April 2021 Recommendations

This month we are continuing what we did in March and going back to check the recent offerings from wineries that we have liked in the past. The wineries we selected are the Obuse Winery run by the iconoclastic Akihito Soga and the Chateau Mercian Mariko Vineyard, which is operated by the Kirin Brewery Corporation.   

The Obuse Winery is considered among the best small wineries in Japan while Chateau Mercian, which also operates wineries in Yamanashi and Nagano, is one of the largest and oldest winemakers in Japan, producing over 500,000 bottles last year.

Our decision to revisit their wines was also spurred by some articles that we recently came across by British wine expert Jaime Goode, who made a visit to the Obuse Winery in May 2019 and spent a week with the Mercian wine team in January 2020, just before the arrival of the pandemic in Japan.

Jaime first visited Nagano in March 2018 and has since chronicled the rapid growth and development of the wine industry in the prefecture in his widely read blog, Wine Anorak. He has been generous in his praise of what Nagano winemakers are doing – but also quite balanced in assessing the results from his tasting of a wide variety of the wines. For that reason, we were quite intrigued by the 94/100 rating he gave the Obuse Chardonnay Private Reserve 2018 and the 95/100 rating bestowed on the Chateau Mercian Mariko Syrah 2017.

You can read his initial blog on Nagano wine here.

Obuse Winery Chardonnay Private Reserve 2017

This is a wonderful wine at a very competitive price. The color is warming and gold; the nose is full of pineapple and mango flavors. There is a nice balance of sweetness and acidity on the tongue and the finish is smooth and lingering. The wine is aged in new oak barrels that provide a smooth, buttery base to the wine without overwhelming the fruit. The alcohol at 12 percent makes this a great choice to accompany lunch or as a wine to sip while enjoying a sunset during the increasingly warm days.

Price:  3850 yen

The wine is not available for sale online, but the winery does provide on its website a list of wine retailers throughout Japan that stock the wine; see.

Here is the link to Jaime Goode’s blog on his May 2019 visit to the winery as well as his rating for the wine.

Chateau Mercian Mariko Syrah 2017

This wine is one to write home about. We have often argued here that Syrah not Merlot may be the future for Japanese reds. The issue is the weather. Yes, Japan is warm, but it is also cloudy and wet particularly during the June rainy season and the September to October period leading up to the harvest. That makes Merlot a “sometime thing” with a more than occasional vegetative flavor. So, we are seeing more and more Syrah wines on the Japanese market, with the acidity balanced by a nice mixture of pepper and black fruits. Exhibit A is this Syrah from Chateau Mercian, which hits every note and with an alcohol level of 13.5 percent without the heavy jam flavors of its Australian and California competitors. Moreover, the finish has rich perfume and excellent depth. This is a wine that you can have with dinner without feeling full before the bottle is half finished.

Price: 4950 yen online.

See here for a list of online merchants.

Learn more Chateau Mercian and read Jaime’s tasting notes for this wine here and here.

3 thoughts on “April 2021 Recommendations

  1. Agree with both selections. Been to Dom Sogga a few times as it is the only way to get some of their rare wines.

    Mariko is coming along fine after years of prepping…and the Syrah is a must-try for wine lovers.

    Gio Hills Winery is my latest discovery. The Merlot is outstanding. Soft on the palate. Elegant and balanced, with an unexpected earthy bio-like nose. The owner is adamant about making sparkling using 100% pinot meunier. The family apparently have a history of growing grapes for Mann’s. Some of their Chardonnay is around 2 decades old and produces rich and complex flavors. (The authentic Vietnamese food served at the winery is a pleasant surprise!)

    Dom. Nakajima is another ‘wow’ working out of his small garage. It must be like what William-Selyem were like at the start!

    Moved to Karuizawa (from Tokyo) 5 years ago…and been frequenting wineries of Nagano. Have had a love and passion for wine for over 40 yrs.
    Planted some wine grapes in the back yard just for fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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