Nagano Wine Region: grand tasting and overall impressions


Nagano Wine Region: grand tasting and overall impressions

This was a chance to taste 28 of the leading wines from Nagano prefecture, which is one of the three main Japanese wine regions, and along with Hokkaido, is the one generating the most interest at the moment. This line-up reflects the varietal mix among the better producers (there are quite a few less expensive wines being made with hybrids and labrusca varieties which are easier to grow in this rather damp climate). I found plenty to like here.

My overall impression from my visits to 10 wineries, plus this tasting, was that these are early days for Nagano. It isn’t an easy region to grow grapes in: the growing season rainfall can be high, which creates disease pressure, and the soils – which are quite varied, but most commonly seem volcanic-derived, dark acidic loams – tend to be fertile. So the real skill is in the viticulture: getting the grapes to a good state of maturity, in good health.

The altitude here certainly helps moderate climate, and the result is wines with a natural freshness. They can be very pretty indeed, with cool-climate elegance. I really enjoyed a lot of the wines made in a more natural way, but to do this well needs a good understanding of more conventional winemaking. It takes a lot of skill to do nothing.

As for varieties, clearly Chardonnay is good for whites, and there are also some good Sauvignons. Many of the wines I tried were from the very tricky 2016 vintage so I have to cut them some slack. I loved the two Albariños that I tried: this is a variety with potential here. For reds, Syrah shows a lot of promise, as does Merlot (even though this isn’t a grape I normally warm to). Pinot Noir is trickier and requires really good viticulture, and normally some hard work on the sorting table too. I’m all for experimenting with newer varieties, and when handled well hybrids like Muscat Bailey A and Ryugan can perform well.

The encouraging thing is the dedication and skill of the new crop of winegrowers here. I’m really confident that they’ll learn fast, and make really interesting wines. Because of the challenges of working here, there’s no point just settling and making boring technological wines. There has to be a desire to make something really interesting, and not just commercial.

Domaine Nakajima Kyoho Petillant Naturel Rose 2017
Cloudy pale pink colour. Aromas of red cherries and strawberries with some apple notes. The palate is refreshing and bright with lovely pear, apple and citrus character. Nice texture with fine spiciness. Natural but lovely. 89/100

Shinshu Takayama Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Lighter style with some mineral and herb notes alongside the pear and citrus fruit. Lively acidity here. Attractive if a bit dilute. 86/100

Kiku Watanabe Wa Yawata Sauvignon Blanc 2016
This is quite light and open with a herby twist to the pear and citrus fruit. Midweight style with an open personality, and herb-tinged fruit. 84/100

Rue de Vin Sauvignon Blanc 2017
From Hideaki Koyama. Lovely steely, nettly Sauvignon very much in a Loire style, with a well integrated green streak and a mineral twist, as well as pear and citrus fruit. Restrained and delicious. 89/100

Alps Wine Muse de vin Zenkoji Ryugan 2017
Open, delicate and bright with fresh tangerine and table grape fruitiness, as well as good acidity. Light and a bit stony: a nice simple fruity style. 87/100

Hayashi Nouen Estate Ryugan 2016
Attractive with clean, sweet grapey fruit. There’s a bit of sweetness here, and it is nicely direct and fruity. A pretty, easy wine. 86/100

Kido Winery Private Reserve Masumi Blanc 2015
61% Rielsing, 39% Pinot Gris. Lovely flavour here: bold and spicy with nice sweet pear, apricot and citrus fruit. Has some depth and texture, and a touch of creaminess. Nice complexity, too. 91/100

Kido Winery Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2015
Rich and quite creamy with attractive textured table grape notes as well as some apricot and pear. Tastes a bit like a dry Sauternes (the botrytis), but has some nice substance and concentration. 91/100

Funky Château Strate Cassée 2015
Varietal Semillon. A distinctive nose: quite oxidative and sherry-like with some broad citrus and apple fruit. The palate is really tangy and delicious. This has a lovely Vin Jaune personality with citrus and apple, as well as some salty, tangy characters. This must have had a good layer of flor on it to taste like this. Lovely. 92/100

Manns Wines Komoro Winery Solaris Shinano Riesling Dry 2016
This is bright and fresh, with a very pretty citrus character. Juicy and floral with lovely balance. Such a bright, appealing wine with crisp, slightly spicy citrussy fruit and good acid. Smells sweet but is dry. 88/100

Manns Wines Komoro Winery Soralis Shinshu Komoro Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2012
Richly aromatic toasty nose showing nuts, apples, spice and some citrus. The palate is very rich and broad with a strong mineral twist and plenty of toasty oak supporting the fruit. Quite old school in style but will delight lovers of rich oaky Chardonnay. 88/100

Kusunoki Winery Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2015
Soft and textured with nice pear and spice as well as some lovely graininess. Very smooth and textural with great balance. Oak is present but not dominant. 91/100

Suntory Japan Premium Takayamamura Chardonnay 2016
Very appealing with fresh citrus and pear fruit and nice texture. Midweight with a fine spiciness and well balanced fruit and oak. 89/100

Alps Wine Muse de vin Maestro Shiojiri Chardonnay 2016
Freshly aromatic with sweet tangerine and tinned pear notes. The palate is light and fresh with a slight mineral smokiness under the fresh citrus fruit. Appealing in a lighter style. 87/100

Izutsu Wine Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2016
This has nice focus: bright citrus and pear fruit with a hint of white peach richness. It’s bright and delicate with good acidity and a slight bitterness on the finish. Well made. 88/100

Yamabe Winery Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2015
Light, fresh and very attractive with pure citrus and pear fruit. Delicate and refined with good balance. This is light, but really well made. 89/100

Villa d’Est Garden Farm and Winery Pinot Noir 2015
Pale cherry red in colour. Sweetly aromatic with some cherry and strawberry, as well as some sweet herbs. Lovely supple palate with soft, smooth texture, some strawberry and cherry, and a hint of minty herbiness, too. Has a fresh savoury edge. 90/100

Obuse Winery Domaine Sogga Vin Sans Chimie Merlot & Tannat 2016
Concentrated and structured with dense black fruits and nice spiciness. Robust and tannic with a really appealing rich but fresh personality. Lovely wine. Good acid. 92/100

Obuse Winery Vin Sans Chimie Cabernet Franc Murasaki Numero Trois 2016
Lovely rounded sweet cherry and raspberry fruit here: this has texture and depth here. Lovely mouthfeel: there’s a purity of fruit, coupled with nice structure, and it’s really seductive. 92/100

Shinshu Mashino Winery Pionnier Cabernet Franc 2015
Sweetly fruited with a pronounced herbal edge to the nose. The palate is fresh and sappy with some green herbal characters and soft, smooth red cherry and strawberry fruit. A pretty, light style of wine. 86/100

Alps Wines Muse de vin Maestro Syrah 2016
This is really peppery and delicious with a smooth, silky black cherry fruit character and some nice spicy, peppery framing. Very seductive and well balanced. Delicious, silky cool climate Syrah. 93/100

Chateau Mercian Mariko Vineyard Syrah 2014
Beautiful stuff: fresh, pure and peppery. Lovely red fruits here with some spicy depth and a distinct pepper and clove savouriness. Very stylish indeed: lovely precise cool climate Syrah. 93/100

Kusunoki Winery Merlot Cuvee Masako 2015
Very elegant and pure. Lighter style without too much extraction, showing very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, and real finesse, with some fine spicy structure. Beautiful stuff. 92/100

Aperture Farm Reunion 2016
A varietal Merlot. Beautifully aromatic and fine. Very textural and fresh with lovely red cherry fruit. It’s light but has really lovely presence and amazing elegance. This is a truly beautiful, expressive Merlot that is smashable but has a serious edge, too. Lovely. 93/100

Suntory Shiojiri Winery Iwadarehara Merlot 2014
This is beautifully put together: smooth, focused and with lovely slightly peppery berry fruit. Very sleek and fine with lovely pure berry fruit. Has some fleshiness but also good structure and acid. Very fine. 93/100

Izutsu Wine Merlot Barrel Ageing 2015
Lovely bright, dense raspberry and cherry fruit here. Clean with nice density, but perhaps just a little too much oak at the moment. Really nice weight and purity to this. 89/100

Shinshu Takayama Winery Merlot Cabernet 2016
Nice balance here with sweet, supple, textured red cherry and berry fruit. There’s a smooth mouthfeel, but at the moment the spicy vanilla oak is too high in the mix. Lots of potential though. 88/100

Manns Wines Komoro Winery Soralis Shinshu Higashiyama Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Gravelly and dark with bright cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Grippy and structured but with nicely weighted fruit, showing some savoury detail as well as nice fruit. 91/100

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