Inspiration / Lifestyle & Opinion

Wine writer Andrew Jefford's travels to Japan - Blossom in a glass

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Andrew Jefford Andrew Jefford / 02 July 2019

Blossom in a glass

Blossom in the park - Japan
Blossom in the park - Japan

It was pure chance, a one-in-fifty-two jackpot: my first visit to Japan serendipitously coincided with 2019's peak cherryblossom week. Would I get to see them? The schedule seemed ominously hectic.

Anxiety misplaced, as it turned out: the blossoms come to see you. Orchards aside (where peach petals add to the dazzle), Japan's ornamental cherries march proudly through every park and residential quarter. Their wild cousins, meanwhile, out in the grey, leafless winter woodland of the hills, suddenly break cover in an exclamation of pink. The white blossom can be more exciting still, sucking up the raw spring sunlight the better to amplify it.

Japanese attention to detail is evident from the moment you walk across the airbridge, not least at mealtimes. Timidly, I ordered a western-style cooked breakfast in my Kofu hotel on my first morning there. As I ate the immaculately fried eggs and geometrically trimmed and crisped bacon, it was evident that this was the best executed version I had ever had. Thus encouraged, I opted for the Japanese breakfast the following morning: a box of treasures scattered among little dishes (including what seemed to be tiny, crisply fried elvers as well as roe, pickled cabbage, seasoned beans, confit onion and a tremblingly poached egg) to accompany succulent, soytanned salmon and a bowl of nourishing dashi with seaweed and scallops. And that's just breakfast; lunch and dinner were better still.

Japanese wine producers make a bigger range of wines than we tend to realise: chardonnay and Bordeaux style blends as well as syrah, tannat and tempranillo, though Japan's most common red wine is made from muscat bailey A, a cross between black muscat and bailey (a complex hybrid). Being Japanese, they do this with all the plausibility and lack of vulgarity a subtropical climate allows.

Blossom, vines, Mount Fuji...could there be a more perfect view?
Blossom, vines, Mount Fuji...could there be a more perfect view?
Koshu grapes, each with its own tiny rain hat in Japan
Koshu grapes, each with its own tiny rain hat in Japan

If you want a wine to sip as you sit on a picnic blanket and admire the cherry blossom as so many office workers were doing this week, then it has to be koshu. The origins of this pure-vinifera variety are a mystery (one theory, being probed at present, is that it travelled along the Silk Road from Georgia in the Caucasus). Despite the hot and humid Japanese summer, this late ripener struggles to acquire sugar before close of play in October. Its thick skins, though, resist rain well.

It makes an understated white; at first sip, you may be nonplussed. That, though, is because you haven't yet understood just how Japanese it in fact is, how light and precise, how neat and well-swept, how white-gloved and bowingly respectful. Take the time (on an imaginary picnic blanket, at least) to read a haiku or two, to note the petals skating through the bright air like winter's first flakes of snow, and then you will begin to see its fugitive orchard-fruit charm, its faintly saline crackle, its deft harmonies. And you won't – as I didn't – want to stop, up, or leave.

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