Muscat Bailey A is a deep-pink-skinned grape variety used to make light red wines in Japan. It was bred in the 1920s by Kawakami Zenbei, the ‘grandfather’ of Japanese wine.
Zenbei had been struggling to find the right grape variety for the Japanese climate ever since founding his Iwanohara winery in 1890. Located in Takada (Niigata Prefecture) on Japan’s west coast, Zenbei’s vineyards suffered from heavy snowfalls each winter. Seeking a wine grape which could withstand the freezing conditions, he experimented with cross-breeding varieties. The result, after many years of experimentation, was Muscat Bailey A – a disease-resistant variety which buds sufficiently late in the season to avoid frosts in spring and ripens sufficiently early to escape those in autumn. Its large berries have thick skins, which are in part to thank for the variety’s resistance to fungal diseases. Zenbei went on to create Black Queen, another popular Japanese hybrid, and was later instrumental in founding Suntory, one of Japan’s largest beer and wine producers.
Muscat Bailey A is a hybrid with a complex genetic heritage. It was created by crossing Muscat of Hamburg with Bailey, itself a little-known crossing whose family tree includes Triomphe and two interestingly named American hybrids, 'Big Berry' and 'Extra'. Muscat of Hamburg (also known as Black Muscat) is a dark-skinned variety used more commonly for table grapes than wine production.
Today, Muscat Bailey A is one of Japan’s most popular wine grapes. It is most often used to make light-styled, fruity reds, low in both tannins and acidity. It is planted in roughly 370 acres (150 ha) of vineyard, mostly in the Yamanashi Prefecture, immediately west of Tokyo. Very little is to be found in Niigata Prefecture, the variety’s homeland.
The story of Muscat Bailey A stands in sharp contrast to that of Japan's two other key wine grapes, Muscat of Alexandria and Koshu. Muscat of Alexandria, far from being a modern Japanese hybrid, hails from the eastern Mediterranean and is one of the very oldest grape varieties in existence. Koshu is the closest Japan comes to having a 'native' wine grape variety, and is believed to have been growing in the Katsunuma area for over a thousand years.
Food matches include:
Europe: Bacalao ajoarriero (salted cod)
Asia: Mixed tuna and snapper sashimi
Americas: Fried oyster po' boy with lemon & parsley dressing
Australasia/Oceania: Grilled barramundi with steamed, salted bok choy