Wine October 2012

Changing Tastes

Royalty and sport boost British wine sales in Japan

  • Nyetimber has made English sparkling wine for 20 years, but rain ruined 2012 harvest.
  • Berry Bros. & Rudd wine sales are up in Japan.

There is nothing quite like a perfectly chilled white wine to soothe one during the heat of summer in Japan. Kept cool and ready to be served—be it a picnic or a barbecue, at the beach or on an urban balcony—an elegant white will always hit the spot.

Wine experts Berry Bros. & Rudd have, unsurprisingly, been kept busy meeting demand for their most sought-after tipple this summer, United Kingdom Cuvee, Grand Cru, Champagne Marguet—aged for four years in barrels from Château Margaux.

Berry’s Extra Dry, Crémant de Limoux, Domaine de l’Aigle is selling well, while their newcomer 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Churton, is “becoming popular because of its delicate, mouth-watering, elegant taste”.

According to the firm’s spokesperson, last year’s sales were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, but have “recovered well”.

Industry data show that in fiscal 2011 domestic wine shipments totalled 302,384kl—up 10.3% year on year. This is particularly impressive since total liquor shipments were down 0.2% year on year.

“It seems that drinking wine has become an entrenched part of Japanese lifestyles and wine lovers are looking for better quality wines at lower prices”, the spokeswoman said.

“Due to the London Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, interest in related wines has been increasing, with sparkling wines by Nyetimber recently earning a good reputation for their quality”, she said.

However, the taste and flavours of a wine are not solely about what emerges from the bottle.

As Riedel Japan president, Wolfgang Angyal, said, “We are the only glassmaker in the world that makes glasses that are specific to grape variety.

“Riedel was the original glassmaker to pioneer wine-friendly stemware in the 1950s, when Claus Riedel, the ninth generation of the family, devised the ultra thin, egg-shaped bowl on a long stem”, Angyal explained, adding that previously glasses had been made of thick, decorated glass that had done nothing to enhance a wine’s properties.

“Claus Riedel discovered the intrinsic relationship between the shape of the glass and the bouquet, taste, balance and finish of a wine”, he said.

Originally founded in the historical region of Bohemia in 1756, the firm is now based in the Austrian town of Kufstein and makes an average of €265mn a year.

Riedel glasses have been available in Japan for more than 50 years. Prices range from a reasonable ¥1,400 to ¥20,000 for a single top-of-the-range, hand-blown, lead-crystal glass.

With numerous wine boutiques, including one in the Tokyo suburb of Aoyama, the maker encourages consumers to taste the difference when drinking from variety-specific wine glasses.

“These really are not just a marketing ploy”, Angyal said. “It is a physical fact that only two factors affect our perception of a wine’s taste and aroma: one is the temperature at which it is served and the other is the glass that it is drunk from”.

Another European glassmaker with a long heritage is Zwiesel Kristallglas AG. Established in 1872, the firm took its name from a town in the Bavarian Forest. The fully owned subsidiary Zwiesel Japan Co., Ltd. was set up in October 2004. Its clients mainly come from the three market segments of hotels, restaurants and catering businesses, as well as corporate gift and retail outlets. They are well served by the maker’s flagship store in the Tokyo suburb of Daikanyama, department stores and shops that sell interior products.

“Zwiesel has put efforts into improving and developing new items throughout its history”, said Roberto Pleitavino, president of Zwiesel Japan. “The most important development is a new type of crystal, named Tritan® Crystal, from our Schott Zwiesel brand, which is a new generation of crystal.

“It is lead-free—and consequently environmentally friendly—brilliant and very break resistant, thanks to the use of zirconium and titanium”.

In September, the traditional start of the wine season, Zwiesel marked its 140th anniversary by adding several series to each of its three brands.

One example is the Sensa collection, which incorporates 3D decorations that help anyone decanting wine.

“In recent years, in addition to the classic round shape, some glass collections have been introduced with a more modern ‘square’ shape”, Pleitavino said. “And champagne glasses with bigger bowls have also begun to appear, in addition to the more traditional flute shape.

“At Zwiesel, we consider these new trends—but we care most about the functionality of our glasses”, he explained.

“We want people to enjoy wine from our glasses, and not see them only as ‘trendy’ glasses that are to be left on the shelf”.