This week brings good news for wine lovers whose schedules tend toward the late end of the Tokyo grind. Nissin World Delicatessen has extended its hours to 8:30 p.m., and a new Shirogane wine bar is pouring until the wee hours.
Many longtime Tokyo residents harbor fond memories of the oddly yet appropriately named Meat Rush butcher in Azabu Juban, a tiny all-meat shop offering everything from Kobe beef to alligator and ostrich steaks that was a mecca for gourmet cooks, bargain hunters and barbecue devotees.
When the owners decided to expand the original shop into a full grocery store, they included a small but well-stocked wine section. Nissin store manager Makoto Fukumura explains that since the store’s focus was on pleasures of the table, it made sense to add wine to their shelves.
Now Nissin aims to become a destination for wine lovers, as well as those in search of the perfect joint of lamb.
Recently, the Nissin wine department took over the entire, spacious third floor, a dramatic expansion in the scope of its wine selection (in fact, they have so much room that some of the shelves are not yet filled). The emphasis is on good-value buys in the 1,000 yen to 3,000 yen range from California, Australia and New Zealand. France and Italy are also well represented, in addition to assorted higher-end collectibles from around the world.
The temperature of the wine floor is kept at a noticeably cooler level than the rest of the store, which is good for the wines and a relief for shoppers as summer temperatures swelter on into autumn. Beginning in September, Nissin has extended its hours until 8:30 p.m., giving office-bound folks a chance to shop on their way home for a bottle of wine to end the day.
We sampled the 1997 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay (2,780 yen), a reserve bottling from Wente’s coastal vineyards in Monterey, Calif. With tropical fruit flavors on the nose and a zesty, almost pineapple-like acidity in the mouth, this was a stand-up-and-take-notice wine that would be a perfect complement for grilled fish or spicy Thai food.
Nissin World Delicatessen, 2-34-2 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku; tel. (03) 3583-4586.
If you are such a night owl that 8:30 p.m sounds way too early for you, then head over to Kunpuu, a new wine bar/restaurant just across the Shinohashi bridge from the Motorola building on the edge of Hiroo. Although it is billed as an “Oriental Grill Market,” Chef Kaoru Kikuchi’s love of wine is immediately apparent when you reach Kunpuu’s door.
Diners pass double wine refrigerators as they arrive. A collection of empty bottles both obscure and famous decorates the restaurant and wines are served in beautiful, full-size Spiegelau crystal wine glasses.
Yet Kunpuu is not an extravagant, boutique wine bar. Kikuchi has chosen to concentrate on “affordable wines with a good cost:performance ratio.” Most bottles on the extensive list range from 3,000 yen to 10,000 yen. The wines-by-the-glass list changes regularly, but always features what Kikuchi and bilingual sommelier Nobuko Tanigawa believe is the best wine for the season from each major grape varietal.
At Kunpuu, we recommend sampling various wines by the glass, paired with the restaurant’s creative small dishes. Of the seven by-the-glass selections available on a recent visit, we started with the 1997 Leeuwin Estate Artist Series Riesling (900 yen) to accompany a salad of tuna cheek, apple, avocado and chevre (1,200 yen). The savory petrol notes characteristic of Riesling and the high acidity of the wine cut through and brilliantly played off the rich, meaty flavors of the tuna cheek. Also noteworthy was the risotto with foie gras (1,800 yen) matched with a 1996 Mirassou Reserve Pinot Noir from Monterey County (1,200 yen).
While Kunpuu would be a find at any time, it is particularly inviting to late-night wine fans. Chef Kikuchi welcomes guests until 2 a.m. with no “last order” deadline — so that those who arrive before the cut-off can leisurely eat and drink into the wee hours.