January / February 2021 Recommendations

We welcomed the New Year in Nagano with more than abundant snow.   Quite a contrast to the previous year when the weather was generally warm and any precipitation usually took the form of rain.  Needless to say, the pandemic has been a dark cloud on most everything – except our favorite pastime, which is to sit in front of our wood-burning stove holding a glass of wine with our young German Shepherd sleeping comfortably by our side.  This month we chose a red and white wine to review and divided our attention between a new winery in the Tomi City area of the Chikumagawa District and one of the large commercial vineyards that defines the high-end of Nagano wines.

Cave Hatano Chikuma 2019

This is another of the small, new wineries in the Tomi area clustered around the Arc en Vigne wine school and benefitting from the financial and technical support of the Villa d’Est winery run by Toyoo Tamamura, the writer and painter who put Nagano wine on the map when he moved to the prefecture nearly 40 years ago. In this case, the young winemaker, Nobutaka Hatano, who was originally trained as a chef, worked for several years at the Villa d’Est winery before leaving to start his own vineyard in 2013. British wine critic Jaime Goode visited the winery in February 2019 and gave a barrel sampling of Hatano’s 2018 Merlot a 89/91 rating. The Chikuma 2019 from the winery is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Although it is not marketed as a Bordeaux blend and the percentage of Cabernet and Merlot is not specified the deep red color, the fruity flavor, the hint of tannins in the finish, and the 13 percent alcohol content clearly put the wine in this category. At 2500 yen, we found the wine to be an excellent value, with the flavor and presence of wines selling for twice the price.

The winery does not operate an online shop, but you can check with them regarding availability at 080-6936-9646. You can also learn more about Cave Hatano and its wines at Jamie Goode’s website where he posted details of his visit as well as his tasting notes.

Chateau Mercian Mariko Vineyard Chardonnay 2019

We visited the Chateau Mercian winery located in Ueda City overlooking the Chikumagawa River Valley nearly a year ago in February 2020. At that time, we enjoyed sampling a range of their Chardonnays from the expensive Rivalis Chardonnay 2018 (7200 yen) through the Kita Hokushin Chardonnay Unwooded 2018 (4100 yen) to the Chateau Mercian Mariko Vineyard 2018 (3500 yen). We judged the Hokushin Chardonnay Unwooded the best value for the money. However, we came across the 2019 vintage of the Mariko Vineyard at our favorite wine shop, Yorozuya, recently and decide to give it a second look, in part because of price and because Chardonnays vary so widely from year to year due to the vagaries of the Nagano weather (and 2019 was MUCH better year overall than 2018). Our intuition was rewarded. The wine has a beautiful color and a rich, sweet nose. The 13 percent alcohol content also held the promise of ripe fruit. We were not disappointed. Pineapple and mango flavors neatly balanced the vanilla and almond resulting from the ageing in oak barrels. There was also a neat minerality adding interest to the finish. Overall, it’s a nice package at a reasonable price and can be served in most any setting.

Available for purchase from the winery online.

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