When we think about wine, most instantly think about France, Italy or even Spain. But wine is not only made in Europe. In fact, travel a little further afield across the globe to Japan and you'll be surprised to find twists on your favorite wines, including the much-loved Merlot and Chardonnay. Forget about Sake, and discover Japanese wine culture.
There's no denying that the reputation of French, Italian and Spanish wine is pretty well-established. Exported across the entire world and loved by many, some bottles, many produced in France can cost up to thousands of pounds! But it's not just Europe that knows how to produce good wine. It may come as a surprise but Japan boasts an array of great wines and consequently puts up a good fight in this field of expertise! In Japan, the most important areas for producing wine include Yamanashi, Hokkaido, Nagano and Yamagata. And here, wine cultivation is carried out in a variety of locations, from the valleys, to the mountains and even coastal areas.
What's on offer?
Just like elsewhere around the globe, the properties of a wine vary according to the region it has been produced in and the weather conditions it has been subjected to. Despite the variety on offer, the most popular Japanese wine of all is called Koshu, a white wine variety. Connoisseurs can also find a red wine from the Muscat Bailey A grape, and even a selection of more familiar wines such as Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
It may surprise you to hear that Japan produces a hefty 370,000 hectoliters of wine per year! And just so you can get some perspective, the French (the favorite grape-growing nation amongst Brits), produce around 36.7 million hectoliters per year. So, maybe Japan is not about to take over the market when it comes to producing fine wine, but they are definitely putting up a good fight! And remember, sometimes it's about quality and not quantity. After all, the harder it is to get hold of something, the more special it becomes, no? Well, Japanese wine is exactly that and because of its uniqueness, it's definitely not cheap. In fact, Japanese wine is sometimes even more expensive than French wine which has been exported nearly 10,000km across the world to Japan. Maybe this explains why French and other European wines are still a favorite in Japan. Not a selfish bunch at all, the Japanese prefer to export their very best wines elsewhere for the rest of the world to appreciate.
The origins of Japanese wine
So where did this all start? To answer this question and to help us understand why Japan first started producing wine, we need to turn to Europe. According to several different sources, evidence of wine production in Europe dates back from between 8000 B.C. and 4100 B.C, and highlights various sites in Armenia, Georgia and Turkey as the first places to make wine for the masses. Grapes have been grown in Japan for centuries, but it wasn't until the late 1800s that they began being used for wine. In the 1970s, Japan started looking westward for culinary inspiration, and subsequently wine consumption started increasing.