Domaine Takahiko Pinot Noir 2016

Domaine Takahiko Pinot Noir 2016, 11.5%, Hokkaido

(Peter, 6/10, Feb 2018)

One of the brilliant things about wine is its capacity to surprise and delight you. This sprightly, funky Pinot Noir grown on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido by Takahiko Soga, a Pinot fanatic, was a revelation during a recent Japanese tasting expertly led by fellow Master of Wine Sarah Abbott.

Japan has been growing grapes for at least a thousand years but the wine industry only properly got into gear in the late 19th century. It’s a challenging terroir, with its bitter winters and summer typhoons. Humidity is a constant threat, as is simply finding the land to cultivate vines in some areas.

On the flipside, Japan has a highly developed wine culture and market. They have great expertise in fruit growing and, in 2004, new regulations made it easier to set up boutique wineries. There is also plenty of cross fertilisation with other cultures, including Europeans, as often becomes clear in the name of many brands and producers.

Although many of the wines struggle for body, structure and fruit intensity (delicacy is a key theme), one of the more successful grapes is Koshu, a relatively neutral white variety that works well with food but can lack character. One ingenious (and very trendy) solution is to give these whites some skin contact – a technique that seems to work creditably here when it’s well managed. The Château Mercian Koshu Gris de Gris 2015, Yamanashi, 11.5% (c. £17) is a good example of this. Great with all kinds of sushi and sashimi.

As well as Koshu, international varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc seemed to hold good potential. (The Grace Wine Cabernet Franc 2015 from Yamanashi was good, if pricey at c. £34.)

But it was this Pinot Noir that caught my attention. It was immediately arresting in its piercing aromas and dainty, refreshing style. An edgy rendition of Pinot, to be sure, but characterful, food-friendly and engaging. Apparently his wines sell on allocation, such is their iconic appeal at home. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t find any available in the UK. But maybe it will make it to these shores one day: Japan is gearing up to export more in a bid to gain international recognition for its wines. Pricey as this and other Japanese wines are, I’m sure we’d all be interested in seeing more of them.