Recently I had the pleasure to attend what will surely be remembered as one of the most remarkable wine events in London this year – the Koshu of Japan tasting at the luxurious boutique Como The Halkin Hotel. When I received the invitation from the drinks business, the leading European drinks trade publication, it immediately made my curiosity spike up. For me Japan is a dream travel destination and everything about it is a bit mysterious and exotic, including Japanese wine which is rare and unknown to most of us. Just to be clear, I am not talking about rice wine…
Koshu is the signature grape native to Japan; its ancestors are thought to have been brought to Japan via the Silk Road from the Caucasus about a thousand years ago. The winemaking history in Japan goes back to 1870s and is concentrated in the Yamanashi prefecture. It took many years of hard work and skill growth by local winemakers until the quality of wines and production increased dramatically after the end of World War II. There are around 80 wineries in the Yamanashi prefecture these days.
Japan’s extreme climate marked by typhoons and high humidity presents many challenges for viticulture. Yet, the beautifully pink thick-skinned Koshu fruit has adapted well to the rough conditions, became strongly disease resistant and learned to thrive over centuries.
Having seen plenty of photos of Koshu grapes at the event, I cannot wait to one day hold them in the palms of my hands and smell them while they still dangle on the vines. I also look forward to visiting the producers I had the pleasure to meet: Katsunuma Jyozo, Grace, Haramo, Marquis Winery and Mercian, just to name a few.
A very distinct characteristic of Koshu wines is its very pale, almost transparent appearance. Most of them are light bodied, delicate, pure and fresh and are evidently a perfect match to the light and healthy cuisine of Japan. Having sampled a considerable number of great wines, I have picked a few highlights to share with you. Watch out for these or any wines from the aforementioned producers to go with your next Japanese meal.
2014 Aruga Branca Pipa by Katsunuma Jyozo
Great balance of residual sugar and acidity, hint of vanilla (from 6 months in oak barrels which certainly contributes to the wine’s complexity), peach and apricot notes. Delicious.
2016 Grace Koshu Private Reserve by Grace Winery
Grown in slate soil, hand harvested, fermented and aged in stainless steel; off-dry with notes of citrus, green apple, gentle minerality and a clean dry finish. Wonderfully refreshing and well balanced.
2015 Marquis Iro Koshu by Marquis Winery
Clean, mouthwatering, well balanced wine, floral notes along with juicy stone fruit. Faintly off-dry with a dry clean long lingering finish. My personal favorite on tasting.
And once I found my personal favorite wine of the day I couldn’t miss out on taking a photo with the winery representative, Mr Keiichi Suzuki of the Marquis Winery. 🙂