Ever heard of Koshu? Neither did I. Yet it’s the most famous wine from Japan if we do not count ricewine (saké) as a real wine.* The history of growing table grapes in Japan goes back long ago, but it wasn’t until the 80’s – when their wine consumption doubled – that the Japanese wine industry started to flourish. Nowadays, wine is grown in most areas in Japan.
Tablegrape going winegrape
The favourite wine of many Japanese – and foreign – people is Koshu. The wine is made from the pink tablegrape that carries the same name. These were previously imported via the Silk Route from Europe, but are nowadays considered as a Japanese grape variety. The name Koshu is the former name of the wine region Yamanashi, where 95% of all Koshu grapes are grown. Yamanashi is located south-west of Tokyo, near Mount Fuji. The Japanese climate is not ideal for viniculture, but due to its thick skin, Koshu is fairly resistant to disease.
Although Koshu is used for the production of wine, it’s actually a tablegrape variety. Tablegrapes are grapes that one could eat, vinegrapes are not as tasty but better suited for the production of wine. (Read this post at WineFolly.com to learn more about the difference between tablegrapes and vinegrapes). In contrast to the vertical trellises that are typically used for wine grape growing, Koshu is – like most tablegrapes – planted using the the pergola trellising system. With this system, the grapes hang at the height of 1.5 to 2 meters. The photo’s above show both systems: at the left a photo of our own vineyard with the vertical trelisses (notice our dog Kaya running in between the vines 🙂 ), at the right a photo of another vineyard with pergola trellises (source photo).
What did I think of Koshu?
We were out for dinner in Kyoto when I noticed some local wines on the menu – of course I had to try one of those! It became a glass of Chateaux Mercian Ensemble Moegi Koshu. The wine had a pale colour and a subtle fruity smell. It was a very light wine, easy to drink, with a fresh taste due to some acidity. I can imagine this wine to be a good pairing for the Japanese cuisine. I combined it with salmon tartar but it would also make a great combination with sushi and seafood.
Does ricewine count as ‘real’ wine?
* While writing this blogpost, the question arose whether ricewine may of may not be counted as a ‘real’ wine. When we talk about wine, we usually refer to the product made from grapes, but I’ve also come across wines made of other fruits. After some research, I realized that definitions differ across the world. In the United States, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau defines wine as: “made from grapes, other fruit (including berries), or other suitable agricultural products”. The European Union wine regulations, on the other hand, defines wine as: “the product obtained exclusively from the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether or not crushed, or of grape must”. I’ve also digged up my WSET study book which stated that: “wine is made from the fruits of a grapevine”.
I dediced to not count ricewine as a wine, thus enabling myself to market Koshu as the most famous wine of Japan 🙂