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A Delicate Japanese White

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2009 Magrez-Aruga Koshu

Price: $35
Katsunauma, Japan
 100 percent koshu
12 percent
Serve with:
 salads, sushi and delicate fish such as scallops

In a world of supersize wines, how pleasant to come across a white of delicacy and nuance — from Japan, of all unexpected spots! The underplayed but luscious 2009 Magrez-Aruga Koshu has a lightly floral aroma and round citrus and kiwi flavors with a distinct hint of minerality. It has a vague resemblance to sauvignon blanc — to which it may be related — but this is not a wine that shouts its virtues or flavors. What really stands out is its high acid subtlety. What could be better with sushi?

Since I’ve tasted only a couple of wines made from Japan’s most important native grape, I’m not sure if quiet subtlety is a hallmark of the best, but based on this wine, food-friendly koshu should have a bright future.

Brought from the Caucasus via the Silk Road to China, and then by Buddhist monks to Japan, koshu vines are thought to have been cultivated in the country more than a thousand years ago. The grapes are a pinkish purple color, but the wine is white.

Magrez-Aruga is a recent joint project of Japanese winegrower Yuuji Aruga and France’s Bernard Magrez, owner of 10 Bordeaux châteaux, including famous Pape Clément, as well as 25 other vineyards around the world. Magrez had spent several years exploring the potential of China before deciding on this project. The first vintage was 2007. Aruga owns the Katsunuma Winery and produces several cuvées from Koshu.

The gently sloping Isehara vineyard is in Katsunuma in the eastern Kofu Valley of the Yamanashi Prefecture, the historic center of Japanese wine production. Magrez once told me that pickers can see the Japanese Alps as they harvest the grapes, which are trained to grow on pergolas to keep them well above the often wet soil and allow aeration in this very humid climate.

Only 2,900 bottles were produced in 2009. Something this unusual is worth seeking out. (U.S. importer is MHW Ltd.,

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”