The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall – Alternative wine country: Japan

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The juicy bits
With a production history dating back to the 19th century, the Land of the Rising Sun is recognised as the most advanced Asian winemaking nation. With a longstanding political relationship with France, the early apprentice winemakers of Japan were invited to the great French vine growing regions to learn and observe the Old World masters at work. Viticulturally, Japan offers diverse microclimates that allow winemakers to experiment with a range of styles and varietals. The development of wine production in the nation has diversified the country’s alcoholic offerings and forced certain agricultural groups to shift from mass commercialisation towards a focus on achieving quality in their raw produce. As with so many things in Japan, their meticulous approach to life is evident in their vineyard management programmes and harvesting techniques. 

The winemakers in the country are mostly trained in countries like France, New Zealand, Australia, and USA. There are some wine science programmes offered in Japan, but it still seems to be more prestigious to become qualified at traditional universities. The available machinery, latest technology and knowledge however, have put the Japanese on a level playing level with the rest of the world. The future is incredibly exciting for this surging group of vintners as they are out to prove a point with the application of ground-breaking technology and aren’t afraid to adopt ancient methods more commonly seen in Eastern European countries. 
Main red grapes: Muscat Bailey-A, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon. 
Main white grapes: Koshu, chardonnay, Kerner.

Wine regions of the country:
Hokkaido The second largest island in the archipelago, Hokkaido is less humid and cooler than the rest of the country. It also has the largest output of grapes for winemaking in Japan.

Yamanashi Known as the Kingdom of Fruit, this prefecture accounts for 40 percent of Japanese wine production. There are more than 80 wineries in Yamanashi with Koshu the main varietal.

Nagano Growers here take advantage of the high elevation and climate that make for delicious flavours. The low annual precipitation creates a relatively high sugar content in the grapes – perfect for wine making.

Yamagata Famous for its hot summers and long snowy winters, Yamagata has 12 wineries and is considered one of the three major wine producing districts in Japan. 

Recommendations
Grace Wines, Gris de Gris Koshu, Yamanashi, Japan 2014
Pair with a butter pan-fried sole fillet with a drizzle of lemon juice. $240. Available at The Flying Winemaker, 604-605 Yu Yuet Lai Bldg, 43-55 Wyndham St, Central, 2522 2187; flyingwinemaker.asia.

Chateau Mercian Ensemble Aiakane, Merlot and Muscat Bailey-A, Nagano, Japan 2013
Pair with braised ox tail in white wine, tomato paste and paprika. $198. Available at World Wine, 13/F, Yue On Commercial Bldg, 385-387 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai, 3154 9570; wineworld.com.hk

Follow Eddie on Twitter @eddiewinemaker

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