A taste of Japan

As mentioned before in these pages, I have a fascination for trying unusual wines. Sometimes that is a wine grown and made in an unlikely place, or a wine made from a grape variety that is new to me.

Well, recently I really hit the jackpot! I have long looked at the lists of wine producing countries and wondered; I have had Israeli, Zimbabwean, Bolivian, Peruvian, Texan, Virginian, Dutch, Chinese, Turkish and East German wine, among other oddities, but had never seen, let alone tried a Japanese wine.

Thanks to one of my students giving me a bottle to taste that has now been rectified.

2008koshusurlieRubaiyat Kôshu Sur Lie 2007

Marufuji Winery, Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

This was an exciting voyage of discovery, I had absolutely no idea what this would be like – I had never even heard of the grape before.

I can actually sum the wine up in one word – delicate.

The colour is amazingly pale with just the viscosity ensuring that you cannot mistake it for water. It actually resembles the syrup in a can of fruit.

The aroma is very subtle, fresh and gentle with hints of pear and just a waft of aromatics in the background, like a tinned fruit salad.

The palate is surprisingly tasty compared to the nose and has a gently succulent texture, but it is light in flavour – still very fresh with a gentle pear and melon-like character.

Quite low acidity makes it feel soft in the mouth, not flabby, but decidedly not crisp either, although it is dry. The flavours are all of fruit or fruit juice really, it is almost impossible to believe this is wine with 12.5% alcohol, it tastes so like a pear and melon juice blend. There is touch of ‘ash-like’ taste in the mouth which I take to be the complexity of lees ageing, this is the only characteristic that is not directly fruit-like. The finish is pretty long, leaving a melon-like flavour lingering in the mouth.

Of all the wines that I have ever tasted this is the most like fruit, it is as though the fermentation process has left the raw materials untouched.

This is not a bad wine by any means, just very interestingly different and hard to taste – I suspect many people would like its delicacy with Sushi, personally I prefer more acidity. It is a well made wine, clean and bright, but to me it lacks character – 85 points.

Map of Japan - click for a larger image

The Marufuji Winery is situated in the major concentration of vineyards and wineries, in Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture just north of Mount Fuji. They have been in operation since 1890 and name this wine, their top white, after the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Grapes have been grown here for centuries, indeed the Kôshu grape was brought to Japan from the Middle East, via China and the Silk Route as long ago as the eighth century. However for most of that time it has been an eating grape, which is certainly what it tastes like on this showing. Wine production only really got going from the late nineteenth century when Japan started opening up to European and American influences. Even today less than 10% of grape production is for wine and the great majority of this is hardy hybrid varieties that can cope with the humid climate.

Kôshu has been produced as a single varietal only for the last ten years when it was realised that this could be the signature grape for the whole industry. Certainly it seems to be very Japanese to me, it is subtle and delicate and well made and could partner the similarly subtle cuisine very well.

This was an exciting wine to have tried and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity.

The winery can be contacted via: www.rubaiyat.jp

6 thoughts on “A taste of Japan

  1. Q, interesting article. I’ll look out for it, although I don’t think it’s a wine for me. The “grapeiness” is may be too much like grape juice for me. Any idea where their wine makers are from?

  2. Thanks Mark, it was an interesting wine, but not for me either really. Well made though and nothing wrong with it at all. Not sure it was grapey, it didn’t have enough flavour to be grapey, but it was heading in that direction with more restrained melon-like notes.

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