New wines from Château Mercian, a leading Japanese winery

I have visited Château Mercian a couple of times before. They have wineries in both of Japan’s major wine regions, Yamanashi and Nagano. In 2019 they opened a new winery on the Mariko Vineyard, near Ueda in Nagano, and this winery was the first in Asia to make the list (in at number 30) of the ‘World’s Best Vineyards’ for visiting. (Here’s a full length article on Mercian, based on a visit in September 2019).

I caught up with the winemaking team, and consultant Ken Ohashi, on a Zoom session to taste through some new releases. Mercian also told me that they have just bought a Qvevri from Georgia to trial for the Gris de Gris wine in 2021: they won’t ferment in it but will use it for ageing. They are also very excited about the first wines they have made from a new high altitude vineyard in Nagano, called Kataoka. This 12 hectare site was planted in 2017 at 800 m altitude, and is 90% Merlot plus some Cabernet Franc and experimental plantings of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. I’ll have to wait a little longer to taste the wines.

Koshu in the Iwade vineyard, just approaching ripening (the colour will deepen a bit)

Château Mercian Iwade Vineyard Koshu Kiiroka Cuvée Ueno R133 2019 Yamanashi, Japan
11.5% alcohol. Fermented and aged for 3 months in stainless steel. This is a special cuvee from the Iwade Vineyard (owned by Mr Ueno; gravel soils at 400m). Pergola-trained vines. One new technique that Mercian have been using is juice stabulation for 10 days at low temperature to help aroma molecule/precursor extraction from the juice lees. Amazing aromatics of spicy matchstick minerality (from good reduction). This is all smoky and mineral and so distinctive. The palate is pure and lively: linear with good acidity and some fine spiciness on the finish. Mineral and taut, but has just enough flesh to deal with the acidity. 92/100 (UK retail £30)

Château Mercian Fuefuki Vineyard Koshu Gris de Gris 2019 Yamanashi, Japan
11.5% alcohol. Pergola-trained vines on gravel soils at 320 m. Part (60%) fermented on the skins for four weeks, and matured in a mix of stainless steel and oak. The rest is thermovinified (hot maceration at 60 C) and then barrel fermented. A lovely gold colour, this has a delicate nose of table grapes, pear and a hint of baked apple, with subtle nut and cedar hints. On the palate these themes continue, joined with some orange peel, and it has lovely texture. This is a really harmonious wine. Dry and expressive. 92/100 (UK retail £21)

Château Mercian Hosaka Vineyard Muscat Bailey A Single Vineyard 2018 Yamanashi, Japan
12.5%. Hosaka is a hilly, sunny area at 450-600 m altitude with a broad diurnal temperature range. Clay soils. Pergola-trained. Aged for 26 months in oak barrels (21% new oak), with some time in stainless steel. Muscat Bailey A treated better than it usually is! Cherry red colour. Fresh and juicy with light red cherry and strawberry fruit, with a bit of spiciness. There’s some savoury, spicy oak framing the bright fruity palate, and it has fresh acidity. Amazing fruit purity here: a really impressive expression of this hybrid grape variety. 90/100 (UK retail £30)

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Syrah 2017 Nagano, Japan
13.5% alcohol. Aged for 18 months in oak barrels (25% new). Stony clay soils at 650 m, VSP training. Wonderul nose of pepper-infused sweet black cherry fruit. Very pure and refined with lovely aromatics, and the pepper character is so lovely, and doesn’t stick out too much. The palate is fresh and focused, with some summer pudding fruits and well integrated oak. This is really fine and linear, and quite spectacular. Cool climate Syrah at its most elegant. 95/100 (UK retail £40.00)

Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Omnis 2017 Nagano, Japan
14% alcohol. Stony clay soils at 650m, VSP training. Cabernet Franc 38%, Merlot 37%, Cabernet Sauvignon 19%, Petit Verdot 6%. Aged 20 months in oak barrels (60% new). Concentrated aromatics of blackcurrant, spice and minerals with some hints of tar/asphalt. The palate is concentrated with powerful blackcurrant fruit, and some gravelly structure. Has tannic grip and a great volume of fresh black fruits, showing brightness and focus. There’s good tannic structure and also acidity here, and it should age very well. 93/100 (UK retail £125)

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Here’s a video of me tasting the wines:

Declaration of interest: I have done some paid consultancy work with Mercian