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No, this is not some new form of sake or plum wine. We are talking about a wine made from grapes that has been produced since 1877 when Masanari Takano and Tatsunori Tsuchiya returned from France after studying winemaking. But now for the first time it is approaching the mainstream. In June 2011, a Koshu wine (named Shizen) made it’s debut at VinExpo in Bordeaux, France, one of the wine industry’s most important events. So what exactly is Koshu and why is it just now bubbling up in world wine culture?

Koshu grapes are grown in the foothills of Mt Fuji in the Yamanashi Prefecture. It is debatable whether this is a native grape or imported. If you ask the Japanese, some say it came through via the Silk Roads, while others insist it is Japan’s own. However, a recent study by the University of California, Davis revealed Koshu as 95% European vinifera. That said, it is over 1000 years old in Japan and the reason for koshu’s unique survival is its thick skin. The thick skin protects it from the humidity related mold that attacks so many other varieties of grape in Japan.

Koshu is known to be quite light – with a pale color and hints of citrus and white peach – and is best served cool and fairly young. It’s pure, delicate character and freshness pair well with the lighter styles of Japanese cooking like sushi, sashimi, grilled fish and vegetables, tempura and the like.

Today there are more Japanese restaurants than French in NYC. And as Japanese cuisine continues to proliferate, likely so will Koshu wine. There are about 5-6 vineyards now exporting Koshu wine, mostly within Asia and Europe. So if you are in the US, it’s probably going to be a struggle to lay your hands on a bottle. But no matter where you are, maybe it’s just another reason to plan a trip to Japan


(photos courtesy of Katsunuma Winery)

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