Japanese Wines: A Taste from the Terroir of the Rising Sun
A couple of months ago I decided to fly to London for the day to discover the white wines of the Yamanashi prefecture, capital of the Koshu grape variety in Japan.
What an inspired idea! Most of the Japanese wines were absolutely delicious, showing unique personality and style. But let’s start with the beginning. What is Koshu and where does it comes from ?
The History of Koshu
The Koshu grape is the most important grape variety native to Japan. It was developed from grapes that traveled the Silk Road across Central Asia from the Caucasus to China and then to Japan around 1000 years ago.
Only 480 hectares of Koshu are planted in Japan, and 95% of those are planted in Yamanashi prefecture where the climatic extremes of heat and cold and the well drained volcanic soils are especially suited for the cultivating this grape.
The Koshu grape vine is treelike and the grape itself is thick-skinned and pink in colour.
I was very surprised by the finesse and freshness of the wines. They all seemed to have these common characteristics: Japanese citrus and floral aromas, very distinct minerality, crisp, clean and low alcohol (11.5% vol. in average).
The best examples were for me the ones tasting “authentic” and not trying to fit into an international taste template. The finesse and balance in the wines reminded me of the authentic Japanese food which I tasted a few years ago in Japan and more recently prepared by a very good friend of mine, passionate about Japanese cuisine and a very fine chef.
Like real Japanese cuisine, all the elements here are harmonious, each bringing their touch to the overall balance of the dish but none of them “speaking louder” than another… the perfect balance delivered with subtlety, finesse and class, and that is exactly what I found in the 3 wines below. These were my favourite wines of the day.
Made from 100% Koshu grapes, produced in Katsunama region. The wines is produced by Traditional Method (same as Champagne) and is matured on its lees for 24 months.
Bone dry, it expressed very delicate aromas and flavours of white flowers, yuzu and almond paste with a touch of yeasty/bready flavours on the palate. The texture of the effervescence is seductive and silky. The finish has a beautiful sensation of saltiness and minerality. This would make a delicious aperitif, perhaps with some light vegetables in tempura… yummy !
100% Koshu grape also produced in Katsunama region. This wine is obtained by freezing the non-pressed juice to concentrate the flavours and is then barrel fermented.
After that, it’s matured in French oak barrels for 6 months and then 12 months in bottle. The oak is present on the nose but pleasant through vanilla and Tonka bean aromas. The palate is rounded, creamy, balanced by superb freshness and minerality. This would make a very interesting pairing with meaty fish such has halibut or turbot served with a Tonka bean veloute.
100% Koshu Grape grown organically. Sol Lucet means “the sun shines”. This wine has been fermented in stainless steel and is a real delight for the senses. Clean, fresh and zesty with plenty of yuzu and white rose petals notes.
The finish is a touch salty with a beautiful cleansing minerality. No doubt this would be a great match with some sashimi or Nigiri sushi. This wine is available is M&S UK but has not reached the Irish market yet.
Sadly, these wines are not available in Ireland. However, it is very exciting to see that there are some really serious wines being produced on the island of the rising sun. With the growing interest in Japanese cuisine, let’s hope that we will soon see these little gems also make it to our beautiful Emerald Island.
Since then Julie’s passion for wine has grown immensely. She has been a sommelier for over 12 years. In April 2016, Julie represented the Irish Guild of Sommeliers at the Sommelier World Championship and finished 3rd overall and was the highest placed woman.
Julie is currently working part-time at the Greenhouse restaurant as well as running her own consultancy business called down2wine.ie.