Suggest a Japanese wine to most Americans and they’ll likely assume you’re talking about sake (which is actually brewed more like beer). It turns out, however, there is a variety of white wine, called koshu, that has long been produced in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Koshu has been made in Japan for more than a millennium—the grapes most likely arrived from the Caucasus via the Silk Road—and winemakers have been bottling it since the late 1800s. It takes its name from the Koshu Valley, in Mount Fuji–adjacent Yamanashi Prefecture, an area that has a good growing climate and plenty of sunlight. The region is home to around 80 wineries and even boasts a “grape temple,” the Daizenji, which features a statue of a grape-bearing Buddha.
The wine itself is delicate and crisp, with gentle floral and citrus notes. “Koshu is koshu—you cannot compare it with any other varieties,” says Ayana Misawa, winemaker at Grace Wine, which has been crafting koshu wines since 1923 and began exporting in small numbers to the U.K. in 2010 and the U.S. in 2014. “Foreign wine lovers are looking for something new,” she adds, “especially an indigenous and lower-alcohol wine.”
While koshu is gaining in popularity, for now it remains tough to find outside Japan. If you happen to be in the neighborhood of Mount Fuji, however, say kanpai (cheers) and oishii (delicious) at these three wineries.
Located in the village of Katsunuma, at the base of 5,589-foot Mount Kayagatake, this family-owned winery hand-picks and hand-sorts its grapes. Grace became the first Japanese winery to win a gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, in 2014, and it produces a series of koshu varieties as well as European styles. Try a Private Reserve koshu at the on-site tasting room. grace-wine.com
This winery in Fuefuki, at the valley’s eastern edge, is the region’s oldest, having been founded in 1885, but it’s known as much for its Japanese-French restaurant, Zelkova, as for its dynamic tasting room, which serves wines from a stainless-steel dispenser. Try the Lumière sparkling ($23), the dry and citrusy Koshu Hikari ($26), and the balanced Prestige Class Orange Koshu ($20). lumiere.jp
Katsunuma Jozo Winery
A favorite of Nobel-
winning writer Yasunari Kawabata, Katsunuma Jozo was founded in 1937 and remains family-run. Tours are available, with the option of a paired meal at the winery’s restaurant,
Le Vent. Try the Aruga Branca series, five wines—including the Clareza ($26) and the sparkling Brilhante ($46)—made exclusively with koshu grapes. katsunuma-winery.com