The Japanese grape wine may not be considered one of Japan’s finest achievements compared to their cuisine, technology and culture. You can find their sweet grape wines at any convenient store throughout the country. It is always inexpensive, yet popular with those who enjoy it. However, since the 1970s the Japanese have enjoyed imported wines from Europe and California over their homegrown wines. Starting in the mid-1990s Japan’s domestic wines were declining. A group of Japanese winemakers decided to start making better wines with koshu, the native grapes of Japan. The next step is to take it globally and breakthrough the international wine market.
Koshu Grapes of Japan
During the Silk Road period when Buddhism started spreading into Japan the koshu grapes were introduced in Katsunuma. They took hold there, because of its idyllic environment for growing grapes. It is located in Yamanashi Prefecture near Mt. Fuji. Katsunuma is the viniculture capital of Japan.
Serious Japanese wine drinkers have shunned koshu wines due to its 150-year tradition. Grape growers would take damaged and rotten fruits by making wine and adding heavy amounts of sugar. Some of these wines are even added with cheap imported grape juice. Not only that, one of Japan’s biggest drinks companies, Mercian, took fine Japanese wine by mixing it with imported wines. This practice ended in 2002.
Japan Gets Serious with Wine
Ernest Singer, a wine importer living in Tokyo, saw great potential for koshu. Almost ten years ago he tried an experimental dry white wine made from koshu. This would be a perfect match for Japanese cuisine due to this experimental wine’s light and crisp subtle tastes of citrus. It even has potential to be the first Asian wine to become internationally recognized. Both Mr. Singer and a number of family-owned Japanese wineries have come together to work under the name of Koshu of Japan.
Their goal is to produce a wine made exclusively of koshu grapes for the world market. Even a fourth-generation owner of Grace Wine in Japan states two-thirds of the wine made in Japan comes from koshu. It is time to make it better. The problem with this new grape wine made of 100% koshu it’s being imported as a test to Europe and New York. Unfortunately it is a hard sell as no one has heard of it.
Japanese Wine and Sushi
Koshu wine fruit flavors may not be suitable for Europeans, but it is perfect for the Japanese as these wines are not expensive there. They are a perfect match for sushi. Kunio Naito, who is manager of the wine shop in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district, Cave de Relax, stocks over a 150 Japanese wines. Suntory, another large drinks company in Japan, is credited with manufacturing the first popular wine consisting of grape juice, alcohol, other flavorings and sugar.
Naito stated when he goes to Europe, especially in the wine-producing countries, he goes to sushi bars while patrons have a glass of wine with their sushi. Japan is the only country not to have wine in a sushi restaurant. If you’re in Tokyo come visit Cave de Relax for some premium Japanese wine such as:
Rubaiyat Koshu Sur Lie 2007 – Comes from one of the oldest wineries in Japan, the Marufuji family. This 100% Koshu grape wine is dry, fresh and fruity. Price is 1,650 Yen.
Grace Gris de Koshu 2006 – It is stronger than your average Koshu due to its use of the skin from the Koshu grape. This is what gives it a grey coloring, plus an added kick of tannin and acidity. 1,600 Yen.
Obuse Winery Sogga Pere et Fils Ordinaire Merlot 2005 – The owner, Akihito Sogga, has reached cult status with his passion for winemaking. His wines always sell out. The Obuse winery is in Nagano. 2,000 Yen.
Slowly but surely you may find a Japanese grape wine at a local wine shop near you. It’s just a matter of time.
Corie Brown, “Japanese Wineries Betting on a Reviled Grape”, The New York Times.com
Aruga Branca – Koshu, Katsunuma Winery.com
Felicity Hughes, “Japanese wine: unadulterated and ready to go abroad”, The Japan Times Online