Nagano region, Japan (7) Azumino Winery

One of the most beautifully situated wineries in Nagano, Azumino winery was established in 2007 in the Nihon Alps wine valley, in the shadow of the northern alps. Here, on a bright, bracing winter’s day, I met with Akira Kato (chief winemaker) and Kentaro Furukawa (viticulturist).

Akira and Kentaro

The winery is owned by Kashiyama, a Vacuum Solutions company who are in the semiconductors business (these need to be made under vacuum). Previoulsy, this location was home to a winery called Azumin Wine but it went bankrupt and Kashiyama decided to take the winery on.

The barrel cellar

Azumin were making fruit juice, wine and beer, as well as drinking yoghurt. But Kashiyama decided just to carry on with wine and yoghurt. At this time they cultivated the land round the winery and established vineyards. Now they have 1.8 hectares, and they also have two other plots in the same area taking the total up to 3.2 hectares. The altitude is 700 m.

In 2008 they planted Chardonnay and Merlot in front of the winery, and a year later planted Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2014 they planted some Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is the dominant variety (50% of their vineyard, but 20-30% of production), with Merlot second. They also use Concord and Niagara, and make some cider using the traditional Kogyoku variety of apple. It’s a small apple with nice acidity.

Their production is mainly from this area, and they buy in 70% of their needs from growers. Production is 80 000 bottles per year.

Azumino Winery Chardonnay Sparkling 2016 Nagano, Japan
Injected method. This is pretty and fruity with nice citrus notes, a touch of white peach and some table grape richness, kept fresh with bubbles. It’s very attractive, with nice balance. 86/100

Azumino Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Nagano, Japan
From their own vineyards, harvested 28 September. First release of this was 2016. This is light, clean and fruity. Distinctive elderflower and pear notes on the nose, with a delicate, well balanced palate. Light in style and very attractive, with subtle green notes. 87/100

Azumino Winery Sauvignin Blanc 2017 Nagano, Japan
Light and expressive with some green herbal notes and taut lemony fruit. Stony and quite acidic. Finishes a little short, but it’s an attractive lighter style. 84/100

Azumino Winery Chardonnay 2016 Nagano, Japan
Subtle nuttiness to to rounded, smooth citrus and pear fruit. Unoaked style with nice texture and gentle fruitiness. Simple and pleasant with a hint of caramel on the finish, showing a bit of development. 84/100

Azumino Winery Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2017 Nagano, Japan
This is bright with a slight cabbage edge to the attractive citrus fruit. There’s a core of good acidity here and the oak is unobtrusive, smoothing the edges out a bit and adding some spicy framing. Nice fruit here. 88/100

Azumino Château Azumino Chardonnay 2014 Winery Nagano, Japan
Fresh, taut and quite Chablis-like in its flavour, this has good acidity under some stony citrus fruit with a hint of yellow plum and just a trace of oak in the background. Very well integrated, showing lovely purity. It is developing very nicely. 91/100

Azumino Tennoubara Merlot 2017 Nagano, Japan
15 months barrel ageing, 10% new. Lovely weight of fruit here: crunchy raspberry and blackberry fruit with with nice freshness. Good concentration with a bit of spicy detail. This is really good. 91/100

Azumino Winery Merlot Barrel Ageing 2016 Nagano, Japan
Supple and berryish with smooth, rounded, quite bright berry fruits, with some blackcurrant freshness. Stylish and focused with great balance, and lovely fruit intensity. Delivers pleasure. 89/100

Azumino Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Nagano, Japan
Has a strong menthol edge to the nose. Savoury and spicy with some mint and medicine hints as well as blackcurrant fruit and some blackcurrant bud. Astringent finish. This is quite tough. 82/100

Azumino Winery Château Azumino Merlot 2014 Nagano, Japan
Savoury, structured and quite spicy with appealing black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, showing some development and firm tannins. Has nice intensity: food friendly style. 86/100

Azumino Winery Château Azumino Special Reserve 2014 Nagano, Japan
65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. This has nice intensity with savoury, spicy character and vivid blackcurrant fruit. It’s very structured with good acidity, and the tannins are quite strong, but there’s enough fruit to counter them. A taut, lean, structured wine with lots of appeal. Hints of tar and medicine here on the finish. 89/100

Azumino Winery Concord Dry 2016 Nagano, Japan
Fresh, aromatic nose with cherry jelly and strawberry. The palate is light, juicy and jellyish with nice balance. A good example. 84/100

Azumino Winery Concord Sweet 2016 Nagano, Japan
Appealing cherry jelly and strawberry aromas. The palate is fruity with some sweetness, but it remains fresh and balanced. Very appealing. 84/100

Azumino Winery Niagara Dry 2017 Nagano, Japan
Reductive with a matchstick edge to the juicy citrus fruit, with a touch of melon. Dry. 80/100

Azumino Winery Niagara Sweet Nagano, Japan
A bit of matchstick reduction on the nose, but it’s not dominant. Sweet, jellyish fruit on the palate with some lemon and melon character. Attractive and juicy. 82/100

Kogyoku Cider 2015
Bright, fresh and appealing with fresh appley notes and some stony, nutty hints. Crisp and dry with a juicy finish.

Kogyoku Dessert Cider 2015
An orange/bronze colour. The juice was frozen to concentrate the flavour. Beautifully aromatic sweet baked apple nose with a touch of raisin. Very sweet with amazing acidity to counter it. Spicy, intense and rich with lovely flavour, showing apples, raisins and apricot. Remarkable stuff. World class.

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