Everything you need to know about Koshu from Japan

What is Koshu’s food-pairing potential?

Sparkling Koshu and scallop sashimi is a brilliant combination

It’s not just curiosity that is motivating Japanese Koshu producers, whose spiritual home is Yamanashi, to try new things with this grape. They are driven by a desire to create wines that will pair successfully with the full range of flavours in Japanese cuisine, from the extremely delicate to the strong and challenging. One aspect that’s clear, however, is the brilliant combination of the salty-citric nature of Koshu and Japan’s raw-fish-based food.

This may be by accident, rather than design, but it is real; the tangy Koshu wines enliven the palate after sashimi, preparing the mouth for a dashi dish, or cutting through the residue of sticky rice in sushi. The Koshu helps with the consumption of such food, and the salty character of the dishes elevates the Koshu, bringing out more intensity.

And the likes of sparkling Koshu is an ideal accompaniment to the more subtle styles of raw fish-based Japanese food, where traditionally promoted wine matches such as oily Pinot Gris or aromatic Gewürztraminer would overpower such cuisine. However, where the much more powerful dashi-flavoured fare is on offer, requiring something weightier, one can opt for a Koshu expression with extended lees-contact or some additional skin contact.

One remarkable pairing is the intensely salty, creamy sea urchin – called ‘uni’ – with a Koshu orange wine. Another extraordinarily successful discovery for me was roast Wagyu beef and ginger paired with the aforementioned Aruga Branca Pipa from Katsunuma – proving the versatility of this grape, grown in Japan for around nine centuries before its winemaking capabilities were realised.

However, wines made from Koshu tend to struggle to pair successfully with dishes incorporating butter and cream, two ingredients that may be common in the cuisine of France, but not used in Japanese cooking.

Where can you try Koshu in the UK?

Koshu is just starting to appear in restaurants in the UK as sommeliers discover its appeal. Pioneer for Koshu in the UK was the late Gerard Basset MS, MW, who once poured Koshu from Grace at his hotel in the New Forest, called Terravina. And that was by the glass. Today, thanks to research commissioned by db and provided by Wine Picker, one can find Koshu at the following places in the UK:

  • Sexy Fish, London
  • The Lion & Pheasant Hotel, Shrewsbury
  • La Trompette, London
  • Union Street Café by Gordon Ramsay, London
  • The Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
  • Hide, London
  • Heddon Street Kitchen, London

As for national distribution, sadly there is no supermarket currently carrying a Koshu, although, until fairly recently, Marks & Spencer sold the Sol Lucet Koshu from Kurambon.

Why should you want to try or stock Koshu – a final thought?

Well, Koshu offers an intriguing combination: pale pink berries in the shadow of Mount Fuji, grown with painstaking attention to detail, and producing something that’s delicate, fresh and with a touch of umami.

It has a subtle appeal, complexity, and an ability to pair so successfully with one of the world’s most popular and revered cuisines – Japan’s raw-fish-based food.

It’s also the emblematic of Japan’s fast-emerging wine industry.

And, it is right on trend with demand in mature wine-drinking markets, where the call is for something light in body, low in alcohol, refreshing, and authentic.

One Response to “Everything you need to know about Koshu from Japan”

  1. Max Palmer says:

    Hello DB,
    Just wanted to say thank you for a wonderful Koshu tasting on Monday.

    I would very much like to know who we can buy from,I need to convince some colleagues that it is a sure fire winner and we are outside London !!!! how daring.

    So any information would be much appreciated.

    Thanks again for an exceptional tasting.

    Best regards,

    Max

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