For wine fans, the Daita neighborhood in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward is a worthy destination. This part of town is home to one of Tokyo’s most impressive wine stores. Shinanoya Shokuhin Co. has existed for 50 years. By 1998, the wine and spirits department at Shinanoya Supermarket was outgrowing its shelf space. So that year, the company opened a two-story building across the street, dedicated to its collection of about 1,300 wines — as well as alcoholic beverages, ranging from shochu to dessert liqueurs.
Shinanoya’s wines fill almost the entire, specially climate-controlled second floor. Jazz wafts through the air; there’s a tasting counter and a staff of sommeliers to offer suggestions. As you head up the staircase, you’ll find cases of bargain wines on each step. If you are buying for a large, rowdy party, you may be tempted by the selection of cheap-and-cheerful plonk such as Conchya y Torro’s Sunrise Merlot from Chile’s Central Valley (880 yen) or Mondavi’s Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (980 yen). Add a few coins to your per-bottle budget and choose from an array of more distinctive, midrange wines from around the world — such as a meaty 1998 Peter Lehmann The Barossa Shiraz (1,580 yen) or a spicy, fragrant 1999 Hugel Gewurztraminer from France’s Alsace region (1,780 yen).
If you’re planning for a special celebration, Shinanoya has excellent prices on Champagne. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV goes for 2,980 yen (typically 5,000 yen elsewhere); Pommery Brut Royal is a steal at 2,580 yen (or 7,500 yen for a magnificent magnum); and Moet Chandon Brut Imperiale sells for 2,780 yen. At these prices, bubbly is more affordable in Japan than at most U.S. retailers.
For a romantic autumn picnic, select from about 50-60 wines in half-bottle format (rare in Tokyo). Stock up, too, on picnic supplies such as grissini, olives, imported cheeses, pates and European chocolates. While you’re at it, consider a handy, insulated wine carrier-bag.
Shinanoya is also a great place to track down the classic benchmarks of the wine world. Its cave of premium wines features verticals of legendary Bordeaux such as Latour, Haut-Brion and Cos d’Estournel. For Tokyo standards, price tags are reasonable (1990 Ch. Pichon Lalande goes for 16,000 yen; 1989 Chateau Talbot is 9,900 yen. Both are from coveted, top Bordeaux vintages). Sommelier Yoshiaki Nakajima says that French wines represent 50 percent of Shinanoya’s sales.
Italian fans will encounter a lineup of Super Tuscans (including a Sassacaia vertical) and older Amarone. Australia, Spain, Chile and Germany are represented on the shelves as well. The California selection is limited, but includes some hard-to-find trophy wines (such as 1997 Opus One at 29,800 yen).
If you are looking for wine-related gifts, Shinanoya stocks many wine accessories. The stemware includes Riedel (Austrian crystal), Nachtmann (German crystal) and the quirky, cult-tasting glasses from Impitoyable (another unusual find). Corkscrews range from elegant, handcrafted French Laguioles with carved bone handles (14,000-23,000 yen) to basic “butler’s friend” tongs (380 yen). Ice buckets, decanters and carafes are also available in numerous styles.
Shinanoya World Wine and Foods, 1-34-13 Daita, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; tel: (03) 3412-2448, fax (03) 3412-2380.
Autumn is the time for mushrooms. From shiitake to truffles, mushrooms possess a dark, earthy, almost meaty character that goes beautifully with savory red wines.
Our wine of the week is perfect for this season. It comes from the small feudal village of Puissalicon in France’s sun-drenched Languedoc-Roussillon region — the hotbed of trendy French winemaking. For three centuries, the Boyer family has produced wines there at Domaine La Belle Croix.
The 1998 Domaine La Belle Croix N. 7 cuvee is a superb buy at 1,980 yen (a recent discovery at Shinanoya). Its “N. 7” name refers to the seven grape varietals in this rich blend: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It offers up flavors of black cherries, prunes, bitter chocolate and smoke. Savor it with a mushroom ragout and roast lamb — or as a nightcap on a cool October evening.