International Grape Varieties in Japan
The large number of European grape varieties grown in Japan surprises even wine specialists, so new is the awareness of Japenese wine cultiure.
Merlot is one of the most widely planted of the classic varieties in Japan. It is grown across prefectures such as Yamanashi, Yamagata, Shizuoka and Iwate. However, Merlot's homeland is in Nagano. At Kikyogahara, old vines established in the 1950s by the Giochi family winery still thrive in the sheltered, sunny, breezy spot. Younger plantings by big players Chateau Mercian and Suntory Shiojiri Winery reflect the potential of the well-drained soil and sheltered terroir. The Japenese Merlots are fresh but velvety and expressive, with notes of herry and classic plummy fruit.
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in several prefectures, and is well established in Yamanashi. This late ripening variety needs sheltered spots and many sunshine hours, of which Yamanashi has the most in Japan. It is often blended, as at Grace Wine, with Cabernet Franc, with elegant and textured success. While Cabernet Franc is lesser planted and known, this earlier ripening variety has great potential in Japan.
Chardonnay is widely planted across Japan, despite its vulnerability- given its early-budding nature- to spring frosts. Many producers blend it with Koshu, to give a delicate, lively style with ripe citrus and hints of melon.
Pinot Noir is quite possibly the Euorpean grape variety generating the most excitement in Japan now. this notoriously demanding and terroir-sensitive grape has produced beautifully scented nuanced and elegant examples from Nagano and especially Hokkaido, where it is becoming something of a speciality. Some of Japan's most sought after wines are produced by small estates in Hokkaido that specialise in Pinot Noir.