I tasted these new releases from important Japanese producer Mercian on a zoom call with their team. As well as discussing the wines, they revealed some of their new projects. [For a thorough review of this producer based on visits, see here.]
The first is a new vineyard. Tengusawa is a high-altitude (800-850 m) site in Yamanashi with granite soils. They had their work cut out planting, because there were some huge granite rocks under the vineyard, although they broke down fairly easily. The well drained soils here are very useful because of Yamanashi’s high growing season rainfall. This is a 4 hectare site, and 3 hectares have been planted so far. The vines went in the ground in 2018, and in 2021 they made a little bit of wine for the first time. The varieties here are Tempranillo and Syrah.
They have also opened up a new history of Koshu, in Tsuruoka in Yamagata prefecture, 350 km NE of Yamanashi. This site is 55 m altitude and the soils are sedimentary rocks. The vines are 30 years old, and Koshu arrived here in the 18th century (Koshu was first cultivated in Yamanashi in the 8th century), and has so far been used for table grapes not wine. The berries here are slightly smaller with a deeper-coloured skin. The sugar content is also higher. It’s not known whether the genetics have changed over 200 years of separation, or whether it is the cultivation and management that is making the difference. In Tsuruoka, all the grapes are grown under rain canopies. There are 20-30 tons of Koshu grown here, so it’s only very small production.
Another initiative undertaken by Mercian is marketing their fine wines to the domestic market. In the past, imported wines have dominated this segment. The idea is to sell their wines alongside international benchmarks, so people can see that they are in the same peer group. Not all Mercian’s wines are expensive – some are very good value. But the very top wines are expensive, and they are aiming to show these alongside similarly expensive imports to show that they belong with them. Initial results have been very positive.
Whites are from 2020, which was a wet year with 174% of average rainfall. Typically a lot of this falls in the growing season, and June to August were wet. They had to remove some damaged grapes. After August the weather improved and they had warm weather until harvest in October.
Reds are from 2018. The rainy season was short, and rainfall overall was 89% of average. The result was that they harvested at higher Brix than normal, and this was a very good vintage.\
Château Mercian Takayama Chardonnay Unwooded 2020 Nagano, Japan
12% alcohol. From a 530 m vineyard in Takayama on the right bank of the Chikuma River, with gravel-rich. No oak: fermented and matured in stainless steel for 8 months after juice stabulation for 10 days. Lovely aromatics: almost Daiginjo sake-like with aromatic pear and green apple, as well as some passionfruit hints. The palate is bright and pure with pronounced fruity characters. It is almost exotic. There’s good acidity here with some savoury notes on the finish. 92/100 (UK retail £30)
Château Mercian Iwade Koshu Ortum 2020 Yamanashi, Japan
11% alcohol. This is from the Iwade Vineyard, Yamanashi, which is pergola, on the right bank of the Fuefuki river, with sandy gravel soils. Juicy stabulation used here. Wonderfully smoky matchstick nose with some citrus notes. Very mineral. The palate is complex, lively and mineral with some matchstick minerality, some citrus fruit, and keen acidity. Such a complex, mineral expression of Koshu: Koshu Dury. 93/100 (UK retail £40)
Château Mercian Fuefuki Koshu Gris de Gris No 3 2020 Yamanashi, Japan
11.5% alcohol. This is an interesting expression of Koshu. 50% on skins, and also a portion is thermomacerated (technology usually used with red wines) to extract skin flavours, but is then fermented off skins. Full yellow/gold colour with a hint of pink. Restrained aromatics of melon, pear, a hint of smoke and some citrus peel. The palate is bright and has a slight smoky hint as well as some savoury, spicy notes. There are keen mandarin, pear and green apple notes too. Good acidity. Such precision and texture. 93/100 (UK retail £21)
Château Mercian Hosaka Muscat Bailey A Single Vineyard No 4 2018 Yamanashi, Japan
12.5% alcohol. Mr Inomata is the grower, and this comes from clay soils in the Hosaka district. 26 months in oak barrels (20% new oak). Bright cherry red colour with lovely floral aromatics showing sour cherry and a bit of raspberry jelly, as well as fine spices. The palate is bright, fresh and juicy – a lovely example of Muscat Bailey A with nice cherry and raspberry fruit, good acidity and a bit of crunch. Such a joyful, distinctive wine. 92/100 (UK retail £30.00)
Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Syrah No 5 2018 Nagano, Japan
13% alcohol. 20 months in oak barrels (17% new oak). Bright cherry red in colour, this takes Syrah right to its cool climate limits in 2018. Fresh, pure red fruits nose with a peppery edge: very direct and floral. The palate is juicy and vibrant with fresh red berry and cherry fruit and some subtle sweet oak hints in the background. Very juicy, pure and primary with vibrant red fruits. Such purity and elegance. 93/100 (UK retail £40)
Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard Omnis No 6 2018 Nagano, Japan
14% alcohol. Cabernet Franc 41%, Merlot 34%, Cabernet Sauvignon 13%, Petit Verdot 12%. 19 months in oak barrels (40% new oak). This is all about freshness and elegance, with sweet blackcurrant and berry fruits and hints of gravel, smoke and spice. The palate has well-judged extraction with some tannins and spice, and the oak integrating well. Very sophisticated and fine, in a midweight mould but with the structure for ageing. 94/100 (UK retail £125.00)