Koshu of Japan wine tasting and Master class with Jancis Robinson, Thursday 20th January 2011

20th Jan 2011

So my first trade tasting of the year was with a grape I had not heard of until last year, and certainly had never tasted until today. Koshu which now is indigenous to Japan was brought forth last year into the UK when Jancis Robinson MW and Lynne Sherriff MW underwent a tasting with several of the main producers. Both having been out to Japan on several occasions previously and it is rare to see Jancis Robinson at a small trade tasting such as this, so its impact must have been impressive. Needless to say, when I was offered a seat to attend her (Jancis’s) master class on Koshu I jumped at the chance.

There are about 80 wineries currently producing from about 480 hectares of commercial Koshu at present and we had the opportunity to try from 14 different estates. Whilst there is still yet to be conclusive DNA testing on this grape to ascertain is origins, the general consensus from experts is that it is likely to have relations with Sauvignon Blanc, and is thought to have been introduced to Asia on the silk trails over 1000 years ago, with records showing wine making as far back as 1592. The grape itself is fairly unique in that it offers pale pink skin with large berries and thick skins and even 100 years ago was associated with table grapes rather than with the delicate art of making wine.

The main wine growing area is in Yamanshi Prefecture, about 30 minutes from Tokyo and offers the mighty Mount Fuji as its backdrop. The climate however, is very difficult, with typical rainfall per year in excess of 800mm (general agreed limit is 500mm) as the area is formed in a basin at the foot of this mountain, conditions become quite humid. The grape is, as it has had to be, become very resilient to the harsh climate but is prone to colure so pruning at the flowing stage is essential.

It was only last year that the EU permitted the export of Koshu into EU countries which is why we are just hearing about it. It has very limited representation into the UK, with about 2000 bottles hopefully being consumed in 2011, and they are projected a growth to 10,000 bottles within a couple of years.

The grape itself produces a very neutral wine, both in colour, almost water white, and in aroma and flavour characteristics. But like a carefully made Muscadet or Pinot Gris, its delicacy is its charm not its downfall and I would imagine that at our tasting we were picked the most distinctive of those producing at present.

I had the opportunity to try a few wines before the master class and so I really get to grips with this intriguing wine. We only really have 2 vintages to compare to, the 2009 and the 2010 and it seems the weather does make quite an impact on the fruit character of the wine, a dent that is sorely missed as you taste more and more and realise the fruit is part of this wine you long for. The 2009 was a very ripe and hot year and on the wine you were tasting more savoury notes and the distinctive lime skin acidity that embraces all its wines, the 2010 offered a more perfumed character on the nose and the best examples illustrated its distinctive lime skin acidity but offered pear flesh flavours with hints of lycee and orange blossom perfume. Original features of this wine are its low residual sugar and low alcohol. It is a very special wine and I agree with Jancis that this is a wine unlikely to reach the mass retail market and any point. With a retail price point in excess of £20, it is not cheap and may well be too light for some. However, I found its delicate character and subtle complexities to be exciting and refreshing. To find a wine that is light, low in alcohol and goes great with fish is not easy and one as unique as this will certainly offer a great selling point in many good restaurants.


Further reading