When I lived in Japan 15 years ago my girlfriends and I used have these “wine parties” at my apartment. We spent many nights chatting and drinking cheap bottles of Concha y Toro reds, which were basically all we could afford back then. While I’m not a wine connoisseur, I do enjoy drinking and learning about wine. On this trip to Tokyo one of the things that surprised me the most was how accessible and affordable wine has become in Japan. Not only are there numerous wine bars all over town but you can easily find wine everywhere, whether it’s at the local supermarkets, convenient stores, big wine shops, or department stores. The wine prices are quite reasonable too, which I attribute to the size of the Japanese wine market and its consumer demand. I do think that the Japanese still put a higher cachet on Old World wines, but I’ve had no trouble finding good Argentine Malbecs (even spotted Torrontés) or Tasmanian Pinot Noirs (that really surprised me).
What I didn’t expect however, was Japanese wine. I had a terrible bottle of Vietnamese wine in Hanoi several years ago (actually it was just a sip) and I thought I’d never try another Asian wine again. But having tried a glass of Japanese wine at Tomo and John’s wedding after-party, I was curious to find out more. So when Tomo invited me to a wine bar specializing in Japanese wines I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Tomo and John had gone to help out at ダイヤモンド酒造 (Diamond Winery) last weekend and brought some of the wine back, so we started the evening at their apartment drinking some of those. My white wine was quite dry (it was called Amarillo, with a cute yellow label to go with the name). I didn’t taste the Rosé (it was also aptly called Rosado, with an equally cute pink label) but the group seemed to favor that over the white. Having whet our appetite we headed off to the evening’s main event at Kurabuu (蔵葡), a newly opened Japanese wine bar in Tsukiji.
We were told that they have over 200 bottles of Japanese wine. They also had large selection of sake and some Japanese microbrews on tap.
We decided to start with some wines by the glass. Since I had no idea about any of the wines, I asked for a dry, medium bodied red. D & H tried some Japanese Cidre and everyone else tried a dry Riesling.
Of course we weren’t going to just drink. There was food. And a lot of it.
We were also served this bottle of special mineral water. K told me that there are shops in Japan that specialize in water and the most expensive water in the world is sold in Japan… With our starter we received a tasting of this slightly sweet white wine.
Tomo and I decided to get a bottle of white for the table, and enlisted the help of our wine guy. He recommended this bottle of white made from Delaware grapes. I’d never had wine made from Delaware grapes before (I think in Japan they sell them as regular eating grapes) but it was surprisingly good. On a side note, I really loved this wine glass- it was Italian.
More food- salad with beans and avocado sorbet, my very first raw chicken (almost raw, the skin was lightly torched). We ate the chicken with a dressing made from soy sauce and raspberry vinegar. The texture was a bit difficult, shall we say?, but I didn’t mind it too much. I’m not sure I’d order it again but I’m glad to have tried it.
While I was enjoying this next course of fully cooked food (creamy croquette and fish cakes), Tomo and K took a turn at picking out some red wines. Also not pictured was a bowl of Japanese potato salad and sweet potato salad. I do love Japanese potato salads… Kewpie mayo rules!
Contenders for the next round…
Wagyu beef below. Not pictured was a beautiful sliced cold pork dish, served with fresh greens and dark miso (yummy yummy). The onion relish was a real winner and we kept eating it with everything.
We ended up drinking both of these. The whole table agreed that the Cab-Sauv was more to our liking.
As it was a Japanese place (albeit it very modern) we finished with a bowl of miso soup and some triangular yaki onigiri seasoned with soy sauce. For a wine bar I thought their food menu was quite extensive and it was nice to have Japanese wine paired with modern Japanese food. While I can’t say that the food at Kurabuu was spectacular (I think my expectations for Japanese food is really high), I was more than delighted with the Japanese wines we tasted. And I was really impressed by the knowledgeable staff who were extremely helpful and provided excellent service.
Kurabuu is a little spot hidden away in an alley behind the Tsukiji Police station. Like so many of the places I love in Tokyo, there aren’t any signs pointing to this bar and I would have never found it on my own. I really liked the warmth and coziness of the place, and of course all the Japanese wine we shared. Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll ask for Japanese wine instead of sake!
蔵葡: 築地 1-5-11 築地KBビル1F, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan 104-0045
Hours: Mon-Fri 16:00 – 23:30; Sat 15:00 – 23:30