Japan,  Yamanashi

Koshu: A Flight of Styles

Yamanshi wine tasting line up

I recently tasted three 100% koshu varietal wines from Yamanashi prefecture each made in a different style. Here are my notes:

Sur Lie Koshu

“Sur lie” is a French term meaning “on the lees.” It refers to the predominantly white winemaking technique of allowing the wine to remain in contact with lees, or dead yeast cells, for a period of time after fermentation finishes. The purpose is to increase a wine’s flavour and texture.

This technique is increasingly used in making koshu wine. Koshu can sometimes lack flavor and body and the sur lie gives it some complexity and texture–a little extra oomph.

The wine I tried is Rubaiyat Koshu Sur Lie 2016 from Marufuji Winery in Yamanashi (labelled 1 in photo):

Appearance: Pale lemon color
Nose: Medium intensity aromas of pear and apricot with some bread or dough
Palate: Dry, medium acidity, shows some body and alcohol (12.5%) with a nice medium length finish
Price: JPY 1,944

Fresh and Fruity Koshu

Koshu produces fresh and fruity wines. While it was traditionally made into a sweet wine, winemakers are increasingly experimenting making dry styles that still draw out the grape’s natural apple and pear aromas and flavors with a crisper finish.

The wine I tried is La Florette Hanamizuki Blanc 2017 from Okunata Winery in Yamanashi (labelled 2 in photo):

Appearance: Hazy pale lemon (this may have fermented a bit in the bottle)
Nose: Orange, pear, apricot
Palate: Dry, good acid balanced against body and alcohol (11.5%) with a medium length finish.
Price:  JPY 2,160

Oaked Koshu

Some would say that koshu’s fresh and fruity quality makes it not suitable to fermenting let alone maturing in oak barrels. However, some winemakers are experimenting making the wine in small oak barrels. And some are producing good results such as the Dou or Tao (I am not sure if the winery goes with the Japanese or Chinese reading–either way the character means “the way”) 2017 from Gomi Winery (labelled 3 in the photo):

Appearance: Pale lemon
Nose: Pear, brioche, vanilla, perfume
Palate: Dry with good acidity balanced against body and alcohol (12.5%) and a longer finish than the other two wines
Price: JPY 2,808

This tasting shows that koshu is not just a clean fruity wine. Instead, it can be made in a variety of styles without losing its character. When done right, it makes a subtly expressive wine–I am starting to see what the international fuss is about.

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