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Vinegar wine need not leave you sour

by Angela Erika Kubo

“Vinegar wine” sounds pretty much like what happens when wine goes bad — not exactly something you would want to drink with a steak. But when I discovered that a new place called Marni Baru in Shimokitazawa was serving what it called vinegar wine on its menu, I was curious to check it out.

When I arrive, I don’t find glasses of spoiled wine, but rather a pleasant summer cocktail that is just the right combination of sweet and sour, and a variety of tapas to snack on.

“The drink is perfect for chasing away the summer heat,” says owner Hirohiko Kawaguchi.

The drink is made by soaking fresh fruit such as apples and strawberries in jars of everyday household vinegar for a week to 10 days, until the vinegar is stained with the colors of the fruits. The jars are lined up on the bar counter and are the first thing you see on entering. Every time an order comes in, flavored vinegar and bits of fruit are scooped out of one of the jars, mixed with white wine and cubes of ice, and then served. The drink is slightly sour, but sugar is added into the mix to tone down the flavors of the vinegar.

“I use whatever fruits are in season. Right now we have strawberry-flavored and grapefruit-flavored vinegar,” says Kawaguchi. “In fall and winter I’m planning on using biwa (loquat) and yuzu.”

Marni Baru is a dim bar still filled with the scent of newly cut wood, with dozens of wine bottles lined up on shelves above the counter. Marni, or maru-ni, means “circle-two” in Japanese, and is also the Hebrew word for “joy,” notes Kawaguchi.

“The name expresses my wish to make this bar a place that can offer people a great time,” he says.

Marni Baru’s menu revolves around the vinegar wine, and Kawaguchi doesn’t let anything go to waste. The leftover pieces of fruit are chopped up and served on food. The menu, which changes depending on what ingredients are available, is written on a blackboard hanging on the wall.

“The wine goes best with something sour,” says Kawaguchi, who recommends a side of cauliflower pickled in raspberry vinegar (¥400). The bar’s homemade sauerkraut (¥400) is made the same way. Another specialty on the menu worth trying if you’re feeling daring is the homemade liver mousse sandwiched between two pink macaron shells (¥400).

The bar also serves Spanish-Italian-fusion tapas dishes. You can mix and match meats and vegetables for a personalized dish cooked in ajillo style (fried in oil and garlic, ¥600), and an extra ¥200 gets a side of homemade bread to dip into the leftover juices.

The bar also has a small smoker outside to prepare smoked meats. The bacon (¥500) comes in thick chunks, and you can also try a bit of homemade smoked salmon (¥400) or scallops (¥500).

Marni Baru: 1F Eiko Bldg., 2-9-22 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku; 03-3466-4132; www.marnibaru.net. Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.