A good, little neighborhood wineshop is a rare treasure in Tokyo. Imagine a friendly place around the corner, where the owner is a passionate wine aficionado. A few times a week, you stop by after work and ask him or her for some tips on an affordable, delicious bottle to go with your home-cooked dinner. The proprietor introduces you to interesting (and sometimes obscure) wines that you might never have dared try on your own.
The United States and Europe have countless such stores to choose from. In contrast, they are much harder to track down in Japan. The local liquor shop may have a few dusty wine bottles of dubious origin — but truly intriguing selections and canny advice are scarce. That is why we are such fans of perfect gems such as Kito-Shoten in Nerima Ward.
At first glance, the modest shop — officially named Groceries & Bottle Shop Kito, though locals commonly refer to it by the shorter, company name — appears to be an ordinary grocery and beverage store. But look closer: The counter is lined with European cheeses, charcuterie and pates, olive paste, lovely dried fruits (from the Cheese Shop Camembert in Kobe) and porcini mushrooms — evidence that this shop harbors delicious secrets and is worthy of careful exploration.
The easygoing, fourth-generation proprietor Katsumi Kito has an appreciation for fine flavors from around the world. His great-grandfather started Kito-Shoten in 1920. Years later, the family added a few Japanese wines to their liquor selection and later included German and French bottles as well.
In search of good value, Kito began to investigate New World wines, traveling throughout wine regions in Australia, California and Oregon. Three years ago, the shop moved into its present quarters, just across the street from Nerima Station, and the wine department expanded.
Kito is unpretentious and adventurous in his approach to wine. His pursuit of distinctive, value-for-money wines (most wines in the shop are under 3,000 yen per bottle) has made him a proponent of the ABC (“anything but Chardonnay/Cabernet”) movement. “It is boring to limit yourself just to Cabernet and Chardonnay,” he says.
These days, the shop is best-known for its thoughtfully chosen selection (including many handcrafted wines from small wineries) from New Zealand, Australia and the United States. His personal taste runs to succulent, dry Alsatian and New World Rieslings, peppery Sauvignon Blancs, rich, robust Zinfandels and Rhone varietal reds. A small, neatly handwritten note of explanation accompanies each wine on Kito’s shelves.
His brother, Hiroshi Kito, is a Japan Sommelier Association wine adviser and also works at the store. The Kito brothers are patient and hospitable; even if your Japanese is very limited, ask them for their recommendation (o-susume).
Although it is not within the customary scope of this column, it would be remiss to ignore the unusually fine selection of international beers. Kito’s refrigerator holds more than 100 beers from all over the world, including such brands as Isle of Skye Black Cullin Dark Ale (570 yen); Lion Stout from Sri Lanka (320 yen); Adelscott, an Alsatian beer flavored with whiskey (350 yen); Coopers Brewery Sparkling Ale and Best Extra Stout from Australia (298 yen); Brasserie St. Poloise 7 Cervoise (400 yen); and Blanche des Flandres (330 yen).
The next Vineland column will feature some of the finds we chanced upon at Kito-Shoten. In the meantime, if you have a favorite neighborhood wineshop in Tokyo (or elsewhere in Japan) that you would like to recommend to fellow readers, send us an e-mail at email@example.com. We’ll report back on the tips we receive.