Japan may not be the first wine-producing country on your lips, but they’ve been making wine there for more than 1,000 years – the first vines were planted on the main island of Honshu, at Katsunuma in the prefecture (region) of Yamanashi, as far back as the 8th century. Japan makes a varied selection of wines from its 18,000 hectares of vineyards, and we’ve put together a list of the best Japanese wines based on expert picks from this year’s IWSC.
The first commercial vineyards in Japan were planted in Yamanashi 150 years ago, and since then, more than 200 wineries have been founded – Japan is, by some distance, the leading Asian country in terms of wine consumption.
The grape varieties used in Japan vary from the familiar French varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to the star performer: Koshu. This delicate pink-skinned variety is much loved in its homeland, and its tolerance against humidity – a perennial problem in Japan – gives it an edge over its Western cousins.
Koshu typically produces a light, subtle white wine reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s the ideal pairing with Japanese cuisine. Two bottles, in particular, shone at this year’s IWSC. Firstly, Hombo Shuzo Château Mars Makioka Koshu 2020 wowed the judges with its aromatic, floral nose and fresh, invigorating palate of Pink Lady apples and lychee notes. A Gold medal winner, it scored 95/100pts.
Another Gold went to the richer Sapporo Breweries Grande Polaire Barrel Fermentation Koshu 2019 (95/100pts), which offered notes of greengage, apricot and orange blossom, complemented by a smooth, almost buttery palate.
Japan has got in on the orange-wine act, too, with Sadoya et Cie’s Smoke Fermented On Skin Koshu 2020 scooping a Silver medal (93/100pts) and displaying graceful aromas of tangerine, grape and honeysuckle.
A top panel of experts blind-tasted every Japanese wine entered in this year’s IWSC. Panel chair was Master of Wine Sarah Abbott, accompanied by wine educator Marie Cheong-Thong, Harvey Nichols buyer Bryan Rodriguez and Enotria fine wine buyer Rebecca Gergely. We’re delighted to present our selection of the best Japanese wines as tasted in this year’s IWSC.
Ten top Japanese wines from the IWSC 2021
- Takahata Winery, Arkadia Select Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2017; Yamagata. 96/100
- Hombo Shuzo, Château Mars Makioka Koshu 2020; Yamanashi. 95/100
- Sapporo Breweries, Grande Polaire Barrel Fermentation Koshu 2019; Yamanashi. 95/100
- Hombo Shuzo, Château Mars Hosaka Hinoshiro Late Harvest Cabernet-Merlot 2018; Yamanashi. 94/100
- Sadoya et Cie, Smoke Fermented On Skin Koshu 2020; Yamanashi. 93/100
- Takahata Winery, L’Ogre Rouge Akaoni Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2017; Yamagata. 93/100
- Sapporo Breweries, Grande Polaire Azuminoikeda Cabernet Sauvignon 2016; Nagano. 92/100
- Hiroshima Miyoshi Winery, Tomoé Syrah 2018; Hiroshima. 92/100
- St.Cousair Vineyards & Winery, Sanctuary 2019; Nagano. 91/100
- Hokkaido Wine, Yoichi Harvest Special Cuvée Zweigelt 2019; Hokkaido. 90/100
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE WINES?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous wine tasting process. That means that each wine sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC wine judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the wine industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
HOW DO WE SCORE THESE WINES?
Only the best wines sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, wines have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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