Wines from Japan

The words “Japan, wine exporter” have a somewhat unlikely ring but that is the aim of a new organisation, Koshu of Japan, which is keen to shine an international spotlight on a grape variety that is often dismissed within its native country.

I have just made my second visit in 12 years to Yamanashi prefecture, the Bordeaux of Japan in terms of winemaking. Except it reminds me more of Switzerland than Bordeaux. Every square metre in the heavily populated Kofu basin overlooked by Mount Fuji is cosseted. Individual vineyards are tiny, partly thanks to the postwar policy, implemented by General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw Japan’s reconstruction, of weakening the powerful landowners by redistribution. Farmers are protected. Labour costs are high. And the most-planted vine variety, like the Chasselas that is known as Fendant in French-speaking Switzerland, is also a table grape.

Perhaps it is this familiarity with the pink-skinned Koshu in the fruit basket that makes many of Japan’s army of wine lovers suspicious of wine made from it. Perhaps it is the fact that Koshu’s thick skins, which help make it resistant to the fungal diseases that can plague other varieties in Japan’s exceptionally humid summers, can all too easily translate in the glass into bitterness. Or perhaps it is simply that Koshu is just too much a part of the national furniture to be taken seriously.

Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are regarded as much more foreign and, therefore, glamorous in Japan. Certainly the likes of Chateau Mercian’s Private Reserve Hokushin Chardonnay 2006 and Suntory’s Tomi Réserve Special 1997 mature red bordeaux blend, top Yamanashi wines from two of the biggest companies, are thoroughly admirable. But it seems unlikely that anyone other than the Japanese would be prepared to pay around £100 a bottle for such wines and, besides, they are made in such small quantities that exporting is hardly viable.

Read the rest of the story: Are you ready for wines from Japan?

Wine Regions in Japan:

  • Hokkaidō: Tokachi Wine (十勝ワイン), Ikeda. Furano Wine (ふらのワイン), Furano.
  • Yamagata Prefecture: Tendō Wine (天童ワイン), Tendō.
  • Niigata Prefecture: Iwanohara Wine (岩の原ワイン), Jōetsu.
  • Yamanashi Prefecture: Katsunuma Wine (勝沼ワイン), Kōshū. “Rubaiyat”, Kōshū. 100% Domestically grown grapes.
  • Nagano Prefecture: Shinshū Wine (信州ワイン), Shiojiri.
  • Shiga Prefecture: Hitomi Wine (ヒトミワイン), Higashiōmi.
  • Tochigi Prefecture:Nasu Wine (那須ワイン), Nasushiobara.
  • Kyoto Prefecture: Tanba Wine (丹波ワイン), Kyōtanba.
  • Osaka Prefecture: Kawachi Wine (河内ワイン), Kashiwara and Habikino.
  • Hyōgo Prefecture: Kobe Wine (神戸ワイン), Kobe
  • Miyazaki Prefecture: Aya Wine (綾ワイン), Aya. Tsuno Wine (都農ワイン), Tsuno.

In Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe City has developed regional agriculture and tourism with independent wineries and has launched city-brand products.

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