Black Queen is a hybrid grape first created in Japan and produces light-bodied red wine of signature fruitiness and richness. Created by the famous Kawakami Zenbei, the grandfather of Japanese winemaking, by crossing Golden Queen and Bailey in 1920 this grape was designed to thrive in the unique climate of Japan and produces equally unique wine. Budding late in the season and ripening quickly, Black Queen masters a delicate balancing act between lightness of body and richness of flavour. With characteristic flavours of cocoa, vanilla and black fruit this sophisticated style of wine has only a gentle dose of acidity, to match the softness of the tannin. Complexity, elegance and balance ultimately typify wines made from Black Queen.
One of the most popular grapes in the world, Merlot has also proved extremely popular with Japanese winemakers. Merlot famously adapts to many climates and takes on the character of the location it is grown in. This leads, even within Japan, to a very wide variety of styles and flavours of Merlot wine, from soft and smooth fruity expressions to bold, rich and herbaceous. This chameleon effect allows each winemaker to create their own signature take on Merlot and this diversity of character truly warrants exploration of Merlots from a selection of different wineries and regions in Japan.
At high altitude in the very heart of the main island of Japan, Nagano prefecture is home to four basins which provide the shelter for some of the finest vineyards in Japan. These four “Wine Valleys” specialise in growing international grapes as well as the famed Japanese hybrids. Such are the results of winemaking in these valleys in the Japanese Alps that Nagano is now the second largest producer of Japanese wine, only behind Yamanashi.
The unique locale of Nagano blesses the vineyards with low rainfall and copious sunlight. Growing at such altitude slows the ripening of the fruit over a longer period before being picked in the autumn and increases the tannin, balance and flavour intensity of the wine. High altitude also means there are large day-night temperature swings, this is beneficial to not only the ripening of the fruit but the retention of natural acidity. The nightly drop in temperature also has the effect of aiding sugar content and coloration. The soil here is rocky and volcanic, providing not only excellent drainage but a wealth of mineral content. The fantastic opportunity that this terroir presents has been delivered on by the winemakers here and today Nagano offers one of the most diverse ranges of unique and exceptional quality wine in Japan.