Japan's Evolving Wine Culture

    I’ve visited Japan each September for the past eight years, and I always bring home scrapbooks of memories – some of which deal with wine.

     Last week I told you about one of the world’s great steakhouses, which happens to be in Tokyo and boasts an impressive (and beef-friendly) wine list. You can check the “Editor’s Journal” archives if you missed it.

     This week, now that I’m finally over my jetlag, I thought I’d share a few random thoughts with you.

     First of all, the perception of wine in Japan has undergone a sea change in just eight years. When I made my first trip in 2000, wine was pretty much restricted to a privileged few; it was purchased and consumed primarily as a status symbol. And as such, it was extremely expensive.

     Now, more and more restaurants are adding wine service, and most are selecting bottles that are affordable – if anything in Tokyo could be considered affordable.

     As an example, there’s a restaurant adjacent to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel – right across the street from the big Shinagawa train station – with bright neon signs boasting that it is a bistro, wine bar, restaurant and enoteca. I guess the strategy was that if they used enough words in the signage, everyone would recognize at least one of them.

     The restaurant specializes in pasta with some very creative sauces, and offers more than two dozen wines by the glass or half-bottle. Best of all, all but three of the by-the-glass wines were priced at less than $12. It may be the best bargain of any kind anywhere in Tokyo, which always ranks as the most or second-most expensive city in the world.

     All around me were people enjoying their wines and having a great time. The clientele ranged from professionals to young couples on a date – and there was no sign of pretension anywhere.

     Wine enjoyment should be inclusive, not exclusive, and that’s a lesson that Japanese restaurateurs and diners have learned and embraced in a relatively short period of time.

     I can’t wait to see how the evolution has progressed by next September.

Posted in Editor's Journal
One comment on “Japan's Evolving Wine Culture
  1. […] update goes back a bit further in time — like, almost seven years. In late 2007, I wrote about the emerging “wine culture” in Japan, and pondered the direction it ultimately would go, and how long it would take to get […]

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