Japanese Wine: A Comprehensive Overview

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History of Japanese Wine

Japan is an East Asian Island country, located in the northwest Pacific Ocean and borders around the west by the Sea of Japan. Japan is known for its production of wine, which has been in existence for a very long time. Though cultivation and viticulture of grapes for normal consumption has been a part of Japan, the domestic production of wine began in the 19th century, after the adoption of Western culture and during the Meji restoration.

The 2017 Japan National Tax Agency’s research data shows that about 382,000 kiloliters of wine were bought in Japan, with two-thirds of it being important wine. Out of the 102,000 kiloliters of wine produced domestically that year, only about a fifth came from locally grown and harvested grapes, and about 58 kiloliters of Japanese wine was exported. The main province where winemaking is most notable is the Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, which produces about a third of local wines.

It is said that the growing of grapes in Japan started in 718 AD, in Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture. The earliest documentation of wine consumption in Japan was from the 16th century, with the coming in of Jesuit missionaries from Portugal. The feudal lords of Kyūshū were given wine gifts by Saint Francis Xavier, and other missionaries went on the practice. This resulted in locals developing taste for wine and importing them regularly. The Portuguese wine was called Chintashu, meaning red liquor.

Meiji Era

A 1869 report by Adams, the Secretary to the British Legation in Yedo, narrates the grape planting processes being used in Koshu, Yamanashi. It was later in 1873 that comprehensive reports on European wine culture were made public, by the members of the Iwakura Mission, which promoted local wine production. The original attempt to produce locally made wine, using sake brewing materials primarily, was embarked by Hironori Yamada and Norihisa Takuma, in Yamanashi, 1875. Later in 1877, a newly created winery called Dai-Nihon Yamanashi Budoshu was made. Masanari Takano and Ryuken Tsuchiya were sent to Troyes, the Champagne province of France to acquire knowledge on viticulture and wine production. The cultivation of European grapes began, but the production was abandoned in 1884 when a Phylloxera outbreak started.

Japanese Wine In The 20th century

In many areas, a few numbers of viticulturists were available, but it was after World War II that the winemaking industry began to thrive. Though, comparing the promotion of imported wines and the creation of low-cost retail wines from the imported grapes, that we’re locally grown and harvested wine still stayed at an early phase of development.

In the domestic production of Japanese wine, acidity and astringency tastes were not originally accepted, and honey was added to lessen the flavor. The founder of Suntory beverages empire, Shinjiro Torii, introduced Red Sun Port Wine in 1907. He later did an advertising campaign that had images of nudity and led to some scandals, which in turn provoked a great boost in sales. The tradition of sweetened, medicinal, and fortified wines persisted until around the 1970s when only a small fraction of people imported and consumed European wine.

In the 1970s and 80s, the mastery level of winemaking increased rapidly and the investment in imported and local wine grew drastically. Professionals began to call their storages ” wineries” and commenced the imitation of the Western technique of hedging and cultivation of grapes that were insect resistant. Domestic wineries then began to concentrate on manufacturing excellent wines made from locally cultivated grapes. The demand for organic wine production was also on the high by Japanese consumers.

Around the 1990s and 2000s, there was a reduction in imported wine taxes and the modification of Japanese food culture, which increased the rate of wine consumption. In 1995, the title of Meillieur Sommelier du Monde was awarded to Shinya Tasaki, making him the first Japanese to receive it. This award helped to increase public awareness of wine production. The media further focused its attention on the positive effects of tannins and the local government oversaw actions to promote the production of high-quality wine, which contributed to the immense expansion of the industry. Finally, from 2002, winemakers focused on producing Japanese wines using 100% Japanese grapes only.

What Sets Japanese Wine Apart from Other Wine Regions?

Japanese wine is very different from other wines because it is produced using native grapes strictly. This wine is known for its diversity and variety of flavors including Koshu and Delaware. In the year 1980 when European grapes like the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot arrived in Japan, the arrival of these new varieties, benefitted the wine industry of Japan boosting it to new heights. Currently, the export of Japans wine has grown exponentially. Their wines are extremely popular because of their smooth and unique flavors. Also, the Japan Winery Award began to use star classification to rank various wineries and their wines in 2018.

Notable Japanese Wines To Try

Here’s a list of top-quality Japanese wines that are in high demand:

1. Suntory Red wine

This wine is said to be the best in Japan, as it is made without any artificial additives. It is very easy to drink and tastes as sweet as the grapes from which it is made from. The wine is a bit strong, but it can be consumed with normal meals and at any time of the day. Suntory Red wine has a delicious aroma and has a smooth texture, it gives some form of mental peace when consumed. During the time of the day, enjoy a glass of wine, and give yourself some mental peace and time to relax with this best Japanese wine.

2. Lumiére Sparkling Koshu 2016

This wine is made using Koshu grapes and is quite popular for its sour, yet refreshing taste. It is a sparkling wine without a sweet taste and is quite excellent for raising a toast. Joshua Sparkling wine is quite carbonated and highly acidic, the subtle citrus taste makes it a great wine choice.

3. Premium Koshu 2016

If you have tasted Japanese white wine before, then you have to give Premium Koshu wine a try. This wine has a light refreshing taste with a slight mint and apple flavor. It is very easy to consume, making it the right drink for creamy foods. This wine can be enjoyed chilled, as it’s suitable for a hot summer night.

4. Kurambon Wine

This wine is the best choice for amateur wine drinkers. It was a pleasantly rich taste and a fruity fragrance, with a tiny whiff of citrus. It was made using Koshu grapes, which leaves a fresh aftertaste in your mouth, after consumption.

5. Beringer Red Wine

A great wine for people who don’t have a favorite wine yet, the Beringer Red Wine has also bagged the award for “Wine of the year”, because of its excellent taste. It was made using the traditional wine production process and it is famous for its red color. This wine can be used for other cooking purposes, as the grapes are cultivated in California. It has a sweet and sour taste and can be greatly enjoyed with friends and family.

6. Yoshiki Red Wine

If you plan to invest in red wine, this wine will be a great option. Yoshiki red wine is known for its delicious taste, and it never fails to leave a unique taste in your mouth. Upon first consumption, it can be quite acidic, but gradually it’ll ease up and flow smoothly. With its great aroma and taste, it can be served with meals like lamb and beef. Known as one of the most popular wines in Japan, it comes with a coffee, vanilla, and chocolate flavor, to bring out the uniqueness of the wine. Yoshiki Red wine has an alcoholic content of 13.5%, with its grapes cultivated from California.

7. Provetto Brut

This is a white wine that is made from the best quality of Spanish grapes that are fully ripe. This sparkling wine has a citric and sweet taste which is unforgettable. It tastes naturally in your mouth, leaving you with a delicious feeling. The appearance of fizz and bubble gives it an exotic look and it can be consumed at any time of the day. It is also perfect for special celebrations, as it has a balanced level of acidity, which helps retain its pleasant texture.

8. Santa Helena Alpaca Wine with Green Herbs

This wine is quite unique on its own. It is a fruit wine combined with herbs and spices. It is an excellent Caramel flavored Japanese wine with a rich, exotic taste, and highly nutritious herbs and spices. The temperature of the environment influences the ripening of the fruits greatly. It thrives best in cold temperatures and is suitable for consumption at any time of the day. You can combine it with any meal and allow your taste buds to be surprised.

Difference Between Japanese Wine and Domestic Wine

Wine is a very expressive drink. It teaches us about the culture and climate of a place. Many wine-producing countries are very personal about how their wines are produced. Countries like Italy, France, Spain, and Germany can be found in this category. Many countries modify their production areas and name their different varieties of grape, so they can preserve the quality of their wine. For years, the naming of domestic wines in Japan was not solid. Even though it was called domestic wine, most of them were produced by fermenting imported grapes. There were also different domestic Japanese wines that were packaged using imported bottles. This led to general confusion about what domestic wine really was.

In 2018 a law enforced that the wines should be called Japanese wine. Now any wine that is tagged Japanese wine, the grapes must be cultivated and fermented in Japan. Apart from this, the label also shows the year when the grapes were harvested and the region. You will also find the variety of grapes that were used to produce the wine.

Varieties of Japanese Grapes

Japan is a very fruitful land, and it supports a large variety of grapes, even though most of them are made for table consumption and a few of them are used for local winemaking. Basically, there are no native vines in Japan, even though the Koshu white wine has successfully evolved over the years and is already regarded as an indigenous variety. The imported varieties like Delaware and Niagra grape were mostly cultivated in the post-war era, but have declined since 1985. Grapes used for only winemaking are cultivated in lesser quantities, as the price margins for edible grapes are relatively higher.

Popular Japanese Rice Wine

When Japanese wine is mentioned, then Sake will definitely be a part of the conversation. Sake is a popular Japanese rice wine and an alcoholic beverage made from rice fermentation. The production of sake is closely related to the process of beer production, as the starch is converted to sugar, which will then ferment to alcohol. But in wine, alcohol is made by fermenting sugar from fruits like grapes. The brewing of sake was only done during the winter in the past, but now, sake can be brewed all year round.

To avoid spoilage of the wine, sake was traditionally transported in the cool spring weather, to avoid summer heat spoilage. The sake can come in different flavors, including fruits, herbs, flowers, and even slices. Many varieties of sakes have the taste of Apple and Banana, from ethyl caproate and isoamyl acetate respectively.

Consuming Rice Wine is said to;

• Provide active anti-cancer functions to your body, as most of the amino acids found in it are strongly carcinogenic.

• Help prevent osteoporosis.

• Promote good liver health.

• Even out your complexion, reduce blemishes and age spots.

• Reduce signs of aging, by reducing free radicals, giving a tighter and more glowing skin.

• Remove eczema and acne inflammation.

• Contain peptides that lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and prevent diabetes.

• Contains adenosine, an effective enzyme for hair growth.

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