Monday, November 1, 2010


Wine is the alcoholic beverage made from grape juice through anaerobic fermentation. With a history dating back to 6000 BC, wine is associated with religious functions such as Catholic Eucharist ceremonies of Christians and Jewish Kuddish of Jews. Originating in the region of Georgia and Iran it traveled to Europe during 4500 BC. Grapes are ideally suited for producing wine because it has the right chemical balance for optimum yeast growth without addition of any external nutrients. Currently France and Italy are the leading producers and exporters of high quality wines. In 2007 Italy produced more than 5 million tons of wine while production in France was 4.7 million tons but France accounted for about 35% of world exports of wine as their products have high global reputation.

With an alcoholic content of about 10.5 %, wine is not strictly considered as an alcoholic drink unlike hard liquors and is actively promoted as a healthy beverage containing significant antioxidants. Besides it has a social aura being associated with partying and social get together. Champagne, another wine variant with some what higher alcoholic content has natural carbonation due to in-bottle fermentation and has a celebrity status. Terms like "old world wines" and "New world wines' have been in use for some time to distinguish between those made in Europe and out side. New world wines are supposed to be produced in countries like Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and United States of America. But with a border-less world emerging, such distinction is hardly relevant with many countries making products, some time better than the old world wines. It is hard to believe that a country like India could produce and export world famous wines like Cabarnet sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Ugni blanc, though with a little help from French expertise.

Japan is hardly the country one would associate with wine production because the population there discovered the quality of wines from Europe and California only during the 1970's economic boom. Ever since that its own home grown wine known as Koshu has been losing ground to imports. It was only in mid-1990s, some feeble attempts were made to improve the quality of Koshu made in the country. The Koshu variety of grapes with thick skin and some bitterness were not suitable to make a good wine. Persistent efforts for more than a decade enabled some of the wineries to produce world class Koshu wines, the first consignments entering Europe recently.

Though Japan lies on almost at the same latitude as California, untimely rains and frequent typhoons make it difficult to grow better quality grapes fit for wine making. Koshu type of grapes is a high yielding, pink colored variety, resistant to mildew and rot which can destroy traditional wine grapes of European pedigree like Chardonnay and Cabarnet. Though the bitterness presented the biggest problem innovative Japanese wine makers have been able to overcome the same by controlled juice extraction, incomplete fermentation to leave significant residual sugar to combat any traces of bitterness, use of fining agents and hyper oxidation and aging via Oak barrel route. To day Koshu wines are offered in many Japanese restaurants in countries like the US at prices varying from $45 to $ 70 per bottle and may eventually challenge the dominance of the so called old world wines in the years ahead.


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