than in the great wine regions of France.”

    Also, from China Daily:

  3. dearieme

    “In old chronicles it is told”: priceless.

  4. bernie

    Hey, they use the same wine list as my local family restaurant/bar – the Park Lunch. Best fried haddock and fried shrimp in Massachusetts. Come to think about it, the Park Lunch has an extra page on its wine list – Red, White and Pink. They also have Guinness, Murphy’s and Bass on tap. It is a high class place.

  5. Sera

    Real men do not drink white wine.

  6. Rich

    Sera, real men do whatever they damn well please.

  7. GoneWithTheWind

    White wine! Many years ago I lived in Germany and consumed copious amounts of their white wine. You could simply choose the house wine at a restuarant and be assured of a delightful wine. I was sad to discover that a German Riesling doesn’t “travel” well and if you buy an imported German wine in the states it is a shadow of it’s former self.

  8. Geoff

    This reminds me of the bar in Sausalito (CA) that had a similarly impressively leather bound wine list. When you opened it you saw:

    1. White
    2. Red

    “Please order by number”

  9. Geoff

    The situation you describe is somewhat similar to Singapore in the 80’s but since then there has been a hockey-stick increase in wine consumption. Every supermarket (even in the “heartland”) will have 50-100 feet of wine shelves. I’ve never seen a bottle under US$ 10 but you can find some US$ 15-20 wines (Australian, New Zealand, Chile). The majority of (proper sit down) reataurants will have a reasonably decent wine list. Can’t find wine at most of the hawker centres however.

  10. Hoi Polloi

    I had various winefests with my (mainland) Chinese suppliers over the last 20 years. They usually choose the most expensive bottle thinking that should be the best wine and drank it like beer. No before pretending being a connoisseur by heavily shaking the glass and smelling the contents, yeah right. Of course the night ended with a bunch of red faced Chinese…(that’s what happens when they get drunk).

    And then of course there’s the infamous Chinese “White Wine”, but that’s a total different kind of alcohol.

  11. Back in the late70’s, I ate at a recently opened steak house in suburban Houston. I asked to see the wine list. When it was brought to the table the instructions were very clear. On the front of the wine list it stated “Please order wine by number”. I opened up the list and it read; 1. Red 2. White 3. Rose`
    I must admit I took an unusually long time to decide.

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