A wine matching dinner with Mercian wines at the Saito Hotel

Dinner in Nagano, Japan, matched with wines from Château Mercian

One of the many good experiences from my recent Japan trip was staying at the Saito Hotel, in the Nagano region. The Kakeyu hot springs, which feed the open-air Onsen here are famous, and I made good use of the bathing facilities on my short stay: bathing after dinner under the stars is highly recommended.

But aside from enjoying the thermal baths, we were there to try the special dinner that the hotel have planned in collaboration with Château Mercian, Japan’s leading winery. This September, Mercian opened their new winery on the Mariko vineyard (they planted this in 2003), and the hotel has collaborated with them to make a special food and wine dinner featuring their wines. The food was an interesting fusion: here we have Japanese dishes, together with some western influence. The idea is to help produce dishes that match well with the wines.

The pairings worked pretty well. This isn’t typical Japanese cuisine, but the western elements were prepared with a Japanese aesthetic. The menu was in Japanese, so my descriptions of the dishes are what I jotted down from the conversations, so there may have been one or two translation errors. This was quite a memorable meal.

Turban shell (this is a sea snail) with wasabi and burdock.

This dish also had some roe and sea urchin

Three local mushrooms (mitake, shitake and enoki), with onion, bacon and eggs

Salmon/trout hybdrid (farmed) from Nagano with shrimp

Gaspacho tomato soup (from Nagano). The tomatoes are roasted after the seeds have been removed at 150 C for 90 minutes. Seaweed, tofu film, scallops, baby leaf.

Soba noodles. Fish: fat greenling, which is a rock fish. Crab and shrimp in batter, with three sauces.

Beef and chicken (soaked in miso and sake) with Port wine sauce.

Rice ball with daishi sauce

These are the wines we tried:

Château Mercian Chardonnay Brut NV Nagano, Japan
This is NV on the label but it is from 2018. Injection method. 80% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon. Spicy and toasty with nice rich citrus and pear fruit, with notes of grapes and minerals, as well as a twist of grapefruit pith. 88/100

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 Nagano, Japan
Lovely precision to the citrus fruit with some peachy richness, and also a bit of spice and toast. Nice depth, showing richness allied to freshness. The oak is here, but it’s well integrated. 92/100

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Nagano, Japan
With a few year’s bottle age this has shaped up very nicely. Shows lovely freshness and purity with some tropical passionfruit notes and a pithy edge. Concentrated and fresh, with nice precision. 92/100

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Rosé 2017 Nagano, Japan
A third each Shiraz, Merlot and then equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. There’s a touch of sweetness here as well as freshness and sweet strawberry and red cherry fruit. Quite grapey and rich with nice purity. 89/100

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Syrah 2015 Nagano, Japan
This has an amazing nose of black pepper and black cherries, with a lovely palate showing fresh black fruits supplemented by the complex peppery notes. Restrained and lean but concentrated with a lovely savoury side. Such a brilliant wine. 94/100

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Merlot 2015 Nagano, Japan
Fresh and leafy with nice green hints. Juicy and precise with redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit with some chalky notes and nice tannins. Nice precision here. 92/100

A picture of us at the end of dinner