Some wines can, with a little exposure and patience, change, surprise and delight. Japanese wine today is certainly surprising and delighting western, notably United Kingdom, critics and other wine industry professionals. For example, Japanese wine made from Koshu grapes has received international recognition. Several of these wines, such as those from Grace Winery in Yamanashi prefecture, have won awards at global competitions. There are also an increasing number of masters of wine and critics visiting Japanese wine regions and writing back home about their finds. In March 2018, Jamie Goode, the journalists behind the Wine Anorak blog, visited Nagano prefecture. He wrote comprehensively about the wineries he visited and offered mostly positive tasting notes on a number of wines. Patrick Schmitt MW also recently visited the major wine producing areas of Japan and wrote a glowing piece for The Drinks Business.
In The Drinks Business piece, Schmitt argues that foreign recognition is important as “[t]he Japanese will look more favourably on a domestically made wine if it has been critically acclaimed abroad.” This is true and a consumer may try a wine because it received an award. But if they do not like it, they will not buy it again. What sommeliers, critics and other wine professionals like is not always what your consumer (average or more discerning in wine) likes and/ or is willing to pay for. To understand where Japanese wine can go, we need to know what the people who would buy them think about them.
I had the occasion to find out at a tasting of Nagano wine that I helped host in Tokyo. The tasting included wines from across Nagano that varied by style, grape and price point. The list is at the end of this post and is impressive. There were a number of unique and well-made wines and a few delicious wines–all that I would be happy to purchase. The guests, who were consumers and not professionals, seemed to agree with me and overwhelmingly said that they enjoyed the wines. One woman came up to me during the event and said that she was happy to have had the opportunity to try so many good wines and that her view of Japanese wines had changed. Some asked where they could purchase the wines.
This is outstanding and promising for the Japanese wine industry–dare I say more than any critic’s review.
Nagano Tasting Wine List:
Musee du Vin Zenkoji Ryugan 2017, Alps Wine
Chateau Mercian Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Funky Chateau Strate Casse 2015
Chateau Sun Sun Chardonnay 2015, Sun Sun Winery
Sakura Sakura 2016 Barbera, Cantina Riezo
Alps Musee du Vin Black Queen 2017
Autumn Colors Rouge 2017, Kido Winery
Obuse Winery Murasaki Quartre de L’Est 2014
Rue de Vin Merlot 2016
Chateau Sun Sun Merlot 2015, Sun Sun Winery
Solaris Shinshu Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Manns Wines