Saturday 12 April 2014

The graceful lady behind Grace Koshu

Gosh, she must be one of the most elegant lady winemakers I have met! Ayana Misawa, from the fifth generation at Grace Wine in Yamanashi Prefecture, about 100km from Tokyo and north of Mt Fuji, was in town recently to present her wine.

Trained in Japan, Bordeaux and Stellenbosch, and having worked in Argentina, Chile, Australia and France, young Ayana (I reckon she is only in her early 30s) is now the chief winemaker at Grace Wine. However, being one of the very few female winemakers in male dominated Japan, it is not easy. Ayana is determined, certainly confident yet sensitive. I was discussing with someone about the feminine side of wine lately and Ayana is definitely a representative, and probably an inspiration to a lot of like-minded Asian women.

Her spirit is reflected in the wines. They are refined and delicate, yet have character. The Cuveé Misawa Rouge, a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot sadly not available in Hong Kong (yet), is the combination of New World fruitiness and Old World restraint minus the high tannin, definitely worth the ¥6,000 per bottle (about HK$500-600 if available here).

Koshu (甲州), an indigenous grape in Japan, is as delicate as the lady herself. Ayana’s father was the pioneer in replacing the pergola trained Koshu with vertical shoot positioning (VSP), resulting in lower yield and much more concentrated fruit. I was surprised to learn that summer temperatures can be as high as 35ºC in Yamanashi, yet Koshu only has about 11-12% alcohol thanks to its naturally low sugar level. Ayana further improves it by fermenting it in stainless steel tanks or old barrels and without lees ageing to make a refreshing vibrant wine. My first impression of Koshu was that it was vaguely reminiscent of Mosel Riesling but Ayana is more right to compare it with Hunter Valley Semillon.

Koshu, with its delicate palate, certainly pairs well with Japanese sashimi. Ayana reckons it would also be a perfect match with Cantonese cuisine. I can see myself enjoying it with poached prawns, steamed bean curd and light stir-fried dishes. We tried two Koshus: Grace Gris de Koshu and Grace Koshu. The latter, with a slightly fuller body, is clearly my favourite.

Grace also has a very well-made barrel fermented Chardonnay and a fruity Kayagatake Rouge (a blend of Muscat Bailey-A, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). And if you have a sweet tooth, don’t forget its surprisingly fresh Kerner Late Harvest!

By the way, Ayana confirmed that in Japan they do indeed have an individual umbrella over each bunch of grapes to shelter it from rain, and which is closed when the sun comes out. Jees, this can only happen in Japan!

And thanks Gonpachi for the lovely lunch.

Grace Wine is available from Northeast.

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