Fresh tipples, glasses and venues bring vigour to Tokyo wine scene
With the change of season—and the Christmas and New Year festivities on the horizon—wine-lovers’ tastes are shifting to champagne, the regular Beaujolais boom and heavier burgundies.
The key considerations on how best to enjoy top-quality wines have not changed, however: the what, the how and the where.
“When we look at our first-half sales, the sparkling wines and whites moved well—especially the white burgundies—and we believe this was due to the hot and muggy weather”, a spokeswoman for high-end wine importers Berry Bros. & Rudd told BCCJ ACUMEN.
Berry’s own champagne, the United Kingdom Cuvee, a Grand Cru, was one of the most sought-after tipples this summer, benefitting from being aged four years in barrels from Chateau Margaux.
New on the wine experts’ list for the autumn are the 2009 Bourgogne Rouge, Camille Giroud, a pinot noir with a light-to-medium body; and a similarly dry pinot noir 2009 Côte de Nuits Villages, Aux Montagnes, Sylvain Loichet.
A slightly more expensive new arrival is the 2008 Volnay, Les Taillepieds, 1er Cru, Domaine de Montille, which is known for its rich and round strawberry fruit and extra length.
Based in St. James’s Street, London, Berry Bros. & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant and has been trading from the same premises for more than 310 years.
The firm is looking to the future and, this year, started selling its own fine spirits in Japan. The new arrivals include The Glenrothes Speyside Single Malt, No. 3 London Dry Gin, The King’s Ginger Liqueur and the Pink Pigeon Single Estate Mauritian Rum.
“The reputation of our original, premium gin—No. 3 London Dry Gin—is growing in Japan, and we hope this will contribute to increasing awareness about the spirits industry, including among professional bartenders”, a spokeswoman said.
The taste and flavours of a wine, however, are not solely about what emerges from the bottle.
“We are trying to increase the understanding of the importance of the glass when drinking”, said Roberto Pleitavino, president of Zwiesel Japan Co.
“The aesthetic and the functionality of a glass will make the drinking moment more enjoyable. Consequently, we put all our efforts into providing the best products to people who will set the trends for what people drink”.
As a glassware supplier to luxury hotels and restaurants, Zwiesel Japan relies on an important network of chefs, sommeliers and bartenders, according to Pleitavino.
“Talking to, and listening to the advice and suggestions of those people gives us the inspiration for the development of new items that match new trends”, he said. “Actually, one of the company’s mottos is ‘Inspired by professionals’ ”.
In late 2012, Zwiesel launched the innovative Sensa range of glasses. The line has been cleverly designed to leave more room for the wine to breathe in the glass, reduce the acids and fully emphasise the fruit in a Riesling, a Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Merlot or Tempranillo.
Specially developed for sommeliers, wine growers and wine merchants, Sensa glasses are also perfect for wine connoisseurs who enjoy trying different varietals, Pleitavino said.
“Zwiesel has put efforts into improving and developing new items throughout its history”, Pleitavino said, adding that recent collections have been introduced with a more square shape and champagne glasses with bigger bowls.
“At Zwiesel, we consider new trends, but we care most about the functionality of our glasses”, he said. “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”.
After selecting the beverages to be enjoyed and the best way to enjoy them, all that remains is finding a venue at which to share your wine and spirits with good company.
“We opened as we perceived a gap in the market for a European or Western-style wine bar, meaning an international selection of wines served in a lively ambience at decent prices, with New York’s wine bar Terroir being a source of inspiration”, said Richard Dawson, who set up the Parabola wine bar in Nishi-azabu with three fellow wine lovers.
“We have been organising pop-up events such as wine and sushi or wine and ramen to challenge preconceived notions about matching wine and food”, said Dawson, who is originally from Edinburgh.
He holds a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) diploma and lectures at the Academie du Vin in Tokyo.
“Japanese people have a deeply entrenched notion that, if it’s wine, it must be French. So we thought that persuading people to go off-piste would be difficult and take time. However, our customers have been very adaptable to date”, he said.
Parabola has set out to build on the trend for low-priced wine in Japan “by scouring the world for value and proving that good wine does not have to be expensive”.
The other two partners in the venture are Julian Stevens, who is originally from New Zealand and spent five years in London working for Berry Bros. & Rudd; and Ian Tozer, the chef mastermind behind Roti, T.Y. Harbor Brewery, West Park Café and Farm Grill.
By sharing their knowledge and contacts, Parabola’s owners have been able to bring some of the most underrated gems of the wine world to Japan, such as the mineral-laden whites from the cooler climes of Australia or wines of incredible value from France’s Languedoc Roussillon region and the Rhone Valley.
Parabola also serves by the bottle a range of craft beers, an eclectic mix of single malt whiskies, and more than a dozen artisan gins.
True gin lovers can indulge in what is surely the rarest gin in Japan: a bottle that dates from the late 1870s and was unearthed in the cellar of British Prime Minister William Gladstone. At ¥749,000, it is certainly one of a kind.
Dawson, Stevens and Tozer are also keen to have the dining side of the operation be as attractive as the drinks selection. The menu features modern tapas-style dishes with influences from the Mediterranean to the Middle East.
The extensive cheese board brings together cheeses from around the world, including a selection from craft producers in Hokkaido. For late-night cravings, sandwiches are made with generous slices of juicy bacon.
“We are trying to challenge preconceptions regarding British food and offering a modern tapas-style menu as well as British cheeses”, Dawson said.