Japanese plum wine, or umeshu, is a popular Japanese liqueur that is popular. Its sweet, smooth flavors make it easy to drink even for those who aren't fans of alcohol. However, with so many options to choose from, it can be pretty daunting to find the best Japanese plum wine for you. We researched and tested different types of Japanese plum wine and put together a list of what we thought were the 10 best available online.
How did we test the umeshu? We drank them all! In order to figure out which was the best umeshu, we had our Japanese editorial staff conduct taste tests for the following:
We then had them rate each product on a scale of 1 to 5.
Our top pick was The Choya Aged 3 Years from arguably the most famous Japanese plum wine brand, Choya. However, there are plenty of other Japanese plum wines that you might also enjoy, so keep on reading. And remember, if you're not sure which Japanese plum wine is best for you, be sure to check out our buying guide.
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Table of Contents
Japanese plum wine, also known as umeshu, is an alcoholic beverage made from steeping Japanese ume plums into various types of liquor with sugar. While korui-shochu (a Japanese spirit that has been distilled several times to remove any flavor or color, also described as white liquor) is most commonly used as a base for plum wine, it can also be made from Japanese sake or brandy. This means that plum wine actually isn't really a wine at all!
While plum wine is known for its sweet and tart flavors and aromas, many people also drink Japanese plum wine for its many benefits, which are mostly attributed to its high citric acid content from the plums, which help alleviate exhaustion, boost appetite, and improve digestion.
As mentioned earlier, Japanese umeshu is made from a variety of bases. We break down the most common bases below.
As mentioned earlier, plum wine often is made using shochu, a Japanese spirit. For umeshu, the shochu is often made from molasses, which is then distilled multiple times to remove any flavor or color and is known as "white liquor" or simply labeled as "brewed alcohol" in Japan. Similar to vodka, white liquor has no flavor by itself, allowing it to highlight the flavor of the plums.
Plum wine made from a white liquor base is relatively easy to drink, since it doesn't have a strong alcoholic taste, so it's a great entry point for those who are new to plum wine or those who are looking for a very standard Japanese plum wine.
In recent years, there has been an increase in plum wine made from Japanese sake. These types of plum wines have a deep fruity flavor, where the Japanese sake combines with the acidity of the plums.
Moreover, in order to balance the natural sweetness that Japanese sake has, plum wines made from a Japanese sake base tend to be made with less sugar than other bases, so while these won't have a strong sweet flavor to them, they will be more gentle in the flavor department and are a healthier alternative to other types. We recommend choosing a Japanese sake-based plum wine if you want to enjoy this drink while dieting!
Umeshu made from a brandy base have a unique, sweet, elegant aroma, and we think they're best for sipping on after a meal on the rocks. Since the plums have been steeped in brandy, you can also enjoy its mellow and deep flavor.
One of the biggest draws of brandy-based plum wines is that you can enjoy them in a variety of ways! Since plum wines made from brandy have a richer taste than those made from white liquor or spirits, even if you mix with soda or hot water, the flavors will still stand out. If you're looking for a plum wine that you can slowly sip on and explore its taste, we recommend trying a brandy-based plum wine.
When choosing a Japanese plum wine, there are a couple of things you should consider, such as the base alcohol and the type of packaging. These two things can greatly alter your experience, with key differences!
Japanese plum wine is usually available in either a bottle or in a box. What separates the two types is that boxed plum wine is usually more affordable and easier to dispose of, so they might be more suitable for people who want to enjoy plum wine on a frequent basis.
On the other hand, bottled plum wine is more suited for long-term storage, and its aroma won't degrade as quickly. While boxed plum wine can be stored for six to ten months, bottles plum wine can be stored for one to three years. For those of you who want to enjoy plum wine every now and then, or want to try different varieties, we recommend bottled plum wine!
The star of the show for Japanese plum wine is, of course, the plums! While Kishu Nanko plums are most famous, there are several types of plum that are used to make plum wine. The following are some of the most common plums and their characteristics.
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The Choya Aged 3 Years
Our Top Choice - Intoxicatingly Rich Aroma and Flavor With Sophistication
Yamazaki Distillery Reserve Casked Umeshu
Best Standout Plum Flavors With Fantastic Aromas
Tokusen Umeshu Uguisu-Tomari Ootoro
Elegant Plum Wine With an Intoxicating Mouthfeel
Strong Sweetness and Gentle Plum Flavor
Honkaku Umeshu Baika Hyakunen Umeshu
A Rich and Mellow Umeshu
Manzairaku Kaga Umeshu
Round Mouthfeel With Delicate and Refined Aromas
A Satisfyingly Thick and Heavy, High-Quality Umeshu
A Refreshing, Easy-to-Drink Umeshu
Best Boxed Plum Wine
An Exquisite Balance Between Richness and Natural Sweetness
Our top pick was The Choya Aged 3 Years from Choya Umeshu, and we think it was Choya's finest ever, making full use of their aging technology refined over the years. Many of our staff enjoyed this plum wine's rich aromas, which were alluringly luxurious and relaxing.
The moment we took a sip, our mouths were treated to an explosion of rich, sweet plum and alcohol flavors! We also felt that the richness gave an air of sophistication.
We think that Choya Aged 3 Years is best enjoyed neat by plum wine enthusiasts to better experience the spiciness of the drink hitting the back of the throat, but we also recommend drinking it by mixing it with soda water if you prefer a more mild experience.
From the myriad of Japanese plum wines, we really liked Suntory's Yamazaki Distillery Reserve Casked Umeshu. This plum wine is matured in toasted Yamazaki whisky casks, which slowly imparts a smokey flavor.
Flavor-wise, this Japanese plum wine has a refined sweetness and rounded acidity. The spiciness of the alcohol helps further draw out and place emphasis on the flavors of the plums, and our staff particularly enjoyed its easy-to-drink booziness.
The aftertaste also leaves a strong plum flavor. While you could mix this with soda water, we recommend drinking this one on the rocks to best taste the flavors and richness of the plums. Get yourself a big piece of ice and enjoy how the flavors gradually change!
The Uguisu-Tomari Ootoro has an almost syrup-like mouthfeel and rich taste. This umeshu was awarded first place in the Tenjin Tenmangu Umeshu Tournament in 2011, and the manufacturer, Yamaguchi Brewery, has been in business for over 180 years, so suffice to say, they know what they're doing.
Featuring plum puree, we really loved the sweet, sour, and spicy flavors of this plum wine, and it was visually pleasing as well. Our testers were also fond of how they could really taste the sourness, sweetness, and spiciness of the plum.
Being relatively lower in alcohol content in comparison to other plum wines, we recommend this one to anyone who's looking for a plum wine they can casually sip. We also liked how we could still taste the plum flavor even when mixing it with soda water!
Heiwa Brewery's Tsuruume Kanjuku is made from premium, ripe, large Nanko plums to fully extract the deliciousness of the fruit. We enjoyed the rich aromatics and its sweet, nectar-like flavor, and were really taken by surprise at its richness and sweetness that almost completely nullified its tartness!
We particularly enjoyed the slightly thick consistency and viscosity we felt on our throats. If you want to fully enjoy that aspect of this Japanese plum wine, we recommend drinking this on the rocks.
Meiri Shurui's Baika Hyakunen Umeshu is an authentic umeshu that won first place in the 2008 Osaka Tenman Tenjin National Umehsu Tournament and uses 100% Japanese Shirokaga plums.
It has a rich and dense mouthfeel with a prominent plum taste. Our testers commented that it's the most straightforward umeshu they've ever had. Since it's blended with honey and brandy, there's a lingering sweetness in the aftertaste, but that heaviness is also one of this umeshu's draws.
If you want to enjoy this umeshu's thick consistency, then we recommend drinking it either neat or on the rocks. It's also nice to drink mixed with warm water on cold days or when you want to relax!
The Kaga Umeshu uses Benisashi plums, known for being rich in amino acids and minerals, and has a light, smooth mouthfeel and rich sweetness.
This plum wine has a refined, gentle, delicate aroma. In fact, it boasts the honors of previously being served to first-class guests on ANA flights!
While we recommend enjoying this on the rocks, mixing it with soda water can make it a refreshing drink, while mixing it with cold or warm water can take the edge off even further. You can really enjoy this plum wine in a variety of ways!
Kawachi Wine's Hotei Fuku-Ume is a decadent umeshu that is packed with plenty of ume pulp and is even blended with ume jam to create a rich and thick umeshu.
The cloudy and dense liquid is actually more refreshing than its appearance suggests. With a great balance of acidity and bite, this umeshu elegantly draws out the natural flavors of the plums.
Our testers were thrilled with this umeshu's rich texture and its fragrant aftertaste. This is one umeshu that doesn't lose its richness even when mixing with soda water, gaining a boost to its refreshing texture.
Suntory's Sumiwataru Umeshu is bottled in a refreshing pale blue bottle.
Some of our testers commented on how it's so smooth and easy to drink, while others noted that even though they weren't big drinkers, they could really enjoy this umeshu. While this umeshu does lack a bit in flavor and is slightly bitter, it's not too strong in terms of alcohol content, making it easy for most to drink.
This umeshu has a light mouthfeel, but no notable flavors stand out, meaning it's not the best umeshu to be enjoyed neat. We recommend chilling it well to allow some of the umeshu's sharpness to come out, meaning it's best enjoyed on the rocks.
Choya's Sarari Umeshu is well-known and is perhaps the company's most famous product. Using only Japanese plums, this Japanese plum wine also uses brandy for its base alcohol.
With a surprisingly powerful aroma of plums, it's hard to believe that this plum wine comes in a box. Our testers commented that it's not sickly sweet, and balances its sweetness and alcohol well.
Its plum flavors stand out without being drowned out in sweetness, so it's really easy to drink! Additionally, we really liked how the flavors didn't feel diluted even when mixing with soda water.
Shiratama Brewery's Satsuma Umeshu boasts a fruity and floral flavor, delivering a satisfying and smooth taste.
In our taste test, our testers commented on how it's both rich in flavor yet has a natural sweetness to it, and that it balances sweetness and the spiciness from the alcohol well.
While we wished that it drew out the plum aromatics a bit more, we also found that this umeshu is perfect to drink on the rocks. It was definitely the kind of umeshu that once you give it a try, you'll quickly want another one!
We tested each umeshu to figure out which was the best.
We tested by having six of our Japanese staff at mybest personally drink 43 different types of Japanese plum wine, both in bottles and in boxes, and we wrote down our honest opinions and scored how delicious each plum wine was on a scale of 1 to 5.
The plum wines were selected based on popular items found online, as well as staple products found in supermarkets. For this article, we narrowed down the 10 best Japanese plum wines that we sampled ourselves, selected for either their standout flavors and aromas or for being unique and original, while still tasting delicious.
While conducting our taste test, we found that the umeshu that ranked higher managed to balance flavors between the base alcohol and the plums well.
On the other hand, products that ranked lower were a bit lacking in plum flavor. In short, what we found was important was that the flavor of the plums was just as important as well-aged, rich base alcohol. It's all about balance!
Some Japanese plum wines actually have plums inside the bottle or box! However, some people aren't quite sure what to do with them, and also feel wasteful just disposing of them. We've put together a few ideas of how to use Japanese plums after you've finished your plum wine.
Since the leftover plums have been steeping in alcohol and sugar, they're rich in flavor. Try dicing them up and storing them in a jar to add extra flavor to your fried rice, pasta, and other dishes!
Additionally, not only can you use them in cooking, but also other drinks and cocktails as well. We recommend dicing the plums rougher if you want to retain more of the flesh of the plums.
If you want a simple recipe that doesn't require any knife skills, we recommend making jelly!
All you need to make four servings of jelly is 200cc of water, nine grams of gelatin, and four plums. If you have some leftover plum wine and want to make an alcoholic jelly, add the same amount of plum wine as your water!
If you prefer your jelly to be sweet, try adding 40 to 80 grams of sugar for a refreshingly sweet and tangy dessert!
Looking for ways to bring your Japanese plum wine experience to the next level, or seeking different Japanese alcoholic drinks? Check out the links below for more helpful tips on choosing the best products to make your nightcaps even more enjoyable!
No. 1: Choya Umeshu | The Choya Aged 3 Years
No. 2: Suntory | Yamazaki Distillery Reserve Casked Umeshu
No. 3: Yamaguchi Brewery | Tokusen Umeshu Uguisu-Tomari Ootoro
No. 4: Heiwa Brewery | Tsuruume Kanjuku
No. 5: Meiri Shurui | Honkaku Umeshu Baika Hyakunen Umeshu
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