Aching for an antique aperitif, but Kyoto’s not your neighborhood? Here are some other outlets around Japan specializing in vintage wines and spirits.
Shimizuya, Toki, Gifu Prefecture
“One of the great difficulties when drinking vintage wines is to get beyond the tension that comes with the price tag,” advises Shimizuya’s owner, Toshio Takai. “I strongly recommend you take time to create an environment where you can truly relax. After all, enjoyment is what vintage wines are all about.”
That might be easier said than done if you happen to be sampling Shimizuya’s flagship wine offering, the stratospherically expensive, hand-crafted, world-beating Burgundy, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Monopole 1970. It retails at Shimizuya for a cool ¥790,000.
For those of us on a more modest budget, Takai has high praise for the 1970 Chateau Calon-Segur, a Bordeaux from a vineyard that dates back to the 12th century. Its beautifully designed heart-shaped label makes this a popular gift for oenophiles of a romantic nature, though it still fetches a robust ¥39,800.
Takai offers some sage advice on drinking your valuable purchases. “You might find it necessary to drink aged wine very quickly once it is opened, or else it may become impossibly acidic. Decanting, whilst preferable, is not always necessary, though you must make sure that the wine has sat for long enough to let the sediment settle.”
While the shop is unremarkable to look at, Shimizuya’s cellars hold an impressive 400 bottles from 250 of the finest wineries. Its retail outlet is currently closed due to a near-catastrophic flood, but its website boasts a mind-boggling selection of vintage wines dating back to 1907, and is searchable by date and country of origin. Currently this is in Japanese only.
Enoteca, Hiroo, Tokyo
Enoteca’s branches spread far and wide, from Hiroo to Hong Kong and beyond. Staff at its main branch in Minami-Azabu offer recommendations and advice on specific vintage wines in English. The store’s Century Cellar contains 50 fine connoisseur wines dating back to 1921, but you can also pick up vintages-to-be, such as the Chateau Peyrabon Haut-Medoc 1999, a snip at ¥2,625. It also offers a comprehensive online and mail-order service.
Koda Wine House, Tenma, Osaka
This Kansai-based wine dealer now has branches throughout Japan, but its Tenma main store makes for the most pleasant browsing, with its comprehensive selection of Grands Vins and “modern classics” from the 1980s onwards. It is located just behind the U.S. Embassy. While the Tenma branch keeps to daylight working hours and Monday to Friday only, its Tokyo branches is Ginza and Shinjuku 3-chome stay open until 4 a.m.
Shimizuya: 1879-2 Dachi-cho, Toki-shi, Gifu; (0572) 59-8252; www.kinen-wine.com. Wine Shop Enoteca: Hiroo Honten, 5-14-15-1F Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3280-3634; www.enoteca.co.jp. Koda Wine House: 4-12-27 Nishi Tenma, Kita-ku, Osaka; (06) 6831-0315; www.kohda-winehouse.com.