Chateau Mercian is one of the oldest Japanese wineries established in the Meiji Era when in 1870 two young viticulturists travelled to France to learn about the winemaking process. Just looking at the numbers of French grapes planted today in Japan it’s clear the French inspiration is still very important, however, the most important grape variety is not from abroad. Koshu is a unique variety and pretty much not planted at all anywhere outside Japan.
Currently Chateau Mercian, run by general manager and chief winemaker Mitsuhiro Anzo, owns a number of small vineyards scattered around central Japan, but today we will focus on vineyards in beautiful Yamanashi prefecture. Located just 100km west of Tokyo, the area is known mostly from the picturesque landscape of Mount Fuji. Finesse and elegance, so much associated with this symbol of Japan, are found also in Chateau Mercian’s wines thanks to the high elevated vineyards with big diurnal temperature difference. Soils vary on the vineyard but they are mainly clays with pockets of sand and gravel.
Chateau Mercian Koshu Gris de Gris
Koshu, the flagship variety of Japanese wine-making (think along the lines of Malbec for Argentina or Carmenere for Chile), takes 40% of all planted varieties in Japan and is the main grape in Yamanashi prefecture (where there is even a city named Koshu). Ongoing researches try to trace the origins of Koshu, but it is believed it is a naturally occurred hybrid of European Vitis Vinifera and a Japanese indigenous variety.
The juice spends 3 weeks in contact with the skins before fermentation and then 8 months in oak barrels. Warming and subtle nose of dried apricot, jasmine tea notes with a hint of vanilla. Oily and rich texture with nuances of apple and peach compote are balanced with delicate vanilla and butter notes. Overall wine will pair brilliantly with richly textured dishes like risotto especially if you drop some rich-umami elements like mushroom or asparagus.
Gold Medal at Sommelier Wine Awards.
If there is any drink considered as the most Japanese, it must be sake! Today in our beer section we will explore an exciting world of beverages which westerners mistakenly call rice wine.
So what actually is sake?
Rice wine is definitely an imprecise name for this beverage. Sake in fact has more similarities with beer than wine – like beer it is a grain product with starches needed to be turned into glucose to allow fermentation. Various varieties of rice also can give different sakes, but one of the key processes determining the style of sake is milling the rice. The grain is being polished by vertical grinders, to get rid of outer layers rich in unwanted fatty acids, amino acids and proteins, and to concentrate starch condensed in rice’s core. In other words – the higher milling degree, on one hand means better quality of sake, but on the other it will reach a higher price as a final product.
Warm or cold? What about food pairings?
No rules on temperature here other than to avoid extremes like freezing or boiling! Up to your preference.
Food wise sake is an extremely versatile beverage to pair with many different dishes, mostly thanks to its naturally high content of umami. It will therefore play nicely with other umami products – like mushrooms, soya sauce, seaweed, aged cheese and seafood. Sakes umami will also add an intriguing layer in smoky dishes. Another handy feature of sake is that it pairs well with foods that wine struggles with – like asparagus, artichoke, and soups. One thing worth to remember is the high level of alcohol that sake can sometimes achieve – in such cases avoid very spicy food as this will end up in unbearable heat in the mouth!
Akashi Tai sake brewery
Akashi Tai is a sake brewery located in the port city of Akashi, located west of Osaka, with one and a half centuries of experience of work with rice. Initially just the growers of the grain, in 1917 Akashi Tai started their own sake production, over which Kimio Yonezawa, the brewery’s current Toji (sake master) looks over today.
Akashi- Tai, Tokubetsu Honjozo Genshu Gohyakumangoku
Full bodied, richer sake with hints of beeswax, red grapefruit supported with floral nuances. On the palate pleasantly oily and complex.
Akashi Tai, Tokubetsu Honjonzo Gohyakumangoku
Lighter style, restrained aromas of freshly cut lemon, yuzu and juicy melon. The palate has a bit of alcohol added before the filtering stage, which works a bit like a pinch of salt over a fine cut of meat, it adds this slight little boost to flavour.