Discovering Terroir through Japanese Wine | Wine Enthusiast
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Discovering Terroir through Japanese Wine

I had high hopes for my trip across Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan. As a sommelier, I was determined to try all the local beverages paired with new-to-me food. Except, just four days in, I got hit with sickness to my stomach, and the thought of eating anything more than half a croissant instilled in me the fear of death. And alcohol? Forget about it.

Japan was the last country I was visiting. As I was checking out of my hotel and heading to the airport, I saw a half bottle of Adega Vinicola d’Aruga’s 2017 Branca Clareza, a Japanese white wine, in the mini fridge. Screw it, I thought. I’ll pay the $50 and take this home, at least.

As Japan’s only indigenous grape, Koshu struck me with its refined elegance and playful spirit.

A day and a half later, I was sitting on my couch back at home, very jetlagged. My stomach had finally gained some semblance of normalcy and I decided to pop open that bottle of wine made from the Japanese Koshu grape. Delicate citrus with notes of orange blossom and a lees quality reminiscent of baked bread filled my glass. This wine was light and acidic but mysteriously complex at the same time. It reminded me of hiking through the Japanese mountains of Hakone. The nature was simple and serene, but then you’d turn a corner and find a tea house nestled unexpectedly in hills.

We’ve all heard the word terroir thrown around a lot. A great wine should help bring us a sense of place. Soil type, climate, viniculture and viticulture techniques all contribute to the taste and experience of a wine, but the concept never truly hit home for me as powerfully as in this moment.

As Japan’s only indigenous grape, Koshu struck me with its refined elegance and playful spirit.  I suddenly realized that sitting on my couch in California, I was back in Japan having a far better experience of terroir than I ever did while I was actually there. And isn’t that what we all love about wine? That it can transport us through time and space without the risk of food poisoning? This trip taught me that with wine, I can embark on a mini adventure from anywhere.