Searching for the Holy Grail of Wine-Pinot Noir, 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,

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


Free Premium California Wine Tasting by Hotei Wines at Dive to Wine in Tokyo!

Free anything in Tokyo rarely happens, especially in the world of wine. So it amazing when Bill Campbell, the CEO of Hotei Wines puts on a free premium wine tasting at the hipster wine shop, Dive to Wine. Hotei has been around for quite a while, famous for carrying the California wineries that were at the Judgement of Paris. Famous for carrying top California wines.


Team Hotei will be pouring a dozen of their best-selling wines at eclectic wine shop/wine bar “Dive to Wine” in Jingumae on Tuesday, May 23, from
1:00-8:00pm. ( Hotei’s boss, Bill Campbell will be pouring from 17:00!!)

The tasting selection will run the gauntlet from Bodkin’s Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc. (“America’s first sparkling Sav Blanc”), to great-value offerings from Bench, Seaglass, Castle Rock and Joel Gott. Also, featured will be two most popular recent library releases, the Valentine Vineyards 2004 Merlot and Keller’s 2011 La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

There is no charge for the tasting, and Dive to Wine will offer free shipping on orders totaling 6,000 yen and up, so this is a great chance to try some good-value wines for the summer and ship in a few bottles for further evaluation!

Hotei in-store tasting
May 23, 13:00-20:00*
Dive to Wine
3-1-21 Jingumae
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel 03-6319-1915
*Hotei’s big boss, Bill Campbell will pouring from 17:00

Hotei Wines KK
3-17-5 Shirokanedai
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0071

DiamAndes: Bordeaux Chateaux produce wonderful wines in Argentina’s best terroir.

Writer-Hiroshi Shoji

The Japan Sommelier Association Kanto Branch held a seminar tasting at TKP Garden City Shinagawa, Tokyo on June 1, 2014. The seminar’s theme (translated from Japanese) was titled “DiamAndes: Bordeaux Chateaux produce wonderful wines in Argentina’s best terroir.”

The lecturer was Bodega DiamAndes’ Management Director, Bruno Laplane. The master of ceremonies and tasting commentator was the chairman of the JSA Kanto division, Mr. Toshifumi Nakamoto.

There were 100 seats in the room, with only a few left empty one. The attending wine professionals were about 50% each female and male, mostly over the age of forty. Most men were dressed in polo shirts and also the women were casually dressed. Quite a change from a decade ago when most of the wine professionals would have been dressed in dark suits.

 As the wine tasting seminar was a Japan Sommelier Association event, no photos were allowed.

For the tasting we had six wines, two whites and four reds. The tasting flight was: DiamAndes Chardonnay 2012 (Chardonnay 100%, 2,500 yen), DiamAndes Viognier 2012 (Viognier 100%, 3,300 yen), DiamAndes Perlita 2012 (2,500 yen), DiamAndes Malbec 2010 (3,300 yen), DiamAndes Gran Reserva 2008 (5,000 yen) and 2009 (6,000 yen).

DiamAndes Chardonnay 2012: It shines like a diamond is that Mr. Nakamoto said. (Sadly, the lighting in the room was very bad, and it was difficult to identify the real color of any of the wines.) 

Yes, the chardonnay reflected lights from the ceiling beautifully. It was shining like a diamond. The nose was green apple, pear, peach, and chamomile according to Mr. Nakamoto. He noted if it was decanted the aromas would be richer. The finish made mouth dry. His suggested food match was Pork Shabu-Shabu with sesame dip.

DiamAndes Viognier 2012: We were told the nose was of tropical fruits, with a bit of flowers like jasmine according to Mr. Nakamoto. He said the herbs and spices would be lemon grass, coriander, and ginger. Also, Mr. Nakamoto remarked that if the wine was served in a bigger glass, it would be better. He said the wine would go with Takoyaki and egg dishes.

Before tasting the red wines, Mr. Nakamoto said to think about tannins when chewing. So I tried to find the differences between the tannins. They were completely different.

DiamAndes Perlita 2012 (Malbec 80%, Syrah 20%): had sweet tannins, powdery but not quite fine. The finish also had sweet tannins.

DiamAndes Malbec 2010 (Malbec 90%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%, Syrah 3%, Petit Verdot 2%) : Fine tannins, with some sweet tannins. The finish was fine some sweet tannins. Mr. Nakamoto said the wine would go with warm vegetables especially eggplant. Also, it would go with eel.

DiamAndes Gran Reserva 2008 (Malbec 75%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%): Sharp tannins. The finish was very tannic.

DiamAndes Gran Reserva 2009 (Malbec 75%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%): Very fine and silk soft tannins, much like expensive powdery, tannic Japanese green tea. The finish was round and fine, but extremely tannic.

The 2008 and 2009 wines were very different, so a woman in the audience at the seminar asked the manager of DiamAndes about the weather in 2008 and 2009. He said that unlike in Bordeaux, the weather in Argentina probably doesn’t affect the vintage very much. However, they used more older vines in 2009 than in 2008 which is probably the reason.

All these wines presented are designated DO Valle de Uco, Mendoza. DiamAndes is part of the Clos de Los Siete group. In 1999, winemaker, Michel Rolland, along with 6 other Bordeaux winemakers founded the Clos de los Sietein the best wine producing region Mendoza in Argentina. 

In 2005, Frenchman Alfred-Alexandre Bonnie and his wife Michelle, owners of the well-respected Grand Cru Classé Château Malartic-Lagravière, and Pessac-Léognan Château Gazin Rocquencourt joined this Argentinean adventure. The Bonnie family purchased130 hectares within Clos de Los Siete, and Bodega DiamAndes began.  

Copyright-Hiroshi Shoji, 2014

Vins de Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classes, Tokyo, May 21, 2014

On the day, very dark clouds were gathering above and a strong wind was blowing. In the rain, the Vins de Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classes wine trade tasting 2014 was held in the Hotel New Otani, Tokyo on May 21. The featured vintages were 2010 wine and 2008.

The tasting room design was like being inside of a jack in the box. In the rather mundane, Japanese hotel conference room, on each chateau’s table there was only first or second label from the 2010 vintage. A few tables had both 2008 and 2010 vintages. No added decoration, just a few bottles. A tall number plate stood elegantly on each table, so grand and well designed. Meanwhile, each French wine person stood as if their spines were made of spears, standing high to the ceiling maybe having some existential thoughts. I don’t want to mention about the tailored suites of French men and women. It’s too cliché.

Last year’s Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classes tasting was for 2009 and 2008 wines. I still remember the sensation of the powerful 2009 Saint-Emilion wines. Long lasting finishes, wine after wine. Silky tannins, acidity and sweetness was taken over by a mild body. Then thousands of particles of wine exploded, having festival on my palate. Tasting 2009 Saint-Emilion was such an extraordinary experience. Actually those 2009 Saint-Emilion Grand Crus Classes gave me inspirations to start writing wine poems.

The 2008 wines had not developed much. They tasted almost the same as last year, modest and quiet wines. However, the 2010’s were quite different from the 2008’s. They had character. Some of them seemed to have the power to be the great wines.

Though I liked all the 2010 wines, six or seven wines gave me thrilling feelings:

Table 18. Chateau Villemaurin hada blue tint and lighter color. The attack was smooth and sweet, then tannins took over, then the acidity, sweetness came back. It’s a soft textured tender wine. Long finish.

Table 3. Chateau Corbin was a winner of smells. The smells take you into space, over the woods, flying with a hawk, following railroad tracks to the sweet flowery land.

Table 4. Couvent des Jacobins had comfortable tannins and a lovely finish.

Table 17. Chateau Ripeau was sort of milky with impressive tannins.

Tables 11&13. Imposing long finishes for the wines of Chateau Fonplegade and Chateau Franc Mayne.


Table 2. As I was leaving I grabbed a slice of baguette and ask for Chateau Clos de Sarpe 2008 to taste. The 2008 wine went so mellow with the baguette and began to sing about a wonderful place in Saint-Emilion. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. I can’t explain well, but I had cozy and nice feeling, and it made me feel that I should be kind to nature a little, for sure.


Writer and photographer, Hiroshi Shoji. Copyright May, 2014.

WINE TOKYO, May 15th, TRC Center, D Hall, Tokyo, Japan

Went to Wine Tokyo 2014 on May 15th. Paid 300 yen at the reception counter and got a wine glass. Passed the people standing in line trying to buy wine seminar tickets.
Impressed by the bright color small round table display by Riedel.  



Glanced at people freely helping themselves to an assortment of wines from FunVino, a by-the-glass wine server.


Took a wine cocktail served in a plastic cup from a rectangular table covered by white cloth in front of ladies in black.

Noticed corks spread on a table and also exhibited on a hard board standing on the table. Listened to a lady who works for the Reduce Reuse Recycle NGO about changing used wine corks into cork pins, magnets, seals, hankos (Japanese stamps), coasters and to map puzzles about Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan area.




Met a friend smiling into the air with his smartphone on his ear.


Saw the serious face of the owner of Southern Cross servicing his wines imported from New Zealand, the Invivio man.



Tasted Berry Brothers & Rudd wines. Yummy always, yamitsuki (addictive).

My first big surprise was Mateus Rose from Portugal, priced at 1,000 yen. The wine had a slight frizzante and matched the shape of the Mateus bottle very well. Was like tasting friskness if there is such a word. Also, enjoyed the affordable spumante, White Chastell at 980 yen and the Cava Valdevlavia at 1,280 yen. It was nice to see a 100% Brazilian sparkling Moscato called Brazilian Soul from Serra Gauche at 1,480 yen.

Also, I liked the non-alcohol wines served by a company called Allegresse. I liked all their drinks that I tasted, though there were not many. The bottles’ labels and caps were very eye-catching.

Looking for the best display in the hall, I proceeded to the counter of B.J. Planning’s wines. There I picked up some kangaroo jerky not knowing it was kangaroo.  At first, I thought that the taste was a little sweeter than the jerky I remembered. Then I learned that the jerky was made from kangaroo and the company had made this jerky just for this Wine Tokyo event. They didn’t buy it from a convenience store. The jerky was so good that I wanted to finish up the whole bowl! A lady next to me was eating it at the same speed as I did from the same bowl. The jerky was a wonderful accompaniment to a St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley 2009 at 6,690 yen.

My second surprise was the L’Avenir selection.  I tasted almost all of the wines lined up on the table, and I liked them all. The shop owner said his shop is in Aoyama, Tokyo, so I would certainly go there to buy some wines especially because the price of his wines presented were quite affordable.

Next, I tasted two wines chilling in an icy clear bucket. They were from the Harimaya shop in Hachioji, in western Tokyo. The shop specializes in Portuguese wines. Both the Casal Garcia Vinho Verde and the Casa Garcia sparkling white Meio-seco were, I thought, good for all seasons, especially for sunny springs, hot summers, melancholy autumns, and winters by a fire.

The biggest surprises of all were from the Yamato Budoshu Winery in Yamanashi, Japan. First, I was surprised by the naming of their wines, Uhathi Syrah, Yasutarou Petit Verdot, Yasumasa Merlot, Keitaro Pinot Noir. Those are names of owners of the winery from the earliest to the present respectively. My second surprise was that those wines had terroir. Japanese terroir is different from French terrior, I thought. I could taste the Japanese soil. Strange, isn’t it. I felt so relaxed after I tasted those wines. Like being at home. The same feeling that I have when I taste great Burgundy wines from Berry Brothers & Rudd wines.

The most crowed alley was where wines of Japanese Wineries were served. Modest I am at first I couldn’t push through the crowds.
However, I did make it to Nick Y. Hasumi Farm Wines. His favorite was Hasumi Farm 2012 Chardonnay.


Wine Tokyo 2014 was such a nice atmosphere created by all the participants. Without spit cups, everyone was becoming mellow and happy after a while, being in the hall. It was nice to see pink cheeks smiling.

Article and photos by Hirosh Shoji, May, 2014, copyright 2014.





Canadian Wine, Beer & Whisky Seminar and Tasting, February 18, 2014, Canadian Embassy, Tokyo

For me, growing up  in the American MidWest along the Canadian border, Canada seemed a vast country. It stretched north all the way to the other side of the planet to Russia. Also, it stretched from way past Maine on the east, and far west of California.  Oddly, enough, parts of Canada were more southerly than my home state. Images of Canada were of the Royal Mounted Police, bears, moose, endless tracts of woods, maple leaves, Canadian geese , hockey and citizens who pronounced ‘ about’ in a unique way.

In Japan, most Japanese, when you mention Canada remark, ‘Ah, COLD!!.  So how can they grow wine grapes and make wine?  Luckily, the seminar’s presentations showed that Canada is not only a big country with a wide range of climates, but also has some really spectacular wineries producing first class wines. 

One seminar speaker, Jamie Paquin. Paquin has shown a spotlight on Canada’s top rated wines with his ‘Canadian wines only’ wine shop, Heavenly Vines, in Ebisu, Tokyo. Jamie co-owns Heavenly Vines with his wife, Nozomi Mihara.  Surprisingly, the shop is the only ‘Canadian wines only’ shop in the world.  


Jamie Paquin co-owner of Heavenly Vines wine shop, Ebisu, Tokyo


Following the seminar we headed up to the second floor to the tasting and were greeted by Adrian Marques, of Plan B Corporation, pouring some sparkling wine from Milan Winery. The wine was made from maple sap, but only had a small hint of maple syrup. Lots of small petulant bubbles, very pale lemon with delicate flavors of maple, spring flowers, washed stones. 


Sommelier, Adrian Marques, of Plan B Corporation


Top Japanese wine writer, Nishida-san, looking chic as always getting ready to taste Blue Mountain sparkling wines.


Christie Mavety of Blue Mountain Vineyards, British Columbia. (family owned winery) Ready to pour out some very velvety Pinot Noirs.


If you ever wonder what movie directors (Hairspray) of special effects do in their spare time, guess they make great wine. Guilty Men, Malivoire Wine Company.


Ungava, Canadian gin. Made with wild things like Wild Rose Hips, Labrador Tea, Cloudberries.



Nakagawa Wine’s Trade Tasting at the Tokyo American Club on February 18th, 2014

On February 18, 2014, Nakagawa Wine held a trade event at the Tokyo American Club presenting wines from California, Oregon and Washington State. It was great to see that more importers’ events are taking place in Spacious and airy rooms with windows with a view. Nakagawa Wine has a large stable of premium wines and the long tables with wines to pour on your own took quite a time to get through.  All were different and all were interesting with lots of premium end wines.


Greg Harrington, Master Sommelier and owner of Gramercy Cellars, Washington State. Loved his wines and their quirky labels. Quirky labels are popular in Tokyo the capital of trendy fashioN, Michelin Starred restaurants and animae.


Isabelle, daughter of Jim Clendenen, the creator of the high point, highly respected Au Bon Climat. 


Isabelle pouring the top rated wine her dad named after her. Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, 2010 , vineyards: Bien Nacido, Sanford & Benedict, Talley Rincon, Mt. Carmel, California. 


Yoko Takamura, Manager of Imports & Marketing at Nakagawa Wines with Jeff Gordon of Gordon Estates of Washington State with his wine line-up. (Love the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc) 


Grace Family Vineyard, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown, 2011, 65,000 yen. Big elegant balanced flavors of pencil lead, tobacco box, plums, black currants, black cherries and anise.


Love the label, loved the Chardonnay with refined tannins and balance fruit. Radio-Coteau Vineyards, Anderson Valley, Chardonnay Savoy.