Shinya Tasaki is Japan’s best-known sommelier. Regularly featured on television, in newspapers and magazines, he runs his own French restaurant, as well as a wine bar and a school for sommeliers.
But Japan’s “Mr. Wine” also owns . . . a shochu bar.
Though it’s located in Tokyo’s lively Roppongi district, Shinpei is tucked away in a small quiet street just a couple of minutes’ walk from the main crossing. And with more than 160 varieties of shochu and awamori (Okinawan sho-chu) lined up behind its wooden counter, it’s surprising that this cozy little Japanese-style bar is run by someone famed for his knowledge of the grape rather than grain.
“I may be a sommelier, but that doesn’t mean I don’t drink anything but wine,” says Tasaki with a laugh. “In fact, on my days off, I drink just as much shochu as I do wine or nihonshu.”
Since Shinpei opened in 2001, the main dishes on its menu have always been pork-based. This is because, according to Tasaki, the taste of pork goes perfectly with shochu.
“Choosing what to drink depends on what kind of food it goes with,” says Tasaki. “For example, I wouldn’t take a bottle of wine to Okinawa, nor would I take a bottle of shochu to France.”
The staff of Shinpei share that philosophy, according to the chef, Tomomi Ichikawa.
“If a customer asks for a certain dish, we would recommend the shochu that would go well with it, and vice versa,” says Ichikawa. “In that sense, Tasaki’s profession as a sommelier is reflected in this bar as well.”
Also reflected at Shinpei, Ichikawa says, has been a change in the clientele since the shochu boom began a year or two ago — put simply, a change from male enthusiasts to female.
“Now, there are days when our bar is filled with women customers only,” says Ichikawa. “And they drink a lot too. Some of them even drink a whole bottle by themselves.”
Shochu has been around for centuries, but only recently is it gaining recognition across Japan, outside its traditional heartland in Kyushu and Okinawa. (Tasaki’s father was from Kyushu, and the sommelier credits him with imparting a love of shochu in his son.)
“The great thing about shochu is that each one has its own unique taste and scent,” says Tasaki. “And whether you dilute it or not, it will not lose its individuality. It is up to you to find your favorite way to drink it.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.