Everything you need to know about Koshu from Japan

If you like delicate wines, and you’re searching for the perfect partner for raw-fish dishes, then read our guide to Koshu – a grape from Japan that’s ideal for sushi.

Koshu is like a pinkier Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer

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.

Why? Because Koshu is distinctive, uniquely Japanese, and a brilliant wine match for the flavours in Japanese cuisine, from the subtle characters of sea bass sashimi to the strong, umami flavours found in sea urchin.

And, if you want to test this out for yourself, come to a masterclass this Monday, at London’s Asia House, to see how a range of Koshus complements Japanese food, from salmon nigiri to scallop sashimi, beef teriyaki to pickled ginger – or, just to show Koshu’s versatility, a spoon of the finest Caspian Caviar.

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So where does Koshu come from?

Koshu is believed to have arrived in Japan via the Silk Road from the Caucasus around 1,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the grape was used to make wine – it had previously been grown for eating.

But the use of Koshu is inextricably linked to the birth of the Japanese wine industry, because the country’s first bottles of wine were made with the grape, and hailed from the city of Kofu – in the heart of the Yamanashi wine region, where to this day, 95% of all Koshu is grown.

What is Koshu?

It is a hybrid grape, believed to have originated naturally by a crossing of the European Vitis vinifera and an Asian Vitis species – although Koshu contains over 70% of the former.

It excels in Japan’s humid conditions, due to its naturally thick-skins, and produces wines of finesse. In 2009, Koshu of Japan was founded to champion the grape, and in 2013 it was recognised by the OIV, adding greater impetus to Japanese wine producers to promote the variety more widely.

What does it look like?

There is something so distinctly Japanese about the way Koshu looks. With beautiful deep-pink berries, it complements the slightly paler shades of the cherry blossoms that Japan is so famous for. In essence, Koshu’s colouring is similar to Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer, albeit with a slightly deeper pink.

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