There are two very common rice wines that we use in both Chinese and Taiwanese cooking of which you can buy both of them easily in Chinese supermarkets in the United Kingdom.
One is “rice wine” (米酒) which has no colour and looks like water. We use it in most of our Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. It’s made by normal rice while the other is “Shaoxing rice wine” (紹興酒) which usually has brown colour. It’s made by glutinous rice.
These two wines have a different taste and flavour but they both can be used in different dishes. It depends on personal taste. I personally use rice wine for most of my eastern dishes because it tastes mild with a refreshing fragrance and use Shaoxing rice wine when I cook drunken chicken, drunken prawn, Dongpo pork and other slow cook meat dishes. Shaoxing rice wine usually has a stronger taste and flavour. It tastes a little bit spicy so not every dish is suitable for Shaoxing wine.
Here is a true story about Shaoxing wine to share with everyone. Shaoxing wine is from a city in China called Shaoxing. Shaoxing wine has many different variations and one of these is called “nu’er hong” (女兒紅). Every family in Shaoxing will make Shaoxing wine when their daughter is one month old and bury it underground until the day their daughter’s wedding date when they will open it and drink it to celebrate. “Nu’er” means daughter in Chinese and “hong” means red. Because red is a very lucky colour in both Chinese and Taiwanese culture and this wine is used to celebrate, so using “red” in the name adds a lucky meaning to it.