Fall has finally arrived in Nagano – and none too soon. This past summer may have been the worst in years for wines in the prefecture, with June and July overcast and very wet and August hot and humid – reducing the difference between daytime and night temperatures that are important for the right balance between sugar (day time) and acidity (night time). That said, the weather improved in September as we got closer to harvest hopefully keeping things on course for a good year.
Right now, the wine harvest is underway in Nagano and Jim spent the morning of October 2 picking Chardonnay grapes at the St. Cousair winery, which is nearby our home in Shinaomachi, Nagano. The field manager, Makoto Tsuchiya, harvests the Chardonnay in stages, starting from the top tier of the vine and working down. This staggered approach to the harvest over the past few years has dramatically improved the flavor of the St. Cousair product, since Japan’s variable weather means that the grapes even in the same field do not ripen evenly.
Jim helped with the second from the bottom tier and found the grapes well developed and wonderfully sweet. The date for the final round will come after the winery sampling committee meets to evaluate the grapes. They will also make a decision as to when to begin the harvest of the Merlot grapes that San Cousair also produces. Jim hopes to join that as well.
Here are some recommendations for other wines as we wait for St. Cousair’s new vintage.
Cantina Riezo Rosso 2017 Barbera
Cantina Riezo winery specializes in Italian varietal grapes and the young winemaker who owns it, Yasuyuki Yumoto, is producing better and more varieties of “Italian” wine each year. Typically, he uses the Barbera grape, to produce a rose wine – that he labels “Sakura Sakura”. But in 2017, he made a red – and it is equally fruity yet fuller than its pink companion. The wine is sold out online, but you still might find a bottle or two for sale. Fortunately, the 2019 Sakura Sakura is available online and you might also try the Ciao Ciao Rosso Merlot Forte 2018 – we had a bottle of the Ciao Ciao Rosso Merlot 2018 recently, loved it and are looking forward to trying out its “forte” partner. The best part is that all these wines are a tremendous bargain at just 2750 yen.
Available online from the winery.
Presentir Beppin Field Blend Rose Haru 2018
The Presentir Winery is another one of the many small wineries that are popping up like mushrooms in the Tomi area of the Chikumagawa Valley. Jim encountered the wine at his local wine shop, loved it and was then pleasantly surprised that it had been reviewed by wine critic, Jamie Goode, in 2019 and given an 88/100 rating. Jaime described the wine as “rounded, smooth, pure cherries and strawberries”. Why the name “field blend”? Because the wine is a blend of Merlot, Petite Verdot, Pinot Gris and Riesling! We will leave this to the experts as to whether this blend is produced elsewhere in the world — all we can tell you is that it works and the price at 2200 yen a bottle is reasonable. Try it if you can find it – or better yet get directly in touch with the winery: the phone number is 090-5659-3208 or send an email to email@example.com. Also check out the label – it’s beautiful!
Izutsu Merlot 2019 (Nagano Appellation Control)
Izutsu Winery located in Shiojiri City produces a range of wine targeted from the medium to low-end and available widely in local wine shops and supermarkets. They also sell a limited number of “estate” wines – but these are available only at the winery. Typically, an Izutsu wine priced between 1400 and 3000 yen is a good value – but not necessarily memorable. The 2019 Merlot breaks the mold. It has a dark purple color; the taste is fruity with a hint of coffee; the tannins are ample; and most importantly there are none of the off-flavors due to under-ripeness that plague so many of the Nagano wines. Most importantly, is the price: just 1400 yen. You may find this in your favorite speciality wine store, but it has just been released and does not appear in the Izutsu online shop – likely because the 2018 (which is not in the same league) is still available for purchase. In this instance, if you go to the site, you may tempted to buy the 2018 barrel-aged Izutsu Merlot, priced at 3200. This is also a decent Merlot – but not worth the price difference.
You can find it at the Izutsu online shop.