Koshu - wines from Japan   
Tasting 15 wines from this unique Japanese variety

The Japanese winemakers lining up at Umu

Website: www.koshuofjapan.com

If you are a true lover of wine, then you probably have a curious side. Iím always interested in trying new things, and so I was delighted to attend a lunch at Umu (one of Londonís finest, and most expensive, Japanese restaurants Ė and the first Kyoto-style restaurant in London when it opened in 2004) hosted by the 15 producers who are part of the Koshu of Japan organization.

Koshu is a pink-skinned grape variety that has been grown in Japan since the 8th century. For much of this time it was prized as a table grape, but since the latter half of the 19th century it has been used for winemaking.

In 1874 the first Japanese table wines were made, and the first proper winery was established in 1879 - the Dainippon Wine Company, who had sent two of their staff to France to learn how to make wine properly. But it wasn't until the second half of the 20th century that domestic winemaking in Japan really took off. However, since the easing of import duties in the 1980s Japanese wine have found it hard to compete with those from abroad.

On this plate: black bean, gold leaf; herring egg; baby sardine; prawn simmered in bonito stock base, shimmered sea kelp, herring; carrot, radish and white fish; halibut; kinkan citrus; Kuwai water chestnut; squid, sea cucumber ovary.

The main Japanese wine region is the Yamanashi Prefecture, some 100 km west of Tokyo, surrounded by mountains (including Mount Fuji). 40% of Japanís domestic wine production comes from the regionís 80 wineries (although this may be taking into account wines made from imported musts), and Yamanashi has 95% of the Koshu plantings in the country, which total 480 hectares.

Most of the vineyards are trellised with overhead pergolas, which are ideal for producing high yields of good looking bunches of grapes, which is not optimal for wine quality. In 2004, DNA analysis showed that while Koshu is not actually a Vitis vinifera (the true winemaking grape vine species) variety, it is most likely an interspecific hybrid with some V. vinifera in the mix.

Assortment of raw fish

We tried 14 different Koshus, and my notes are below. The wines, on the whole, were bright, fresh and attractive, and a good foil for Japanese food. Prices (retail) would be £8Ė16 in the UK. A comment on closures: these wines were all cork sealed, but a high number of bottles brought to the tasting showed cork taint. If Koshu wineries insist on using natural cork, they need to screen each batch and reject those than show evidence of faultiness, because they are clearly being sent some problematic corks. They should consider various alternative options, such as Diam, good quality synthetic corks, or screwcaps, which are taint free.  

Grilled sea bream, miso yuuan


Grace Winery Kayagatake 2008
Very bright, fresh and lemony with high acidity, and some subtle nuttiness. The dominant theme here is fresh lemony fruit. Taut and intense; a little Chablis-like. 88/100

Lumiere Koshu Sur Lie 2008
This estate is trying to work organically, and has 2.5 ha of vineyards. Distinctly mineral and nutty with real precision and high acidity. Thereís a soy sauce edge to the nose which is savoury and quite distinctive. 87/100

Alps Koshu 2008
This winery is trying not to use sulfur dioxide. Nicely fruity with notes of lemons, nuts and herbs. Itís let down by just a hint of mustiness in the background. 80/100

Yamanashi Sol Lucet Koshu 2009 (tank sample)
Distinctive mineralic, lemony nose with a hint of talcum powder. Very pure, crisp clean palate with nice acidity. 87/100

Sadoya Koshu 2009 (tank sample)
Just a hint of reduction on the nose. The palate has some matchstick notes adding minerality to the tight, crisp, fresh palate. Citrussy and bright but not terribly clean. 82/100

Diamond Winery Chanter Y, A Amarillo 2008
Nice richness here: lovely fresh, minerally fruit with citrus pith notes. Very fresh and bright with a fresh spiciness on the finish. Lovely stuff: very mineral. 90/100

Marufuji Rubaiyat Koshu Sur Lie 2008
Very focused, clean, pure and taut with nicely mineral fruit and high acidity. Quite neutral in style, but with some attractive mineral notes. 88/100

Haramo Vintage Koshu 2009 (tank sample)
Quite rich with some peachy melon notes as well as fresh bright fruit. Lovely freshness and minerality but also some attractive fruit. Very appealing. 90/100

Marquis Koshu 2009 (tank sample)
Nice pure fruit here with a lovely lemony edge to the fresh but nicely textured fruit. Precise and well balanced with real personality, and a hint of sweetness to the fruit. 89/100

Soryu Koshu Traditional Rich Taste 2008
Very attractive bright focused fruit. Crisp and quite mineral with nice acidity. 86/100

Katsunuma Jyozo Arugabranca Isehara 2009 (tank sample)
Very fruity, grassy and bright. Quite Sauvignon-like. Crisp and expressive with nice purity. 88/100

Yamato Madoromi 2009 (cask sample)
This is fermented in barriques. Very nice bright, taut lemony fruit with real precision. Crisp and fresh with good acidity. The oak merely adds some savoury, spicy notes. 87/100

Shirayuri LíOrient Barrel Fermented 2008
This spends 6 months in new French oak. Sweet vanilla and coconut edge to the bright fruit. Very appealing but marked by oak. 85/100

Suntory Tomi no oka Winery Koshu Special Cuvee Barrel Fermented 2007
This has a distinctive herbal edge with some vanilla notes as well as fresh fruit. The oak works well: a harmonious wine. 87/100

Wines tasted as 1/10  
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