Wine tasting: Japan's koshu varieties
The latest country to start exporting wine to Hong Kong is Japan.
Sceptics may raise their eyebrows, but Japan has in fact been producing wine since 1875. It has its own indigenous white grape variety called koshu, believed to have come to the country from Central Asia via the Silk Road.
To appreciate koshu, wine tasters need to recalibrate their palate. Do not expect the upfront aromatics often found in some New World wine styles. It has been described as having aromatics of yuzu (a Japanese citrus), mikan (mandarin), peach and white pepper. Koshu is a discreet, understated and almost ethereal wine - resembling lighter styles such as pinot grigio and muscadet. Wine critic Jancis Robinson describes it as "Zen-like".
The wines can be found in Tokyo, London, Sydney, Singapore and now Hong Kong.
Ayana Misawa, a vintner from Grace Winery, a leading koshu exporter, believes the wines have evolved from being sweet and often oxidised, to a drier style to appeal to the international palate.
Yamanashi prefecture, about 100 kilometres west of Tokyo, is the home of koshu and is said to be the ideal site for the grape as sunshine allows the fruit to reach optimum ripeness.
Viticulture is labour-intensive due to the high humidity, which causes vine diseases, and heavy rain, which require the bunches to be wrapped individually in plastic. It is definitely a labour of love.
Grace Gris De Koshu 2011
Grace Winery was established in 1923 and is regarded as one of the top wineries in Japan. It is a pioneer in improving quality using innovative techniques. It is aptly named after the Three Graces - beauty, charm and joy.
Very pale, translucent, lemony colour. Citrus, mandarin, mineral notes. Lighter body with crisp acidity, and a clean finish. Very pure and elegant. A good introduction to koshu. Approachable, making it a good aperitif. Will pair well with sashimi, tempura and white meats. HK$192
Grace Kayagatake Rouge 2012
A red wine made from a blend of muscat bailey A (a hybrid grape developed in Japan to suit the local climate), merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Strawberry, raspberry confectioned fruit. Medium body with crisp acidity and soft tannins. Approachable and easy to drink. Pair with fish and poultry. HK$215
Grace Koshu 2011
The year 2011 was a cooler vintage and was considered to be a good year for white varieties. The wines are leaner in style, with higher acidity.
Citrus, stony, white peach notes. Medium body with refreshing acidity. Very dry, with some complexity and long finish. Pairs well with Cantonese cuisine, particularly steamed dishes. HK$215
Wines are available from winenthingshk.com