[From February Issue 2012]
Up until recently the majority of Japanese wines were made for domestic consumption only. However, a long-term non-Japanese resident of Japan has changed all that. American Ernest SINGER, president of wine importer Millesimes Inc., has introduced Japanese wine to the international market by creating Shizen, a white wine made from the domestic Koshu grape.
“I would say it has flavors and fragrances that are unique to Japanese cuisine and so the wine is basically made to go with sashimi. If you’re making wine for Japanese food, it needs to be a velvet that shows off the diamonds, not something that competes with it,” explaines Singer.
Back in 2003 Singer flew internationally famous winemaker Denis DUBOURDIEU into Japan to act as consultant winemaker for the Japan Wine Project. Though at that time a lot of wine was made in Japan with the Koshu grape, the standard to which these wines were made was rather low with many winemakers guilty of either adding alcohol or sugar to hide poor quality. Dubourdieu created a light citrus flavored wine that was a great match for sushi. “Like someone discovering the sea for the first time. This is a legendary wine that was sleeping, and I woke it up,” explained Dubourdieu.
Singer took the first vintage of wine to world famous wine critic Robert PARKER to find out his opinion. Parker, who usually prefers a heavier wine style and is famously hard to please, gave the wine a score of 87/88 out of 100 and commented that the wine had great potential for improvement.
Following four years hard work, in 2008 Singer’s Shizen was the first Japanese wine to receive approval for sale in Europe. After Singer gained approval for his wine, other Koshu winemakers followed his example and now three other Japanese wineries have begun to export their wines to Europe.
Wine expert Lynne SHERRIFF is consultant to Koshu of Japan, an organization of 15 Koshu wineries that promotes the wine overseas, “In the last four to five years, the quality has improved dramatically, with the result that some Koshu wines entering international competitions have picked up medals.”
Grace Winery in Yamanashi, for example, now sells its wines to Zuma, an exclusive seafood restaurant in London. The winery has been in the Misawa family for four generations and is currently run by MISAWA Shigekazu. His daughter MISAWA Ayana is chief winemaker and, learning from Singer, has improved winemaking techniques by adopting the European method of training the vines upwards, instead of growing them on trellis, which used to be the method traditionally used in Japan.
As Japanese food becomes more and more popular worldwide, there is a growing demand for a wine that matches the cuisine’s delicate flavors. Because of this, Koshu’s popularity looks set to grow.