Shiojiri, Nagano, cork seal
Stereotypes of Japanese drinks bring to mind Geisha serving tea or salary men knocking back sake, yet there're actually a surprising number of different home grown alcoholic beverages available. Alongside shochu and plum wine the Japanese make good beer, outstanding whiskey and a surprising amount of grape wine. On my recent visit I was pretty disappointed with the wines I tried, but I grabbed this bottle duty free at Tokyo's Narita Airport as a final attempt to match the decent attempts I'd previously had from Hokkaido (1 & 2). From what I can gather it's made by Izutsu Wine in Nagano using fruit from vineyards that are 400m above sea-level.
It's darker than I expected; a deep red in colour with faint orange around the rim. It smells rich and surprisingly complex. There's a big whiff of plum alongside coffee, chocolate, brambles, tomato and a touch of mushroom; pretty interesting stuff. To taste it's a lot simpler and is all about red fruit, especially dark cherries. It's big and textured and held together by nice chewy tannins. Though it improved with decanting it did have a sharp, bitter finish. Izutsu Wine 'Silver' Merlot 2002 is an interesting wine; it smells intriguing, but there's nothing subtle about the bitterness that dominates the finish. It's quite 'old world' in style and is certainly not a bad statement for Japanese wine.
Visit winery's Japanese website.