Japanese Wine hits London
January is the beginnning of wine tasting season in the London. I’ve been so busy going to events that I have been woefully neglecting The Wineslueth but now I’ve made a promise to myself to get back into the blogging habit. Let’s start off with the most interesting tasting last week – wines from Japan.
Japanese wine is breaking into the London market (or at least trying to). The Japanese came to town last week with one of their oldest grape varietals, koshubudo or koshu for short. 15 wine producers have banded together to form the Koshu of Japan (KOJ) association to ensure quality and promote the varietal to the world. Speaking to one of the producers, he told me that koshu was brought to Japan a thousand or so years ago and came from the Caucusus. I suppose a thousand years is long enough for a varietal to be considered indigenous. Koshu is grown in the Yamanashi province close to Mount Fuji and there are 80 wineries producing not only koshu but also international varietals like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and merlot among others. Many of the wineries go back to the late 1880′s but the majority were founded between the two major world wars.
Wines made from 100% Koshu was on tasting last week at the Imagination Gallery in Central London. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines. The general characteristics, pale, straw coloured wines with a pronounced citrus flavour profile. I also found distinctive mineral notes in many of the wines, the product of the volcanic soils where the vineyards are located. Many of the wines were also aged in barrels or sur lees which gave the wines body.
I got to chatting with the winemaker of Diamond Winery, founded in 1939 as a cooperative and then converted to a winery in 1963, Yoshio Amemiya. Yoshio spent 3 years overseas, studying winemaking techniques in Bordeaux, Burgundy and one other place in France. In 2003 he returned to Japan to make wine a the family winery. I tasted a barrel sample of the Chanter Y, A Amarillo which had spent 5 months sur lees. Lovely balance, ripe apples on the nose with a rounded palate and a refreshing citrus finish. I also tried the Chanter Koshu barrel fermented 2008. Yoshio liked to use 1 or 2 year old barrels, all of which came from French vineyards. He uses barrels for the added complexity that oak can give wine and not to impart overly oaked characteristics to the wines. This wine was definitely fuller, baked apples and hints of spice, good balance of fruit and acidity. I found the wines to be very well made.
Another producer I visited was the Grace Winery. The winery was founded in 1923 and is family owned. The winemaker is, unusually for Japan, female, Ayana Misawa and the daughter of the owner, Shigekazu Misawa. I enjoyed these wines, much more mineral character with stone fruit flavours along with the green apple notes I had tasted in the other wines.
Haramo Wines was the first wine I tried and found the wines to be fairly light, floral aromas with a lemon/citrus character on the palate. Haramo started out as a cooperative in 1924 but prior to that, the producer told me that his vineyard along with most others produced grapes only to be eaten. Luckily, in 1973, the coop was converted into the Haramo Wine Co and they’ve been producing wines ever since. Haramo is constantly testing out new wine making techniques and strives to make the best wine possible, which I think can be said for most of the wines I tried.
All in all an interesting tasting with wines that shouldn’t be dismissed. Retailing for between £10 and £13 with some going as high up as £20, I would buy one if I wanted something that was not only different but also drinkable. I wonder what the reds taste like, for now we’ve got the koshu to drink…