Based in Shiojiri, Izutsu Winery is, by Nagano standards, quite a big operation. This is part of the Kikyogahara Wine Valley, which is the oldest wine region in Nagano, with over 100 years history. The first winery licence in Nagano was granted in 1872, and in 1890 grapes were grown here: these were the labrusca varieties Concord and Niagara.
Isutzu was founded as a winery in 1933. Previously, the company had been growing mulberry for silk worms, but in 1929 the world economic crisis made it hard to export silk.
Yoshioko Tsukahara was the founder of this winery, and it is now in the hands of the third generation. Their grape sources are their own 19 hectares of vineyards, plus fruit from growers, although it is becoming more difficult to buy grapes. Production scale is 800 000 bottles.
We visited with winemaker Shin Noda, who gave a tour of the winery, and then a tasting.
Izutsu Winery Ryugan 2017 Nagano, Japan
Ryugan is a bit like Koshu: a big-berried hybrid variety. Very bright, linear with some grapefruit and pear notes. Good acidity here with crisp, clean, pure flavours. Zippy and quite tasty in a primary, fruity style. 85/100
Izutsu Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Nagano, Japan
Crisp, bright and taut with nice bright citrus fruit. High acid style. This is light and fresh with some grapefruit and a nice grassy edge, as well as some exotic elderflower notes. Well made in very acidic, lighter style. 87/100
Izutsu Winery Unwooded Chardonnay 2017 Nagano, Japan
Bright, acidic and stony with some nutty hints. Fresh and a bit smoky with attractive pear and citrus fruit. Light style with some savoury interest. 85/100
Izutsu Winery Chardonnay Barrel Ageing 2017 Nagano, Japan
20% new oak, all French oak. Smoky, nutty, slightly woody nose. The palate has some attractive vanilla and cedar oak notes complementing the fresh citrus and pear fruit. This is an appealing, linear wine that has its edges softened a little by the wood, and it finishes clean with hints of bread and toffee. Stylishly done. 88/100
Izutsu Winery Merlot 2017 Nagano, Japan
Unoaked. Fresh, juicy Loire-like nose of sappy berry fruits. The palate is fresh, juicy and sappy with some sweetness, offering cherries, raspberries and a bit of strawberry, too, with well integrated green notes. Very well made and great value for money. 87/100
Izutsu Winery Cabernet Franc 2017 Nagano, Japan
Unoaked. This is sappy and green with some tannic grip under the berry fruits. It’s a bit green and awkward, with a short, firm finish. 84/100
Izutsu Winery Merlot Barrel Ageing 2015 Nagano, Japan
This was a difficult year. Strong oak imprint on the nose. Supple, fleshy fruit here with bright berries, and some sweet, slighty bitter oak character, with charred coffee and vanilla notes. Pleasant and drinkable, but too much oak for me, bearing in mind the character of the fruit. 85/100
Izutsu Winery Muscat Bailey A 2017 Nagano, Japan
Good colour. Juicy, bright and berryish with supple cherry and plum fruit, and a jelly-like character. Simple fun here, with expressive fruit. A really honest wine that’s quite fun. 88/100