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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Kanpai to wine

Japanese wine lovers now have a wider variety with more labels coming on the market
The Sunday Times - May 20, 2012
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan
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Kanpai to wine Choose wines from various Japanese wineries at ThreeSixty Market Place at Ion Orchard, which introduced the wines in March. -- ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

Think of Japanese alcoholic beverages and what comes to mind is usually sake, beer, shochu and whisky.

But the country also produces wine.

These have been making in-roads here, with more labels coming on the market over the last six months.

The Straits Wine Company, with outlets islandwide in areas such as Bukit Timah and Siglap, brought in 10 labels from Grace winery four months ago.

Orihara Shouten Liquor Shop & Bar in Robertson Walk started stocking 11 wines from Katsunuma Jyozo and Tamba wineries six months ago.

Nine wines from various wineries, including Izutsu, Takahata and Kumamoto, are also available at gourmet supermarket ThreeSixty at Ion Orchard, which introduced them in March.

Japan produces all styles of wine, from whites and reds to rose and sparkling. They can be dry, medium or sweet.

But, in general, master of wine Lisa Perrotti-Brown, 45, says Japanese wines tend to be subtly flavoured, and light- to medium-bodied.

She adds: 'The reason is because most of the wine grape-growing regions in Japan, such as the major area of Yamanashi, are located in a part of Honshu that has its rainy season in the middle of summer.'

The rainy season shortens the fruit's ripening process significantly and grapes that are harvested will tend to have relatively low sugar levels, resulting in wine with less body, less flavour intensity and lower alcohol, she says.

But while some Japanese wines can be described as lacking in complexity, there are several that buck the trend.

Wine writer Jenny Tan, 33, recalls her first taste of Japanese wine several years ago, when she tried a Chateau Mercian Chardonnay.

She says: 'I was surprised that it was very Burgundian in style. But given Japanese wine lovers' and sommeliers' affinity to French wines from Bordeaux to Burgundy, it is not surprising that they imitate the style of wines they want to drink.'

Grape varietals unique to Japan include Koshu and Muscat Bailey A.

Koshu is best described as a cross between a Pinot Gris and a Sauvignon Blanc, while the Muscat Bailey A, which is a Japanese red hybrid of European and American vine species, is more like a Beaujolais or a Dolcetto, Ms Perrotti-Brown says.

Other varietals found in Japan include Delaware, Concord, Niagara and Kyoho.

Distributors and importers say they decided to bring in Japanese wines because they were not readily available here and saw business opportunities.

Chef sommelier Ian Lim, 28, of The Straits Wine Company, says bringing in a Japanese label seemed 'logical' because of Singaporean's love for Japanese food.

He adds: 'Singaporeans are always in search of new experiences with wine and food.'

Mr Kanji Udagawa, 49, managing director of six-month-old Japanese wine and premium Japanese food importer Minato Singapore, whose parent company in Japan has been working with Japanese wines for 20 years, adds that the wines pair particularly well with Japanese food.

For instance, a Muscat Bailey A red wine goes well with wagyu beef and shabu shabu, while a Koshu white wine complements delicately flavoured sushi and sashimi because of its citrusy character.

Indeed, Mr Daisuke Kawai, 35, chef sommelier of French restaurant Les Amis at Shaw Centre, says Japanese wines go well with many cuisines because they are delicate and do not overpower the dishes.

Diners unfamiliar with Japanese wines seem keen to find out more about it.

Interior designer Esther Tan, 34, is keen to get her hands on a bottle. She says: 'I have heard that the Japanese also produce wines but I have yet to try any.

'In particular, I am told that Tsuno winery has some good wines, so I will be looking out for that.'

rltan@sph.com.sg

SOME GRAPE VARIETALS FROM JAPAN

WHITE WINE

Varietal: Delaware

Characteristics: A hybrid white grape varietal that originated in the United States. The grape is both eaten and used for wine making.

Food: Pairs well with white fish sashimi, cooked vegetables, and nabe or hot pot dishes.

Varietal: Niagara

Characteristics: This grape varietal originated in the United States. Sweet, fresh with notes of muscat and pear.

Food: Pairs well with items such as yakitori tare (skewered chicken with a marinade of mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar), steamed chicken and steamed fish.

Varietal: Koshu

Characteristics: A European grape that came to Japan via the Silk Road. However, it does not exist in Europe or anywhere else in the world now, and is now found only in Japan. Clean, dry, light-bodied wine with slightly citrusy characteristics such as lemon juice, yuzu and grapefruit.

Food: Pairs well with tempura, sushi, sashimi, yakitori shio (skewered chicken with salt).

RED WINE

Varietal: Muscat Bailey A

Characteristics: A varietal native to Japan, wines made from these grapes are known to be elegant and aromatic.

Food: Pairs well with shabu shabu, sukiyaki and wagyu beef. Also goes well with tomato-based pasta sauces.

WHERE TO BUY

THREESIXTY

What: Eight wines are available here, including Takahata Sparkling Delaware 2010, a semi-sweet sparkling wine with notes of apricot and figs; Haramo Vintage Koshu 2010, a dry white wine with citrus notes; and a sweet Kumamoto Kyoho Dessert Wine made from kyoho grapes.

Where: Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, 04-21, tel: 6509-8434, open: 10am to 10.30pm, daily

Price: Prices range from $41.90 to $61.90 a bottle

THE STRAITS WINE COMPANY

What: The wine retailer stocks 10 varieties of Japanese wine from Grace winery in Katsunma, Yamanashi Prefecture. Opt for the Koshu Toribira Vineyard 2010, a white wine made with 100 per cent Koshu grapes, or the Kai Noir 2010 if you prefer a red.

Where: 12 stores islandwide including Balmoral Plaza (6733-4733), 930 East Coast Road (6243-2833) and UE Square (6737-8033)

Price: Prices range from $62.80 to $186.80 a bottle

Info: Go to www.straitswine.com

ORIHARA SHOUTEN LIQUOR SHOP AND BAR

What: The liquor shop and bar offers 11 varieties of wine from two wineries - Katsunuma Jyozo in Katsunuma, and Tamba winery in Kyoto. Ones to try here include the Katsunuma Jyozo Aruga Branca Clareza 2010 and the Aruga Branca Isehara 2010.

Where: 11 Unity Street, Robertson Walk, 01-02, tel: 6836-5710, open: Mondays to Wednesdays, 7pm to midnight, Thursdays to Saturdays, 7pm to 1.30am. Closed on Sundays and every third Monday of the month.

Price: From $60 to $100 a bottle if consumed at the bar. Prices are about 20 per cent less for takeaways

Info: Go to sg.oriharashouten.jp

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