The Holy Grail of Wines-to look for in Tokyo

Holy Grail of Grapes

Wine students often ask me, “What was that movie about Pinot Noir?” Ah, the Oscar-winning movie Sideways, which followed the adventures of Miles, a downwardly mobile middle-aged wine geek. As he accompanied Jack, his soon-to-be wed Neanderthal-like actor friend, on a week long, wild wine road trip through California’s Santa Ynez Valley wine country in search for the Holy Grail of wines, Pinot Noir. Therefore, inspiring wine lovers to search for their own version of the Holy Grail -Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir has been a star in Burgundy since Roman times, and favorites of French royalty and the church. Also, it is one of the three grapes found in most Champagnes. In the New World, winemakers see Pinot Noir as an ultimate test of their winemaking abilities.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grow like weeds worldwide. However, Pinot Noir, the sulky, sensitive noble queen of grapes, is far more demanding. She is very particular about where she puts down roots, preferring cool climates. Her delicate, thin skin demands 24-hour care to protect her from hail, frost and rain.

While the blueberry-size Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce tough and tannic muscular wines, Pinot Noir’s larger size and higher juice-to-skin ratio produces paler, delicate wines the brilliant ruby color of stained glass cathedral windows.

Often called the heartbreak grape, Pinot Noir can often be disappointing if shipped badly or opened when not ready to drink. Yet Pinot lovers always remember the breathtaking experience of tasting an exquisite bottle of Pinot Noir; silky and sensual, yet with forest fragrances turning into poetry in a glass.

Some of my personal favorites:

D’Arenberg, The Feral Fox Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Village Cellars, wine@village-cellars.co.jp

D’Arenberg’s unique owners, father d’Arry Osborn and son Chester, are living legends. Both are talented winemakers with a gift for telling very tall tales. Every d’Arenberg wine has a quirky urban legend behind the label: The Footbolt Shiraz, The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier and their high point Parker wine–The Dead Arm Shiraz.

The Feral Fox’s name comes from the sudden influx of wild foxes around the vineyard. With the decline of the animal’s favorite prey, rabbit, the crafty foxes began munching on bunches of tasty Pinot Noir grapes. The Feral Fox’s brooding signature flavors and aromas are as wild as a vineyard fox. Not for the faint of heart, with lots of forest floor, juicy wild strawberries, black truffles, beetroot and spicy wood smoke. Fantastic with pasta or wild rice with mixed mushrooms and demiglace sauce.

Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Cuvee ‘L’, 2012, Ontario, Canada. Heavenly Vines, Ebisu, Tokyo.
Yep, Canada makes some of the best wine in the world. “But how do they do it in the Great White North?” Well, if you look at a world map you can see that many parts of Canada, where wine is made, is on the same latitude as France, Washington State and so on. Canadian wines get top ratings from wine pros and sell out fast. Getting the top wineries to part with their wines to send to far off Japan was not easy for Canadian, Jamie Paquin and his wife, Nozomi Mihara. The couple runs an all Canadian wine shop in Ebisu, Tokyo. ( On weekends drop in for some wine and some hockey!)

Norman Hardie, Pinot Noir Cuvee ‘L’ is only made in the best vintages. The 2012 is a 70% blend of Niagara and 30% Country vineyards. The regions are aged separately in French oak, then blended and aged together in neutral oak. The wines are made in small batches and fermented with indigenous yeasts. The best part is that the wine has terrific balance with only 11.8% alcohol. ( Until the late 1990’s, most famous wines were around this level. Recently, sanity has returned and alcohol levels are going back to normal.)

‘L’ is a smoothly rich wine, with balanced acidity and forward strawberries, raspberries and black fruit over an Old World-style bone structure with a hint of beetroot and mushrooms. Pair with grilled mushrooms and lamb kebabs over the BBQ.

August Kesseler Spatburgunder Trocken, Cuvee Max, Rheingau, Germany.

Cuvee Max is only made and bottled when vintages are at their best. I have bought this wine in Japan, and in Wisconsin. Most wine students seem surprised that Germany grows a lot of Pinot Noir, in German called Spatburgunder. Germany’s Rheingau region is mineral rich with steep slate slopes which gives the wine a soft minerality. Located north of Frankfurt, the Rheingau region has been growing Pinot Noir grapes for more than 1,000 years. The region is home to some of Germany’s oldest wine estates, first built by the Romans.

The Kesseler family and team has worked in their vineyards for decades, producing wines on 40- to 80-year-old original clone vines. Keeping yields low, production small and quality high makes wine collectors grab most of his perfect wines–keeping prices high. Kessler’s mantra is “Quality is the best marketing strategy.” August Kesseler has won many awards; ‘Winemaker of the Year’, ‘Producer of the year’, The German Red Wine Prize and more. Cuvee Max is a very sensual wine, heady with aromas of sweet cherries, tea, cinnamon bark and white truffles with a hint of Chanel No. 5. Pair with roasted Cornish game hens stuffed with shiitake mushrooms.

Copyright 2017-Sandra Shoji サンドラ ショージ