Much as I love visiting any country where there are vineyards, two of my favourite places, Japan and Norway, are not well known for their wines. This is not strictly true, of course. Japan is slowly gaining at least a little recognition for home grown wine, and the wine scene there, especially in the big cities, is thriving no less than in any of the other major urban centres of the world. More so, perhaps, with so-called fine wine, and natural wine, popular in equal measure, especially in Tokyo.
I’ve visited Japan many times, but not for a few years, and not since I began writing this Blog. So I thought you might be interested in a couple of articles on my recent trip to Japan. I shall be writing about things viticultural in my next piece, after we travelled to Nagano and beyond, but here I thought I’d give a brief flavour of Tokyo, where we spent a few days to attend a wedding.
I had hoped to be writing about a visit to another new vineyard in Nepal after that. You might remember I visited Pataleban Vineyard and Winery not far from Kathmandu last year, which claims to be Nepal’s first wine estate. However, family circumstances meant we had to leave Nepal after just 48 hours, so that will have to wait for another time and visit.
I remember the first time I came to Tokyo, the sense of sheer wonder at both how familiar and how different it seemed. The juxtaposition of the ultra-modern with the ancient is what strikes one first. But the Japanese have a long tradition of the theatrical, and this is reflected in daily life. Life seems at times to be one big ritual in Japan, and nowhere is this more so than at a Japanese wedding. This was not a traditional Shinto ceremony in this case, but one which reflected a Western Christian ceremony, but with added theatre.
How can I explain an order of service which would be familiar to anyone from Britain, yet where the aisle of the chapel was a raised glass runway, and where at the end of the service each guest was provided with a balloon. The roof of the chapel opened completely to the sky, wholly unexpectedly, and we were all required to loose our balloons to wish luck to the bride and groom.
The festivities which followed, in the wedding venue’s large ballroom, involved speeches, music, videos and dancing. They also involved a very good multi-course dinner with prodigious quantities of alcohol – at one point I had Champagne, gin & tonic and red Bordeaux on the go at once!
The centrepiece of the meal, in vinous terms, was a 1988 Château d’Yquem (the bride’s birth year) served from a 5 litre format. Actually, it was decanted into silver teapots with a very narrow spout. It had to go around 80 guests, but the bride’s father had brought along a good quantity of the same vintage in bottle, so there was more than enough to go round. In total I managed five modest glasses, which is by a long way the most d’Yquem I’ve drunk in one sitting.
What was the wine like? Well, from a format this large it still tasted remarkably young, and I’d say it has a minimum of twenty years in it, but quite possibly twice that. It wasn’t especially sweet, and it wasn’t the most botritised Sauternes I’ve drunk recently, by a long way. But it was very classy. Mango and apricot were the main fruit flavours, slightly honeyed, which blended with a caramel/toffee note, very smooth. Concentrated and complex, but not what I’d call unctuous. Utterly magnificent. It’s easy to grovel in awe when you taste the giants of wine, Krug Mesnil, Latour or Leroy and Leflaive etc. But superlatives here are genuine. After all, who doesn’t secretly love a really good stickie?
Here are some photos I thought might be interesting to share.
We had a few days in Tokyo around the wedding, and used them to eat and drink, as you do. I won’t drone on, but here are a few more photos giving a flavour of just a few of the things we did. The outdoor “food court” venue, Commune 2nd, between Omotesando and Gaienmae Metro stations (off Aoyama-Dori) has a lively atmosphere with different food shacks, interesting wine and craft beer. 8ablish is an excellent vegan restaurant, but very good on its own merits too, off the same road, but in the direction of Shibuya. The wine list here errs towards the natural, and although we went local, I was tempted by some Martin Diwald Grüner. This Grossriedenthal producer appeared on another list where we dined too, so he must have a good Japanese importer.
Left to right, row by row: Donated wine at Meiji-jingu shrine; 8ablish, including Grace Koshu, invariably the first wine we end up drinking in Japan; typical natural wine bar (a close look and you may spot some wines you know); example of the posher side of wine; some pics of the outdoor food and drink venue, Commune 2nd. Click to enlarge.
8ablish – www.eightablish.com at 5-10-17 (second floor, up the steps) Minami-aoyama, Minato, Tokyo 107-0062.
Commune 2nd – Check out the Time Out Tokyo review here.