How Is Rice Wine Made

As a wine enthusiast, I’ve always been fascinated with the wide range of wines that hail from various parts of the globe. While many are familiar with wines made from grapes, there exists another variant …

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As a wine enthusiast, I’ve always been fascinated with the wide range of wines that hail from various parts of the globe. While many are familiar with wines made from grapes, there exists another variant of wine that possesses a unique charm and a deep history: rice wine.

Rice wine, also known as sake in Japan and soju in Korea, has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years. It has been an integral part of Asian culture and cuisine, and its production involves a meticulous process that requires great skill and patience.

The Rice

The first step in making rice wine is selecting the right type of rice. Unlike eating rice, which is typically long-grain or short-grain, rice wine is made using a specific variety of rice called glutinous rice. This type of rice has a higher starch content, which is essential for converting the sugars needed for fermentation.

Once the rice is selected, it is thoroughly cleaned to remove any impurities. This step is crucial to ensure that the final product is of the highest quality. Cleanliness is of utmost importance throughout the entire process to prevent any unwanted contaminants from affecting the fermentation.

The Koji

After cleaning, the rice is then steamed until it reaches the perfect level of moisture. The steamed rice is then transferred to a large tray and spread out thinly to cool down. Once cooled, it is inoculated with a mold culture called koji-kin. Koji-kin is responsible for breaking down the rice starches into fermentable sugars.

The mold-covered rice is then placed in a warm and humid environment to undergo the koji fermentation process. During this time, the mold grows and converts the rice starches into sugars. It is fascinating to witness how this simple grain of rice transforms into something so integral to the fermentation process.

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Once the koji fermentation is complete, it is time to introduce yeast to the mixture. The yeast used in rice wine production is specific to each region and plays a vital role in defining the unique flavors and aromas of the final product. The mixture of koji rice, yeast, and water is then transferred to fermentation tanks.

Around this time, I find it interesting to note that the fermentation process for rice wine is unlike that of grape wines. Grape wines typically undergo a primary fermentation followed by a secondary malolactic fermentation. In the case of rice wine, the fermentation happens simultaneously, encompassing both stages in a single process.


After the fermentation process, the young rice wine is filtered to remove any remaining solids. It is then transferred to aging vessels, which can vary from wooden barrels to stainless steel tanks. The maturation period for rice wine can range from a few months to several years, depending on the desired flavor profile.

During this time, the flavors and aromas of the rice wine develop and evolve. The aging process allows the wine to mellow out and achieve a harmonious balance. It’s fascinating to observe how the wine transforms over time, and the anticipation of tasting the final product is always exciting.


The art of making rice wine is a true labor of love. It requires a deep understanding of the ingredients, meticulous attention to detail, and a great deal of patience. The complex and nuanced flavors of rice wine are a testament to the craftsmanship involved in its production.

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Personally, I find the process of making rice wine to be a fascinating blend of science and tradition. It’s a unique window into the culture and history of the regions where it originated. Whether enjoyed on its own or paired with Asian cuisine, rice wine offers a delightful sensory experience that is worth exploring.

John has been a hobbyist winemaker for several years, with a few friends who are winery owners. He writes mostly about winemaking topics for newer home vintners.
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