Quality Japanese wine? It's no oxymoron
Looking for a drink in Japan?
A bottle of sake or a few pints of a domestic beer are the most obvious choices, but wine drinkers should give the local grape, the Koshu, a chance.
Koshu wine is produced by about 80 vineyards in the Yamanashi prefecture at the base of Mount Fuji.
Ayana Misawa, winemaker at Grace Vineyard, describes the variety as charming, with a crisp acidity and low alcohol level.
“Koshu has a very elegant smell," she says. "Aromas like citrus, white flowers."
Misawa, the fifth generation winemaker in her family, is part of a movement to bring international techniques to Yamanashi to improve the quality of the product.
She studied methods in France, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
Now she strives to make more international, “food-friendly” Koshu.
Japanese wine -- getting better
Wine experts say thanks to efforts like Misawa’s, the quality of Japan’s wines has improved significantly in the last five years.
At the Japan Wine Competition, an annual event held in Yamanashi, judges say the focus now needs to turn to making Koshu a name people recognize.
“I think we have to do various things and encourage people to taste it, because once they've tasted it they really like to buy another bottle,” says master of wine Lynn Sherriff, a judge at the Japan wine competition in Yamanashi.
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One factor that could hold Koshu back is price. Due to limited land and high labor costs, a bottle made from Japan’s local grape will set you back more than many other varieties.
The wine pares well with Japanese food though, and can make a nice companion for travelers already splurging on Japan's infamously pricey food.
Koshu isn't the only grape used in the Yamanashi vineyards.
Wines are also made from the Muscat Bailey A, a grape variety that’s been developed for the Japanese climate. It can deliver wines in a variety of styles.
Wine writer Denis Gastin believes koshu is just the beginning of an international journey for Japan’s wines.
“There's a good story there, and the world will enjoy that story," he says. "It's starting to be told with Koshu, but there are many other stories as well."
Grace Winery offers tours by reservation. Tours are in Japanese only; +81 (0)553 44-1230.
If you're in Tokyo and want to give Koshu a try, Grace Winery recommends the following places:
Wine bar & shop JIP, 2-7-1 Shinjku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; +81 (0)3 6380 1178
Y-Wine (Italian), Nihonbashi Plaza Building 2F, 2-3-4 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; +81 (0)3 3527 9185