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.