Koshu: the go-to grape for Japanese food

Exciting things are happening in Japanese winemaking, especially when it comes to the Koshu grape, which is being made into expressions that uniquely complement the country’s raw-fish dishes. By Patrick Schmitt MW.

Koshu growing at Suntory’s Tomi no Oka winery in Yamanashi

For any newcomer to a crowded international wine market, speedy success is predicated on two things: simplicity and inimitability. The former makes you memorable, and the latter makes you necessary. It’s why Argentine Malbec has ploughed its way into seemingly saturated wine-loving nations. Or, predating that, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Both bring something uncomplicated that, stylistically at least, hasn’t been seen before or, despite attempts at copying, since.

I mention both of these examples because we have a new one breaking into the global wine scene that offers a similarly strong combination. It is the unforgettable and unique union of the fast-developing Japanese wine industry and the little-known Koshu grape. Japanese Koshu is more exotic than the two examples mentioned, because wine consumers in the UK and the US, have, for the most part, tried neither the output of Japan’s vineyards nor the Koshu grape. Both are novelties. Put them together, and they are an exciting proposition – and here’s why.

The first reason relates to the rapid emergence of Japan’s domestic wine industry. Although the country has been producing wine for almost 150 years, it is only recently that the nation has started to develop exports, a decision prompted by a new pride in its own wines, following fresh rules that came into effect last month, stipulating that Japanese wine must come from grapes grown in Japan (much of the wine production in the country employs imported grapes or must, which, before the new laws, could be labelled as Japanese).

While Japan works with a number of grape varieties, from widely planted hybrid red grape Muscat Bailey A to international varieties such as Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, and in whites, increasing amounts of very good Chardonnay, it is the Koshu grape that’s become the primary focus for Japanese vignerons looking to stand out in the market at home and abroad.

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