Wine-tasting in Japan

Tonight my oenophile friends back in CA are getting together for a private wine tasting with winemaker Jacob Toft, whose 2007 Sarah’s Cuvee just earned an amazing 95 points from Wine Spectator. More importantly, he is also a Cal Poly grad, and one of our wine-tasting crew’s former students.

Since I am jealous of missing this event, I thought today might be the day to share our adventures in wine-tasting, Japan-style.

The short summary, of course, is: wine here sucks.

(To be fair, we did have good wine the other night at Acquamare in the Yokosuka Museum of Art, during a lovely dinner with our friends, Midori-san and Ken-san. But the rest of our experiences have been pretty crummy.)

We wanted to try Japanese wine, and to be fair, we started small – literally.  We selected a half bottle of Japanese wine, as well as a juice box of wine.

Don displays our juice-box wine and mini-wine

Of course, we knew the juice box was not going to be good.  Boxed wine rarely is (and the trendiness of designer box wine in the US does not seem to have hit the shores of Japan just yet).  But I was intrigued – little boxes of sake are everywhere, and one-off glasses of sake can be bought in vending machines. Plus, I love the idea of a lunch-box style wine – just tuck it in with your bento box and go, right?

Wrong.  They were both pretty gross.  Don insisted on a blind-style tasting and a proper swirling, smelling and tasting of each of the wines. I think perhaps I have dragged him to too many wine tastings with my colleagues!

Why yes, that is an english muffin pizza Don is eating. After two weeks without finding real pizza, I was desperate. (We've since had some delicious pizza. And lots of not-delicious pizza.)

My tasting notes:

On the nose: The scent of light, summery pool-toys plastic

Taste: A harder, sturdier plastic

Finish: There was none. At all.

The next time, I did my homework. I looked up wines in Japan, and apparently, Muscat Bailey A is the classic varietal.  And muscat! I love me some good dessert wines. And muscat is so loved in Japan, there’s even White Wine and Muscat Tea:

Surely this will be great!

Nope.  This one was astringent on the nose (Don thought is just smelled like hard alcohol), the taste started off alright, but by the end, something was afoul, and the finish was horrendous…something like a leftover vomit taste in my mouth.  It took a while, but I finally figured out what it was: the lingering flavor of the finish tasted like the basement of my brother’s college frat house smelled – like sticky stale beer and who knows what else?

By the way, I had been looking forward to this tea since we bought a “Flavoury Tea” variety pack our second day in Japan.  Turns out, the tea is just as nasty as the actual wine.

The funniest part is there are wine shops everywhere.  But the only California wines they have are Carlo Rossi…and some generic red from the Central Coast that’s distributed, oddly enough, by Tesco, the UK grocery store chain. (No wonder no one here bothers much with California wines.  Maybe I could take up a side gig as a Central Coast wine-exporter to Japan….).

So here’s wishing my wine-tasting friends a much more successful wine-tasting…and please, anyone, if you know of good Japanese wines, please, please prove me wrong! I will happily stand corrected.


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