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Delhi Wine Club
Natural Wine Tasting in Japan

Posted: Tuesday, 15 May 2012 11:22

Natural Wine Tasting in Japan

A large annual tasting of natural organized recently by a consortium of so-inclined importers of Japan at the Monterey Hotel in Tokyo's Hanzomon neighborhood underlined the fact once again that Japan perhaps absorbs a great deal of natural wine production, even though a London daily suggesting a few years ago that Japanese consumption is around 75 per cent of total volume, writes Ned Goodwin MW from Japan.

Daily Telegraph had suggested that Japanese consumption is around 75 per cent of total volume. While this sounds grossly exaggerated, the report rightly suggested that Japanese wine consumers have an affinity for provenance and wines that communicate their origins with aromas, transparency and textures.  And given that Tokyo is responsible for 70 per cent of Japan's total wine consumption of around two-liters per capita annually, one may draw the conclusion that Tokyo is a hotbed of natural wine.

What is natural wine

What is natural wine? This question has incited debate, occasionally belligerent and even downright vitriolic, across the wine world. In many ways this question is rhetorical because methodological or legal tenets that help us determine what it means to be called a 'natural' wine,  are either nebulous, or non-existent.

Most commentators, at the very least, agree that the term implies a minimal interventionist approach to winemaking that is founded on organic principles in the vineyard, sometimes fully fledged bio-dynamics. Judicious producers eschew additions be they acid additions, cultured yeasts, tannins or enzymes. Inherently, the minimalist ideology that binds these wines also sees gentle extraction and a subtle use of oak, if it is at all used.

Perhaps it is the very lack of parameters, however, that in a sort of twisted logic, serve to shape the myriad of vinous expressions. Attempts to define a freedom of expression that is inextricably bound to natural wines; to shape it and force it into definitions, legal promulgations and stylistic shoeboxes, detracts from the visceral and wild approach that is so attractive in the first place. In certain instances,  this freedom may be as attractive, if not more so, as some of the wines in an evaluative and/or qualitative sense.

Some have commentated that the 'natural' moniker suggests that those wines excluded from the category are, by definition, unnatural. This remains yet another contentious issue in the wine blogosphere and beyond, particularly when accusations of dishonesty and impropriety (using non-organic grapes, for example) have been made against some of the strongest natural wine proponents. It is stories like these, spurred by the evangelical tone of the debate that can make one weary. After all, it is just wine, right? That is like saying football or cricket is just a game!

Clearly, stories of the artisan tending small plots of vines, free of pesticides, resonates strongly with most wine drinkers as it should among all people. After all, who would not prefer to avoid wine or food-stuffs borne from chemicals and manipulation, if possible? Recession and social ills have seen consumers seek solace in foods, wines and even fashion with connections to the land and hearth.

This movement is possibly even stronger in Japan following the tragic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout of March 2011, even if many trends that have resulted are aesthetic, rather than statements grounded in a philosophy. Witness the 'mori' fashion, for example, that sees urban Japanese women dressed in Tibetan garb and hiking boots, as if heading off to climb Everest.

Just as we determine what is 'real' or 'true' to a large extent with our perceptions and beliefs, at an emotional level we can also determine, I suppose, what is 'natural.' Despite the proselytizing and anger among sanctimonious partisans in both camps, the implications of the natural wine movement are largely positive. The most compelling wines such as those of Breton, Bout du Monde and Pierre Overnoy, have an energy and emotional riff that makes me giddy, not to mention great stories to facilitate a love for wine that transcends the pragmatic approach to analysis, as well as sommeliers and their table-side yarns. After all, wine is often much more than a liquid to be broken down into balance, length and complexity,

- just as football or cricket are much more than mere games.

Ned Goodwin MW

Born in London, raised in Australia and educated in Tokyo and Paris, Ned Goodwin has chosen a path in wine that has encompassed restaurant work, show judging, consultancy, corporate experience as a buyer and event coordinator, and work in the media, both print and television. Since 2001, Ned has served as Wine Director - educator and buyer- for one of Asia's largest restaurant groups, Global Dining Japan; consultant for P.J. Group restaurants  and adviser to the Greek Embassy in Tokyo during the 2004 Olympics. Ned is also a consultant for Moet Hennessy and All Nippon Airways. Ned also had his own Japanese television show on wine, appeared as guest-lecturer and has written for several international dailies and magazines


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