North Eastern Japan has been making wine for longer than you would expect and it is pretty interesting stuff.
I recently had the chance to attend a tasting of wines from North Eastern Japan. North Eastern Japan is the top part of Honshu, the main island in Japan. It covers six prefectures: Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Miyazaki, Yamagata and Fukushima. All six prefectures produce wine.
What I found most surprising is that North Eastern Japan has produced wine for quite some time…
Yamagata in particular has historically been a center for fruit cultivation. According to material from the tasting, there are stone carvings indicating that people in the area cultivated Koshu seeds starting from around 300 years ago! When Japan opened to the West in the late 1800s, traders brought in European grape varieties and Yamagata made its first wine around 1892. Later, from around 1907, grape growers in the area adopted American varieties such as Delaware and Campbell Early because those are easier to grow. They didn’t produce great wines though…
Today, North Eastern Japanese wine is made mainly from Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling. This reflects current consumer preference for international varieties. Wine is also made from a Japanese variety called Muscat Bailey A. However, from around 1982, production has declined, and North Eastern Japanese wine now makes up about 20% of Japan’s total wine production.
We tasted the six wines shown below:
- Takeda Winery Sans Soufre Blanc 2018 (Yamagata)
- Satsukinagane Budou En Riesling Lion 2017 (Iwate)
- Takehata Kamiwada Pinot Blanc 2016 (Yamagata)
- Shimokita Wain Ryo Pinot Noir 2016 (Aomori)
- Tokito Shokoshi 2016 (Akita)
- Silver Cabernet Franc 2013 (Iwate)
I really enjoyed the Satsukinagane Budou En Riesling Lion from Iwate. It had this bitter minerality. I am told this is because Iwate prefecture does not have volcanoes like the rest of North Eastern Japan (or Japan for that matter). Its soil is old and produces a different mineral sensation than wines made from newer soil.
It is hard to fine North Eastern Japanese wine in Tokyo let alone outside Japan. But if you do find some, I recommend giving it a try.