The Ajimi team has always loved Albariños. But being a bit locavorish, we've been following, over the last half dozen years or so, the Japanese wine industry. One thing we've been seeing is better and better interpretations of Koshu - the vinifera grape that's more or less native to Japan. Once upon a time Koshu wines were sweet, cloying and downright bad. There was some idea of making them appeal to some sort of "Japanese taste" - whatever that might be. Now, several winemakers are crafting quite tasty, dry Koshus - trying to pull the best out of a very singular grape. When made well, Koshu takes on a platinum tinge - perhaps one of the most beautiful wine colors the Ajimi team has seen. Tartness is at the heart of Koshu. Untamed, it becomes annoyingly mouth-puckering. In a good Koshu, a careful balance of fruit will turn tartness into something refreshing. It can be a perfect summery wine.
So, we thought it was time to contrast and compare. We invited about a dozen folks (a few Basques, some Japanese wine-lovers and a Canadian expat) over for a bit of taste-off - with some appropriate foods and a bit of hyperbole to go with them. Here's what went down.
The Fight of the Century
In one corner, we have Albariño, a tough contender. Well respected in the world of wine, Albariño's got the chops, and the experience that makes it a first class player. In the other corner, we have Koshu, an up-and-comer. Koshu's been working out hard, getting leaner and more feisty over the years. May the best wine win!
Soryu / Katsunuma no Koshu (勝沼の甲州) / 2013
Served with a Trio of Pintxos
Ishikawa-ken mame aji en escabache /
Remolachas con miso y queso crema /
Beets with miso and cream cheese /
Tokoroten with cold-smoked Alaskan troll-caught king salmon /
Tokoroten con “king” salmón ahumado de Alaska /
As Laxas / Val de Sosego Albariño / 2011
Ceviche of cod marinated in shikuwasa juice /
Bacalao ceviche en zumo de shikuwasa /
Soryu / Citrus Scent Koshu / 2013
Salad of Japanese greens with katsuo mojama /
Ensalada de verduras japonaises con mojama de bonito
Mizuna / 水菜 / Brassica juncea japonica
Pardama (Okinawan Spinach) / パルダマ / Gynura bicolor
Tsuru murasaki (Malabar Spinach) / つるむらさき / Basella alba
Unnan hakuyaku (Heart-leaf Madeira Vine) / 雲南白藥 / Anredera cordifolia
Coto de Gomariz / Gomariz X Albariño/ 2012
Olla gitana with buta kakuni /
Olla gitana con carne de cerdo braseado
June 29, 2014
Truth is, the Albarños kinda won out. But these are wines that have nearly a couple of centuries of tradition behind them. Many of their kinks have been worked out. And nobody really complained about the koshus. Yeah, Albarño's certainly got more finesse, but Koshu's a contender.
Tasting Notes - The Wine
Soryu Citrus Scent
We ordered some wines from Soryu, a place that we visit every year. They make among the best affordable koshus in Yamanashi. Lemony citrus and nettles. A tarty little tart of a wine.
As Laxa Val do Sosego
Slight smell of salt air flowing through the peach orchards. A hint of lemon in the well-rounded taste.
Katsunuma Wineries Club katsunuma no koshu
Imagine this. Celery, green beans and a bit of greengage plum in the nose. Tasting dry with a bit of vegetal funk, but in a good way. A slight tartness, but not with the sourness fatigue that far too many koshus leave.
Coto de Gomariz Gomariz X 2012
Very austere. Grapefruit, hints of apricot, minerals. The winemaker behind this, Xose Lois Sebio is an interesting cat who has his own line of wines.
Some our guests brought these wines
Soleil van blanc fin de koshu 2013
A nice bright clean koshu with a lingering taste. Despite their slight tweeness and French pretentions, winemakers Tsuyoshi and Junko Suzuki are showing themselves to be among the finest in Yamanashi
Kai Sur Lie Limited Lot 3770 2012
Winemaker Kazama Soichiro is a nice guy and has a pretty cool winery - in an old traditional farmhouse - but this wine had some definite off notes and was pretty undrinkable.
Tasting Notes - The Food
Ishikawa-ken mame aji en escabache
These little mame (bean) aji (horse mackerel) were given the escabeche treatment to give them a little Spanish flair. A common dish here, nambanzuke (southern barbarian pickle) is a similar variation to escabeche. It was brought here by the Portuguese. The little fish in question took well to the sharp vinegary pickle, onions and olive oil.
Remolachas con miso y queso crema
The beets were sweet and full of umami. Choppped up with celery, mixed with dark salty miso (yet more umami) they were served on little tostas spread with cream cheese and topped with the beet mixture.
Tokoroten with cold-smoked Alaskan troll-caught king salmon
I happened to be at the Olympia farmers' market the week before where I picked up a nice piece of Pacific Northwest style cold smoked salmon. Down the street from where we live there's a little shop that makes tokoroten - best described as agar agar noodles. With a a traditional shoyu and vinegar sauce, the snappy clean clear "noodles" were great with the salty, smokey, dare I say amazing salmon.
Ceviche of cod marinated in shikuwasa juice
Again a nod to some cross-cultural ideas influenced by available ingredients. Cod is one of the few reliable fish found in Japan. With tart shikuwasa (an Okinawan citrus) juice, red peppers, onions and shizo, it suggested a possible Pacific Rim crossover.
Salad of Japanese greens with katsuo mojama
I took a small loin of bonito, salted it for a day and then air-dried it for a month to create a Japan-grown version of Andalusian mojama. Thin shavings of it peppered a salad of mixed greens that ran the gamut of tastes reminiscent of spinach to the vaguely medicinal.
Olla gitana with buta kakuni
A fairly traditional garbanzo and pumpkin (I used kabocha) stew, offset with a different tradition - pork belly long-simmered in shoyu, mirin and sugar. They worked together perfectly.