Would you like a Chilean wine with your meal? Many Japanese do

by

Chilean wine is big in Japan. Last month, the Finance Ministry announced that the country’s wine is now No. 1 in terms of imports. Import volumes have been growing rapidly since 2005 — reaching a high of 51.59 million liters in 2015 — thanks in large part to the 2007 Economic Partnership between Japan and Chile that lowered tariffs. But despite the ubiquity of the beverage, finding premium labels in Tokyo is more of a challenge than you’d think.

“Japanese drinkers are very conservative, and many associate Chilean wine with low price and big brands,” says Kazuto Chiba, owner of the bistro and wine bar La Ruee Vers L’Or in the capital’s Azabu-Juban neighborhood, which focuses on wines from the New World.

The fact that most of the Chilean wines available in Japan are casual bottles from giants such as Concha y Toro reinforces this negative stereotype. However, Chile is home to a number of small producers who are crafting artisanal wines of excellent quality. When I traveled to Chile a little over a year ago, I visited Kingston Family Vineyards in the Casablanca Valley, where I spoke with the Movi group, a collective of 24 independent producers who are leading the movement to promote Chile’s smaller vineyards. At the moment, only a couple of Movi brands are sold in Japan — Laura Hartwig Premium Wines, for example, can be purchased online at sites such as Budoya (www.budoya.jp)or in shops such as Shinanoya (www.shinanoya.co.jp). But Angela Mochi, one of Movi’s directors and owner of winery Attilio & Mochi (www.attiliomochi.com), says that the group will continue pushing to break into the Japanese market by exhibiting at trade shows such as Foodex.

Thankfully, there are a few places in Tokyo where you can get your hands on boutique bottles from Chile — particularly if you’re looking for natural wine. Cave de Relax (www.caverelax.com) offers a good selection from family-owned natural wine producers such as Vina Echeverria, Koyle Family Vineyards, and Hacienda Araucano. Cult winemaker Louis-Antoine Luyt, who makes exciting natural wines using traditional Chilean methods and open-tank fermentation, sells his Pipeno wines through the importer Racines (www.racines.co.jp). Village Cellars, which has a useful bilingual website (www.village-cellars.co.jp), carries a variety of wines from quality producers including Matetic Vineyards, one of the country’s leading biodynamic wine makers. You won’t find any of these wines at your local convenience store, but they’re absolutely worth seeking out.