What type of Wine were the Eight (8) Immortals Drinking?

I suppose there is nothing that will cement your fame as a poet as much as having one of the greatest poets who ever lived: Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770 AD) write a poem: 饮中八仙 (Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup) about you that includes all the other celebrated poets of your time (唐朝 Tang Dynasty, 618-907 AD) .

I've always wondered though, what wine were those eight guys drinking?  A lot of people think that the cultivation of wine grapes is new to China, but that is clearly not true given the plethora of poems that refer to the wine grape that go back to 200 BC, although they were probably using grape from a different species, namely "Vitis Thunbergii".  Why?  Because there are records in 126 BC that state Zhang Qian 张骞 who had gone to Asia Minor to learn of civilisations there on behalf of Emperor Jing of the Han 孝景皇帝 had specifically brought back "Vitis Vinifera" from Bactria (modern day Afghanistan and parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) which means that cultivation of the wine grape in China predated France by a couple of hundred years.  These vines were particularly prized because of talk that was going around that "the Western regions have made a wine from grapes which will keep good for years, as much as ten years and it is commonly said that if one drinks it, one will not get over one's drunkenness for days."

Zhang Qian

CHINESE apparently INVENTED BRANDY 烧酒 and WHISKY 

As early as 700 AD, the Chinese already knew how to distill fruit and grain in great distilleries, which they called "Burnt wine"  烧酒.  In fact, Physician and Pharmacologist Li Shizhen 李時珍 who compiled the most comprehensive official record of Chinese plants, animals, and minerals with medicinal properties in his Compendium of Materia Medica 本草纲目described not only how to make brandy but also whisky.  Although the Compendium (aka The Great Pharmacopoeia) was only written in 1596, it documents the entire history of Chinese medicine and states that distillation had been practiced since the 7th century AD which, if it is not clear yet, is when the great and drunk Tang Poets lived.

In contrast, the earliest evidence of distillation in Western Europe was discovered in Italy only in the 12th Century.  Interestingly though, just like the Chinese who had been drinking wine and waxing lyrical (Great Tang Dynasty Poets) for centuries under its influence, the Europeans who now held the same drink in hand said, "Yea, it changeth the affections of the mind, it taketh away sadnes and pensivenes, it maketh men meri, witty, and encreaseth audacitie..." - Conrad Gessner, Swiss Naturalist and Physician, 1559

So what were the Eight Immortals drinking?  Probably everything and anything they could get their hands on.

 


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