Wine and the arts belong together. In cafes from Vienna to New York, there’s a tradition of poets, painters, composers and their cronies huddling around tables, where carafes of wine inspire debate, revolutions and love affairs. The food is simple, and the wines are rarely expensive. Yet the conversation, the camaraderie and the music seem to release an intensity of flavors and aromas.
|A recent wine-tasting event at Ben’s Cafe in Takadanobaba|
Typically, the experience of drinking wine in Tokyo cafes is antiseptic by comparison. The fussy, small goblet of house wine (either over-chilled or stewed) is delivered on a silver tray. Voices are hushed. Ankles are crossed. Art is nowhere in sight; exuberant discussion would sound rude.
In recent times, two Tokyo cafes — Ben’s Cafe and the Pink Cow — have distinguished themselves as alternatives. Both cultivate local arts communities and have robust event calendars with wine tastings. In fact, their casual, informative wine evenings are among Tokyo’s best bargains.
In addition to art exhibitions and poetry readings, Ben’s Cafe hosts monthly wine tastings, which have a lively following. The latest tasting featured six sparkling wines from around the world (with rarities such as the 1990 Donna Giulia Fattoria Le Terrazze). Wine educator Julian Stevens, who initiated the tasting series two years ago, explained the details behind each wine. Think of it as a story hour for adults.
The 3,500 yen tasting price covered wines and a generous antipasto platter (tomatoes with feta and olives, fusion-style maki, grilled vegetables and smoked salmon). Wine tastings start at 8:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month. On Aug. 21, former Mainichi Daily News wine columnist Adrian Beard will present summer wines. Reserve in advance.
The Pink Cow Art Cafe & Wine Bar is situated at the end of a tiny Jingumae back street. In a series of art-filled rooms with comfortable chairs and couches, proprietor/artist Traci Consoli holds varied events such as an acoustic guitar performance, a Kubrick film screening and a South African wine tasting.
Consoli emphasizes affordability, with low markups on an extensive list of Californian wines. Sip a glass of bubbly on the shady patio. Wines by the glass start at 500 yen. Tastings include all wines and a light buffet dinner for 3,500 yen.
To receive the Pink Cow events schedule, e-mail email@example.com
Ben’s Cafe, 1-29-21 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; phone or fax (03) 3202-2445 or see the Web site at www.benscafe.com
The Pink Cow, 1-10-1 Jingumae 1F, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel. (03) 5411-6777. Located one minute from Meijijingu-mae Station, Exit 3.
If you suffer from Chardonnay fatigue, try a well-chilled glass of Encruzado. Although not yet a household name, this fragrant Portuguese white grape is becoming a cool insider tip.
1999 Quinta dos Roques Encruzado (1,780 yen at Cave de Re-Lax) is an unusual, small-production wine from a dynamic estate in the Da~o region. Under the guidance of respected winemaker Professor Virgilio Loueiro, Quinta dos Roques has emerged in the past decade as one of Portugal’s most impressive, new-wave wineries.
Encruzado is a low-yielding, signature varietal of the Da~o region. With flavors of apricot, lemon-lime and white pepper, this dry, zesty wine makes a beautiful summer sipper.