A good wine list should not inspire anxiety. But unless you exist on an expense account, an encyclopedia-thick volume of precious trophy wines is daunting. It is also inadequate. A wine menu should invite exploration, with quality wines at a variety of price points.
|Elegance is affordable at Hiroo’s DD.|
Expect the list to offer interesting producers and grape varietals beyond the predictable Cabernet and Chardonnay. Basic information should appear that can inform your decision, such as the producer’s name; the vineyard, region or country of origin; the vintage (the year of production, which affects the character, quality and price of the wine); and, if appropriate, the grape varietal.
A frequent, common-sense reaction is to scan a wine list wildly for something recognizable, such as a famous winery. But instead relax and opt for a wine adventure. Try an unfamiliar producer’s wine from your favorite grape varietal. Or if you love Oregon Pinot Noir, for example, sample a Pinot Noir from another part of the world, such as Italy’s Alto Aldige. If you consistently like a specific winery’s Chardonnay, taste their interpretation of a different white varietal, such as Riesling, Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc.
People with a passion for cooking often mutter, “I never eat in a restaurant what I can cook at home.” That guideline translated for wine aficionados might read: “I never drink a wine in a restaurant that I can drink at home.” A well-chosen wine list should introduce you to new terrain. So the next time you step into a wine bar, do it with boldness and thirst.
We recently found an intriguing wine list at Hiroo’s DD (Drinks and Dining), a new wine bar-restaurant with one of Tokyo’s best Californian wine selections. On a humid summer night, Hiroo’s DD is a cool, tranquil refuge, with hardwood floors, wicker chairs and a sleek counter perfect for solo diners or couples. Its funky elegance is reflected in the juxtaposition of handmade ceramics (made by the owner’s mother, Yoshino Shoizaki) with premium Austrian crystal stemware.
But this elegance is affordable. The wine bar’s young founder, Hiroko Shiozaki, offers wines at a broad, consumer-friendly price range. In Tokyo, where wine-bar and restaurant wine markups are often the norm, we should be thankful for restaurateurs like Shiozaki who resist that temptation.
Numerous good-value bottles (for example, 1999 Murphy-Good Fume Blanc or 1996 Fetzer Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon, both 3,500 yen) share the all-Californian list with special-occasion splurges (such as 1997 Dominus Cabernet Sauvignon at 15,000 yen and 1997 Phelps Insignia at 16,000 yen). Some of Shiozaki’s interesting finds are difficult or impossible to obtain at retail shops in Japan. A selection of wines by the glass is available (from 600 yen); the lineup changes weekly.
Chef Hiroki Uematsu stirs up fusion cuisine with contemporary riffs on Japanese home cooking. Comfort food dishes include a beef shabu-shabu donburi (600 yen); Venus clam ochazuke — rice with a grilled clam and Kyoto pickles in a green-tea broth (500 yen); and foie gras on sushi rice wrapped with nori (1,800 yen). His creative interpretations of pasta, fish and meat classics range from 900 yen to 2,300 yen.
The savory, heavily Asian-influenced fare encourages creative wine-and-food pairing. A fragrant, spicy 1999 Tablas Creek white (a Rhone-style blend from the legendary Chateau Beaucastel’s California outpost) was superb with a gargantuan, char-grilled Chiba scallop, glazed in caramelized Korean miso.
On our latest visit, we sampled wines by the glass with dinner; our total check for two was slightly under 10,000 yen.