Two varieties are especially Japanese in origin, association and style.
In 2013, the Internation Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) recognised the two styles of wine, which indicated a sign of acceptance, of typicity, and globally recognized quality potential.
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The Two styles
Of the two varieties recognised by the OIV, the youngest is:
Muscat Bailey A
The most successful and planted hybrid in Japan, Muscat Bailey A, was developed specifically for the country. A cross of the Vinifera Muscat Hamburg x the Labrusca Bailey,
it buds late (so avoiding spring frosts), and ripens early and easily in most sites. It crops reliably, and is disease resistant. For decades, it was relegated to the easy drinking zone, and used principally to make high volume, fruity, off-dry quaffing wine. Recently, several producers have shown what can be done with low-yielding versions from prime sites, and even a touch of oak.
Koshu has an unknown origin and a much longer history. This vitis vinifera vine has been grown in Katsunuma, Yamanashi for at least 1000 years. It originated somewhere in the Caucasus, and was probably taken to Japan by traders on the ancient silk roads.
Koshu has fresh but rounded acidity, and several aromatic compounds in common with Sauvignon Blanc. The most familiar Koshu style is an ultra-delicate, subtle dry white with a sleek texture. More recently, exciting and more extrovert styles have emerged, including fine traditional (aka Champagne) method sparkling, and elegant ‘Orange’ wines, fermented on the skins.