Japan. Origami, Suzuki, sushi, sakura, now koshu.

Koshu is a wine, not made from rice, and no relation to sake. Koshu is the name of what the Japanese claim is their own native wine grape variety.

Grace is a winery that’s making a serious effort to establish its brand in the arena of the great wines of the world.

There is argument as to whether koshu is actually a table grape, not a wine grape, on account of its large berries. No matter: in recent times the dedicated brother-and-sisterhood of Japanese winemakers in the Yamanashi prefecture have made koshu wine their speciality.

It is very Japanese, in the sense that it’s delicate, restrained, subtle, understated. Like sake, it takes a back seat and allows food to have the spotlight at the table. In this sense, like sake, it’s an excellent accompaniment to many Japanese foods.

It’s not widely available in Australia, but good Japanese restaurants will often have a bottle in stock. My local, Yakitori Jin, always has a Grace koshu on its zen-minimalist wine list. At present it has two: Gris de Koshu at AUD $57 and Kayagataki Koshu at AUD $61.

Grace is a winery that’s making a serious effort to establish its brand in the arena of the great wines of the world. Its importer, Matthew Quirk of artisan wine merchant QED, is working hard to build its profile in Sydney—and this would be hard work because the wines are not cheap.

The top Grace red wine is Cuvée Misawa, a blend of Bordeaux varieties; the latest vintages 2017 and 2018 are AUD $300. And they are beautiful wines, medium-bodied, elegant and perfumed. But, Cru Classé Bordeaux prices? As always, it’s about more than the intrinsic value of what’s in the bottle.

The Misawa family, the owners, are as dedicated and hard-working as you’d find at any great wine estate.

The Grace wine story began in 1923 when the first Misawa arrived in the village of Katsunuma in Yamanashi. Today, fifth-generation Ayana Misawa is the winemaker. She is an oenology graduate who trained in France and South Africa and gained experience in Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Most of the koshu in Japan is grown in the Yamanashi prefecture. It has a pink skin when ripe, somewhat like pinot gris, hence one of Grace’s wines is named Gris de Koshu.

Lately, it’s understood that koshu is a hybrid, its likely parents being a European Vitis Vinifera vine and one or more East Asian Vitis species.

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that koshu came to the notice of the outside world. Only in 2010 did the OIV (International Office of Vine and Wine) officially recognise koshu.

In 2014, Grace Cuvée Misawa Akeno Koshu 2013 was the first Japanese wine to win a regional trophy and gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards.

It’s a big jump from those days to the present when Grace is fielding a koshu priced at AUD $177 a bottle. It’s the newly-arrived Cuvée Misawa Akeno 2020, which has jumped AUD $50 from the previous vintage.

As for a food match, it’s hard to go past sushi with koshu.

Matt Quirk tells me three factors are behind the price hike: the fact that costs have soared recently for all sea freight thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exchange rate has moved unfavourably, and there has also been an ex-winery price rise.

The wine is being positioned as a running-mate for the AUD $300 red Cuvée Misawa. Both are grown on the Grace home vineyard, where the grapes are now trellised on VSP (vertical shoot positioning), the system used in many western vineyards. This is in contrast to traditional Japanese vineyards, which use the pergola system, a high overhead trellis where the pickers work from beneath the vine canopy. VSP, indigenous yeasts and lees contact are among the elements that differentiate the Cuvée Misawa Koshu. And of course the superior terroir of the vineyard.

As for a food match, it’s hard to go past sushi with koshu.

Source: Oiv_Int, Grace Wines, The Real Review

Author: Huon Hooke

Photo Credit: Grace Wines