The 7 things you didn’t know about Japanese wines

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06 March 2018

The 7 things you didn’t know about Japanese wines

In the month that the #BeastfromtheEast arrived on our shores, Japanese wine has been taking London by storm.

As February’s dire weather hit the city, we were treated to two unique Japanese wine tastings. The first was Koshu of Japan – taking place at the renowned 67 Pall Mall on 14 February. Koshu of Japan is an organisation that was established in July 2009 by leading wine producers from the Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan’s premier wine-growing region.

The second was the New Japanese Wine tasting, which took place at Ginza Onodera on 28 February. This session included a number of different wine styles, including sparkling, white, rose and red, from all across Japan.

But in case you couldn’t get to either event (after all, we all know what the weather was like), here are the 7 things you (probably) didn’t know about Japanese wines…

1. It’s really not that new…

Japanese wine is still relatively unknown within the UK trade – however the country boasts a winemaking history of over 140 years and is home to around 300 wineries. Japan is believed to have been cultivating vines for at least 1,000 years.

2. …and it’s far from all over!

Wine is produced in 36 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including on Honshu (the largest and most populous island), Kyushu (the most south-westerly) and even Hokkaido (the most northernmost prefecture). The wine regions generally lie between 32° and 43° north latitude. As a reference, Bordeaux is 45° north.

3. A Zweigelt from Yamagata? A Pinot Noir from Hokkaido?

Although wines from Japan are mostly produced from three grape varieties – Koshu, Muscat Bailey A and Delaware, which make up around 40% of total production – winemakers have now diversified and many are growing international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and even Zweigelt.

4. The star is a grape called Koshu

Since 2013, the Koshu grape has been recognised by the highly-respected International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). Koshu has been grown in Katsunuma in the Yamanashi prefecture for at least 1,000 years. The grape travelled along the Silk Route and found its current home in Japan in the vineyards of Yamanashi, within the foothills of Mount Fuji.

Koshu grapes in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

5. A true labour of love

Japan’s climate, especially on Honshu and Kyushu, is renowned for being incredibly wet at certain times of the year. The rainy season generally lasts from June to the middle of July. In addition to this, typhoons with heavy rainfall and strong winds can commonly take place throughout September. This can make the vineyards particularly susceptible to diseases and pests. These conditions can make it incredibly tough for the growers who are renowned for being absolutely meticulous in their approach.

6. The perfect match to Anglo-Japanese cooking

Anglo-Japanese cooking was described by The Evening Standard as being London’s New Favourite towards the end of 2017, and with a new glut of top-quality, fusion restaurants there is massive potential for Japanese wines to shine at exciting venues such as Jidori or Kurobuta. Vibrant whites made from Koshu are the perfect foil to a whole host of dishes, from yakitori to tempura, and sashimi to okonomiyaki.

7. Yamanashi is THE paradise for beer, whisky, sake and wine lovers

It’s not just wine. Thanks to pristine waters that flow through forests from deep mountains over 3000m above sea level, extreme climate changes throughout the year and well-drained soils, Yamanashi is an absolute must-visit for any beer, whisky or sake-lover too! The stunning prefecture is home to 60 wineries, 14 sake breweries, 4 beer breweries and Suntory’s famed Hakushu whisky distillery.

Grace Wine Hishiyama Koshu


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