Published: June 11th 2009June 11th 2009
It's a song, its a fruit, its a Sakuranbo!
Or Japanese cherry (not to be confused with the sakura trees, which are just cherry blossoms.) But, like the sakura trees, its a seasonal item, pretty unique to Japan, that the Japanese can't get enough of.
We took a day trip to Katsunuma in Yamanashi-ken. It was foggy in the morning when we left but as we got to Katsunuma the fog lifted and we saw the most magnificent city/town built in this valley of green mountains and low hanging white clouds. I think it was the most beautiful scene I've seen Japan. Because of geography, Katsunuma is a farming town - mostly fruit. Grape vines grew on terraced slopes, and what was not grapes were fruit trees. The season now is for the sakuranbo and peaches.
Our means of transportation was a friend of host mother's, someone who lived in the neighborhood for many years and is now one of the head chefs at the Hilton hotel in Shinjuku. Needless to say we bonded. He brought us to another friend who lives in Katsunuma and knows all of the farmers and vinters. He got us into the Sakuranbo
patch for an all you can eat picking and told us what types of trees were the best so we ate our fill of those. Jin was his name, interesting guy. Makes wine, grows stuff, leads a Christian group.
Sakuranbo are a little different from Western cherries. Different so Japanese people like htem. They are lighter, and softer than American cherries, which have a much deeper flavor to them. One more difference...the price. In most countries, open countries, stuff produced within hte country is less expensive than imports. Especially when the import has to be flown over in a chilled airplane (eg. American cherry). Today the American cherry was going for about 400 yen for an average sized pack, we'll call it a quart sized container. The least expensive sakuranbo was 1000 for a similar size, most expensive was 5000 yen. And in all honesty, the American one has the more luxurious flavor. They are a little xenophobic about food here...
Moving on, after stuffing ourselves with cherries we moved on to a vineyard, Marquis Vineyard to be specific run by an old man name Mocchi. We got our tour, my first tour of a vineyard, where we
got a great explaination about how to pair Japanese wines with food because European wines are generally too big or dry to go with mildly seasoned Japanese cuisine. Made absolute sense. Japanese food is light on herbs, spices, etc. Really just different degrees of salt content, maybe a little ginger or wasabi to perk things up. Such food calls for less tannic, less bodied, sweeter wines. As it turns out, during the tasting, that is really the only type of wine this soil and this strain of grape can produce (local goes with local...but we all knew that.) All wines, even the ones called "dry" were on the sweet side. There was a nice vanilla/almond white that I really enjoyed, as well as a red wine produced to be chilled, with a crazy strawberry jam nose. The one red that had "shibumi" or tannic notes was made partially with imported grapes.
Fun, day got to try some free wine and pick a whole bunch of cherries. I'm not going to look down on Japanese wine anymore because that was a very real vineyard we visited, even if the wines are not as mature, or perhaps cannot get or should
not get as mature of those from other wine producing regions. Its a feature of the land, and perhaps, when brought out by a light and naturally flavored seasonal Japanese specialty, one of these wines will seem on par with a Big Italian Barolo served alongside a hearty Ragu
There are more photos below