Japanese Pinot Noir – a comprehensive tasting

This tasting took place in Tokyo in April 2017, with the wines served blind in short flights. Japanese readers can find a full report in WINART magazine (June 2017). I imagine this constitutes the largest single tasting of Japanese pinot noir assembled to date.

Though on a world scale I have doubtless marked quite generously, it is fair to say that I was much more impressed by this showing than I had expected.

 

Hokkaido

Nana Tsu Mori Pinot Noir, Domaine Takahiko 2013 (Hokkaido)       94

Light to medium red now evolving in colour. Pretty fruit with some rose petal notes and some spices. The bouquet has good persistence and this is elegant. I love the fruit acid balance here and the stems are nicely handled.

Kita Wine Pinot Noir Private Reserve,  Chuobudoushu Chitose winery, 2014       92

Bright mid purple, delicious lively raspberry fragrance, good energy to this. Medium bodied fresh red fruit on the palate, with a suggestion of some reserve to develop later, bright but well integrated acidity, some wood tannins but not excessive. A brisk and enjoyable pinot which improves in the glass.

Fujino Pinot Noir, Sapporo Fujino Winery 2015 (Hokkaido)       91

Bright mid purple. Quite a plummy style of fruit with some strawberry notes. The palate shows some oak along with a concentrated deep red fruit with some capsicum notes. An interesting mix of maturity here. A pleasing finish without the astringency of some other wines. Good persistence and well managed oak.

Tap Kop Pinot Noir, Kono Vineyard 2014 (Hokkaido)     90

Dense rich purple, not clear, and whole bunch fermentation. An excellent weight of fruit on the nose, dark strawberry, impressive density on the palate, a very slight astringency at the back but the fruit wins through and persists very well.  Very good wine in this style but the oak could be reduced a touch for the best results.

Vigne Chantant Pinot Noir, Miyamoto Vineyard 2015 (Hokkaido)   90

Presented in an Alsace bottle. Noticeably deeper colour, almost maroon, and much less bright. This may be a deliberate choice. Clear evidence of whole bunch vinification, with a crushed strawberry style and a little pepper. The style is diametrically opposed to wine 1. There’s good concentration of fruit in the mouth, then some dry tannins and quite prominent acidity at the finish, though there is enough fruit to cover these bones but the oak comes out too much.

Koko Toaru Pinot Noir, Coco Farm Winery 2014 (Hokkaido)       89

Medium deep red with some evolution. Graceful pinot in a lighter register, a touch of petillance in the mouth, middleweight, some oak, but the fruit keeps going.

Pinot Noir, Tokachi Wine 2015 (Hokkaido)         88

Light to medium colour, bright with a tawny note to the red. Complex and interesting bouquet, some leafy notes along. With lighter red fruit, attractive across the palate, tannin and acidity correctly balanced. Not the densest fruit flavour but some elegance.

Pinot Noir Blue, Yamazaki Winery 2014 (Hokkaido)              87

Full deep purple, a little clearer than wine 11. Noticeably oaky on the nose, with perhaps a touch of oxidation. Ripe and quite intense fruit on the palate, finishes more on acidity than tannins, but the wood effect is a touch too strong. There’s a good core of fruit here nonetheless. Would have scored higher if fresher.

Hokkaido 100 Premium Pinot Noir, Hakodate Wine 2015 (Hokkaido)      86

Bright fresh light purple colour. The fruit is masked on the bouquet by cheese aromas and a little greenness. Not easy to identify this as pinot noir. However the grape comes through on the palate, with a little astringency at the finish. Work in progress and in fact the pinot flavours grow in the glass.

Otaru Pinot Noir, Hokkaido wine 2014                    86

Light bright orange/pink colour. Attractive perfume on the nose, floral rather than fruity, peonies. Generous fruit on the palate given how light the colour is, and a pleasing finish. Low tannins and acidity.

Kokoromo Pinot Noir, Coco Farm Winery 2011 (Hokkaido)              86

Red to tawny in colour and the nose suggests age. Some evolved aromatics which take away from the sense of pinot. High acidity slight discordant with the sweetness of the fruit but the wine finishes well.

Pinot Noir premium, Takizawa Winery 2014 (Hokkaido)              86

Full purple, again one of the muddied wines rather than crystal clear. Rich cherry fruit but there is some volatility here as well. This shows through too on the palate and the tannins at the finish are harsh. Finishes more on pepper than fruit. The producer’s gamble has not quite paid off.

RICCA Pinot Noir, Hosui Winery 2015 (Hokkaido)          85

Pale cherry pink colour, bright and clear. Light but fine and persistent bouquet, more cherry blossom than cherry. The fruit on the palate is discreet, again quite floral in style, with fresh acidity, medium to low alcohol, and good persistence. An attractive, clear light fresh pinot, though it does fade in the glass.

Grande Polaire Hokkaido Yoichi Pinot Noir, Sapporo Beer 2014 (Hokkaido)      83

Light to medium colour, showing some evolution but still bright. Some beetroot notes along with the red fruit, very slightly lactic, perhaps too much oak for the fruit.

Pinot Noir, Furano Wine 2014 (Hokkaido)          80

Fullish red with browner edges. Notes of oxidation here, dull plums on the palate, some acidity.

 

Nagano

Pinot Noir, Kusunoki Winery 2014 (Nagano)         95

Pale tawny colour, not quite clear, an evolved but delicious nose which includes crushed strawberries. A bouquet worth spending time over. This is elegant, balanced, persistent, fabulous wine in its style. Very long fine finish.

Kido private reserve Pinot Noir, Kido Winery 2014 (Nagano)    91

Pale colour, some orange to the red, lifted aromatics, a wine with some green notes in among the red fruit, but to me that is a perfectly acceptable style of pinot noir. I like the fact that the fruit builds to the back of the palate and the acidity, though present, is not trenchant.

Villadest Pinot Noir, Villadest Winery 2014 (Nagano)     90

Medium light purple with a delicious perfume, some raspberry, some crushed strawberry, a little spice and pepper, but all in quite a discreet register. Not a blockbuster but there is intensity. Stylish on the palate, nicely judged oak, the fruit is only just present enough on the mid palate but it reappears nicely at the back.

Domaine Sogga, Vigne San Chimi Pinot Noir, Obuse Winery 2016 (Nagano)      88

Medium light bright pink with an attractive rose petal perfume, very pinot. This maintains a very good sense of balance on the palate, with good light raspberry fruit maintaining through to the finish. The producer has not tried to extract what is not there.

Grand Polaire Azumino-Ikeda Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sapporo 2014 (Nagano)    87

Clear bright medium deep red purple. Quite luxurious fruit on the nose, dark plums, but also quite a lot of oak. The tannins at the back are more suggestive of too much wood than over extraction. Nearly a good wine.

Pinot noir, Shinshu Mashino Winery 2015 (Nagano)           87

Palish colour with a light orange tint. Attractive fresh strawberry aromatics, no more than medium bodied, with acidity rather than tannins bringing up the finish.  Not the most concentrated but it is pleasing.

Pinot Noir Premier Aokihara 2015, Suisse Vineyard Winery (Nagano)         86

Medium deep orange red with a burst of evolving pinot fruit on the nose. Some yeasty aromatics, perhaps a touch of volatility. this is an interesting high risk approach which has some flair but is not perfectly clean. High acidity at the back  but good persistence of fruit. But there are flaws. Over volatile alas.

Chikumagawa Valley Pinot Noir, Hasumi Farm & Winery 2015 (Nagano)     84

Pale colour with more evolution than 17. The nose is discreet but some pinot fruit can be coaxed out. Richer than expected on the palate but the alcohol is higher than expected and distorts the balance. Medium length.

Chateau Mercian Nagano Pinot Noir, Cuvee Akio 2012 (Nagano)            84

Deepish colour, evolving and rather muddied. The nose shows age too, a controlled form of oxidation. Acidity is now out of balance, and though some attractive fruit emerges at the finish, this would have been better earlier.

Pinot Noir Black Label, Funcky Chateau 2014 (Nagano)              83

Rich purple if a little muddy. The pungent nose has signs of volatility, too strong in this instance and the acidity toughens the finish. A disappointment as I have had a good wine from this producer before.

Other Regions

Mie Ikeno Pinot Noir 2009 (Yamanashi)                               89

Evolving red with some tawny notes. Quite a pleasing bouquet suggesting strawberries and some whole bunch vinification. The fruit fills the mouth though the stems have very slightly dried the finish. But this wine works, the best of the last two flights.

Meister Selection Pinot Noir, Asahimachi Wine 2014 (Yamagata)       89

Clear bright mid purple, could easily be a Burgundian colour. Not that that matters here. Some fruit, and a little oak, shows interest but the perfume is muted. Quite bright raspberry fruit on the palate, then a little more oak than is ideal but not enough to swamp the wine. The wine does not quite show perfect balance today but there is a lot here of interest.

Premium Tsugaru Pinot Noir, Suntory Tominooka Winery 2014 (Aomori)      88

Pale orange red with a pleasing graceful floral bouquet, including rose petals. Only just ripe but it has been gently handled and the fruit is pleasing. Medium length.

Tamba Toriino Pinot Noir Barrel fermented, Tamba Winery 2014 (Kyoto)   87

Light to medium purple, some fresh strawberry notes, a fair amount of oak but it has not drowned the fruit. Ready to drink now.

Soleil Pinot Noir, Asahi Youshu 2015  (Yamanashi)                 86

Pale colour with a faint cork taint. SECOND BOTTLE is cleaner though slightly green in fruit style. Even so, an attractive wine in a lighter style.

Domaine Q Pinot Noir 2015 (Yamanashi)                  85

Bright colour medium red purple, with again the oak a touch too prominent. The acidity is quite high. Correct fresh pinot flavours but the structure of the wine around this has not been perfectly managed.

Pinot Noir, l’Escargo 2013 (Niigata)                     85

Palish light orange colour. The nose suggests beetroot and jerusalem artichoke (topinambour in French) suggesting barely ripe grapes. Quite attractive fruit on the palate with a soft finish.

Private Reserve Pinot Noir, Tsuno Wine 2013 (Miyazaki)                84

Full colour, lighter at the rim, maturing. Still good fruit, along with a cooked beetroot effect. Rich but perhaps with botrytis on the palate, this could work with a  dish such as beef in a rich sauce but it is not an elegant style.

Aizu Wine Pinot Noir, Honda Winery 2016 (Fukushima)                84

Pale pink colour, bright and clear, some roses but perhaps more geraniums. Similar taste profile on the palate, a suggestion of residual sweetness balanced by some acidity.

Says Farm Pinot Noir, Says Farm 2015 (Toyama)            84

Youthful mid purple, some geranium notes on the bouquet, a little sweet oak, I think this wine may evolve quickly though the fruit is pretty now. However geranium notes become more and more powerful.

Kisvin Pinot Noir, Chateau Sakaori Winery 2012 (Yamanashi)        84

Medium deep purple, slightly muddy. The nose is quite volatile, and though the fruit has good concentration, this is too acetic to work.

Shimokita Wine Ryo Classic, Sunmamoru Winery 2014 (Aomori)          83

Powerful full purple in colour, but the nose has some cooked vegetal notes along with some coffee aromatics. A little bit harsh on the palate, this wine has been over extracted, though there is a core of good quality fruit lurking inside.

Bijou Pinot Noir, Cave d’Occhi Winery 2012 (Niigata)                  82

Pale orange-red with smoky notes to the nose – burnt toast? There is plenty of vibrant fruit on the palate but the charred wood flavours continue to dominate and spoil an otherwise promising wine.

Toriibira Pinot Noir Barrel Fermented, Toumu Winery 2015 (Yamanashi)    81

Medium deep colour, very oaky, volatile and perhaps showing a tendency to oxidise. But the biggest problem is the oak abuse.

TOMOE Pinot Noir, Hiroshima Miyoshi Winery 2013 (Hiroshima)       80

The colour is maturing and the nose is rather muddied with slightly cooked fruit. Earthy, soupy, acidic.