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What our expert thought of Grace, Koshu, Private Reserve




about this wine About this wine
 
Japanese wine is quite rare even in Japan, and this is almost the only one imported into the UK.  One reason for that rarity is the Japanese climate.  From a winemaking perspective, most of Japan is a bit too close to the equator and almost all of it is a good deal too wet, especially in summer.
 
But there are exceptions, and this wine comes from the main one: Yamanashi prefecture, heart of the small-scale Japanese wine industry.  It’s the dryest and sunniest place in Japan, thanks to the rain shadow of the mighty Mount Fuji on its southern border.  It’s also one of the highest, and that high altitude compensates for its low latitude, reducing average temperatures to cool European levels and increasing both seasonal and daily temperature changes.
 
Consequently grapes have been grown here since they were introduced to Japan by Silk Road traders in the 8th century.  But they were all for eating; winemaking only began in the 1870s.  This wine is made from Japan’s signature grape, Koshu, which isn’t found anywhere else. Koshu is an old name for the Yamanashi region and the variety was first recorded growing here almost a thousand years ago.
 
This Koshu is made by small-scale producer Grace Wines, who were founded in 1923 and are still family-owned.  They have championed the Koshu grape, and are leading the drive to find the best vineyards and production techniques to bring out its qualities as a wine, rather than as the table grape it was for so long.
 
Koshu’s thick skins make it usefully rot-resistant but can impart bitterness to the wine, so the juice was run quickly off the skins after pressing to avoid this.  It was then fermented and aged in stainless steel, spending five months on its lees before being bottled sur lie, like a Muscadet.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
This may well be the palest wine I've ever seen.  It’s an extremely pale straw - almost water-white.  There’s also some tiny bubbles forming on the glass from dissolved CO2.
 
It has a delicate, saline nose of white pepper, with a hint of fennel.  As it warms up these are joined by an even more minerally note of still-damp plaster.
 
This is bone-dry and light-bodied, even ethereal. It tastes really fresh and clean, like licking lemon juice off stones in a mountain stream.  The acidity is front-loaded here - it’s more marked on the foretaste than on the finish.
 
In the mid-palate that lemony freshness is joined by the peppery flavour of a mild breakfast radish, dipped in a little salt. It’s perhaps even closer to the flavour of daikon - the white Japanese radish that’s grated into strands and served with sashimi.
 
That peppery daikon flavour persists into the finish, which is surprisingly long for such a delicately-flavoured wine.
 
Assessment
 
This is what people mean - or ought to mean - when they talk about minerality in wine.  No fruits and flowers here; instead there are salty wet stones and white pepper.
 
This wine makes even Muscadet taste overtly fruity, but it has a precision and a purity that more than compensates.  I find it somehow appropriate that such a refined and understated wine is Japanese: it has a Zen-like sense of composure.


Tasting notes

Appearance
extremely pale straw - almost water-white
Nose

Intensity light

Aromas saline, white pepper (dominant), fennel, still-damp plaster (esp. once warm)

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+, front-loaded

Body light

Intensity medium-

Flavours lemon juice, stones, pepper and salt - breakfast radish or daikon
Finish

Length medium

Flavours pepper and salt - radish
Other notes
Really clean and fresh. Very mineral.


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