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. One bottle, in particular, shone at this year’s IWSC. Morita Koshury, Chanmoris Yamanashi Koshu 2021 impressed the judges with its notes of white flowers and stone fruit. A Silver medal winner, it scored 91/100pts.
Another ancestral grape shone brightly for the judges, with Hokkaido, Kitajima Vineyard No.7 Kerner 2019 a ‘textbook example’ of the Kerner variety, showcasing the variety’s signature ‘spring-like nose’.
Other Gold medals went to Vinoble Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc 2021 and Hombo Shuzo, Château Mars Hosaka Hinoshiro Cabernet-Merlot Late Harvest 2018, two wines proving just how well these international grape varieties have been harnessed by Japanese winemakers.
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 a super-star sommelier team made up of Elvis Ziakos, Isa Bal and Serdar Balkaya. We’re delighted to present our selection of the best Japanese wines as tasted in this year’s IWSC.
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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