Koshu is the Japanese wine you need to know about right now

We've heard a lot recently about how good Japanese whisky is, but have you ever heard of Japanese wine?

If Australian wine guru Phillip Moraghan has anything to do with it, Koshu may soon be as popular here as Pinot Grigio.

Moraghan, founder of renowned Australian winery Curly Flat, and his wife Rika Shimo have spent the past four years working with winemakers at the premium Japanese winery Katsunuma Jozo in the Yamanashi prefecture producing their own version of Koshu, with an Australian aesthetic, under the label Shimora.

A taste of Japan

Having previously trained in Burgandy, Moraghan's Curly Flat label was originally known for its premium Pinot Noir. That is until his wife introduced him to Koshu.

After spending time in Japan, Moraghan and Shimo approached Yuki Hirayama, then the head Winemaker at Katsunuma Jozo, and asked to work on a vintage with the family-run winery.  

Moraghan says that when they first arrived at Katsunuma Jozo, they were initially greeted with some suspicion.

"The owner and father sort-of sat me down and said, 'what the hell are you doing here? Why aren't you in Burgundy?'"

Eventually, though, they were embraced by the family, and given four tonnes of the best Koshu fruit to make their own wine with. After their return to Australia, the couple got a phone call from Japan.

"They said that they'd thought about it and what they wanted was for us to have some of the wine that we'd created, and to bring it to Australia."


And so the Shimora Wine Partnership was born.

The Koshu story

But what is Koshu, and why do Shimo and Moraghan believe it will be so popular with Australian drinkers?

Koshu is not indigenous to Japan, but the strain that grows there now is found nowhere else. It is thought to have originated from varieties brought from the Caucuses via the Silk Road around a thousand years ago, and to have crossed with wild Chinese grapes to produce a unique variety. The resulting white wines are aromatic and subtle, with relatively low alcohol content.

Moraghan describes them as having similar characteristics to Riesling and Pinot Grigio.

But what makes Koshu particularly appealing to both Japanese and Australian drinkers is its perfect compatibility with seafood.

According to Moraghan, European white wine varietals have a particular ion in them that, when drunk with seafood, enhances the "fishiness" of the food. Koshu does not have this ion, and so represents a perfect wine for the seafood-loving Aussie market.

Add to the cellar

How can I get my hands on some of this Koshu, I hear you ask?

Moraghan and Shimo have been working with the Tokyo University of Agriculture and University of California to produce a strain of Koshu that can be imported into Australia, with its strict quarantine laws.

"It's a long-term project," Moraghan admits.

In the meantime, readers can order the duo's Shimora Koshu at Tetsuya's or Azuma in Sydney, and at Minamishima or Shinoki in Melbourne.

They have also teamed up with Andrew McConnell in Melbourne to host a special lunch at Supernormal Canteen on August 19, which will showcase Shimora Koshu as well as some of the other wines produced by Katsunuma Jozo. The Shimora wines will be available for retail purchase at the event.

They are also planning a similar event Sam Christie's Cho Cho San in Sydney in November.  

Get in quick to be among the first to say you have tried the next big thing: Japanese wine.