Asian wines to some may seem like a foreign concept, but the truth is that Asian winemaking has more history than you think. Chinese winemaking can be dated back 2000 years ago. Let’s not also forget about Georgia, located between the boundaries of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, where many believe the origin of winemaking began.
Whether it be old regions or newer Asian winemaking regions, I am going to unearth some of Asia’s most unique varietals. These wines represent the wine culture and style of their regions and is a great reflection on culture and tradition.
The grey pink clusters are a trademark of this native grape (Photo credit: Koshu of Japan)
Koshu is named after the prefecture that it is widely grown in, the former name of Yamanashi. The grape has been planted there for more than 800 years, but it was only in the 1870’s that it was made into wine. The grapes have a thick blush pink skin, which helps protect the fruit from disease pressures in the humid summer months. The grape usually produces high-acid, light, low-alcohol wines. It is delicate with flavours of citrus, peach and minerality, a perfect match with sushi and tempura.
This varietal is also a table grape in Japan, with their large juicy berries and thick dark skin (Photo credit: The Buyer)
Muscat Bailey A was bred by Kawakami Zenbei, whose aim was to develop a grape that could survive the harsh conditions of Niigata Prefecture where his winery Iwanohara was located. Crossing Muscat of Hamburg with Bailey resulted in a hybrid that buds late to avoid spring frosts and ripens early enough to be harvested before the cold autumn temperatures. The typical profile of Muscat Bailey A is a light bodied wine with low acid and tannin, bold in fruit flavours, but also lends itself well to barrel ageing and blends with Bordeaux varietals.
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It is not unusual to use table grapes as wine grapes in Asia (Photo credit: Meilland Richardier)
Alphonse Lavallée has origins in France as a table grape, however it is a very popular grape used for winemaking in Bali. It is a cross between Muscat Hamburg and Kharistvala Kolkhuri from Georgia. This is a vigorous dark skinned grape that can be harvested up to three times a year in Bali, best suited for making light bodied wine akin to Beaujolais Nouveau and rosé.
Belgia harvest at Hatten Winery (Photo credit: Pintrest)
Belgia is a variant of Muscat Alexandria. This is a grape used commonly by Hatten Winery for their white wines, made in dry or medium sweet styles this grape has a beautifully perfumed and aromatic nose that fits well into the cuisine of Bali.
It was only recently that they discovered exactly what Cabernet Gernischt was
Cabernet Gernischt is a red grape varietal used in China. Although it was thought to be a very close relative to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, genetic testing has proved that in actual fact, it is Carménère. This confusion of wine names was thought to come from the mixture of vine cuttings brought into China from Europe in the 19th century and the misspelling of ‘Cabernet gemischt’- German for mixed Cabernet. With a deep ruby red colour it is no wonder that the Chinese are so taken with this wine, it also displays red fruit characters with some capsicum and green peppercorn notes.
Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, created in 1961. It is surprising that China plants the most Marselan outside of France, since the varietal was first introduced on Chinese soil in 2001. It produces wines that are a vibrant purple colour and mirrors many characters of the much favoured Cabernet Sauvignon in China. It is a varietal that adapts well to different environments with a rich and concentrated palate. Give the vines a few more years to mature and this grape has the potential to represent Chinese wines in a much grander scale.
Click here to read more about Chinese winemaking regions.
Kayra Wines produce both Boğazkere and Öküzgözü. Their aim is to become the next generation of winemakers to reintroduce indigenous grapes to the world of wine.
Indigenous to Turkey, formerly the south-east region of Armenia, Boğazkere is a dark skinned grape mostly planted in the central region of Anatolia. The name of the grape directly translates to ‘throat burner’, not exactly the most pleasant sounding but describes the dense, high concentration of tannin that the wine is able to deliver. The varietal has been compared with Tannat, and displays aromas of dark and blue berries, leather, pine forest and spicy notes of cloves, liquorice and pepper.
Öküzgözü is the second native grape to come out of Anatolia. Unlike Boğazkere, the large fleshy berries produce wines that are rounder and higher in acidity. The typical aroma profile consists of sour cherries, raspberries, pomegranate, mint and chocolate. This wine has been described as the Turkish Pinot Noir.
Saperavi has long been used in the ancient qvevri style of winemaking where wines are fermented and aged underground in clay egg-shaped vessels
Saperavi is a grape that has deep roots in Georgia, one might even say it is their most important varietal. This varietal is a teinturier grape varietal, meaning that the flesh as well as the skin is pigmented which results in the wines signature deep colour. Saperavi is used to make some of Georgia’s most well-known wines and is produced in differing levels of sweetness.
Rkastsiteli is also widely used as a white wine varietal in Ukraine and Bulgaria (Photo credit: Georgia Wine UK)
One of Georgia’s most popular varietals has stood against the test of time. Rkastsiteli has good resistance to very cold climates and also produces grapes that can retain high acid even during the warmer months. This grape has been thought to be cultivated for several millennia and its versatility in being made into different types of wine is a tell-tale sign of how it has remained popular in various former Soviet-aligned countries. Although the berry is naturally high in acid it produces wines that are also spicy and floral.
I hope you have found some interesting varieties that might tickle your fancy. You can find out more about the wines and the wineries that produce wines out of these varietals in the Asian Wine Review.
Comment below if you have heard of or even tried out any of the unique Asian grape varietals.