Tokyo is a destination for food and drink. For wine lovers, it offers a scene rivaling Paris, New York or London. The city’s love affair with wine began with the classics, and today, it boasts an abundance of destinations specializing in fine French, Italian and German wines, often at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Elevage II in Kagurazaka is a wine bar focused on mature and rare vintages with a heavy emphasis on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Its roster of more than 30 by-the-glass selections changes daily and includes gems like 1983 d’Yquem or ’40’s Madeira in exceptionally good conditions.
More than a passing trend, the natural wine movement has also long occupied a vital part of Tokyo’s drinking culture.
Many of Tokyo’s natural wine bars offer remarkably French experiences. La Pioche in Nihonbashi and Meguro Un Jour (formerly known as the Tokyo outpost of Paris’s Le Verre Volé) are two of the most outstanding examples. Both offer bistro staples like housemade charcuterie or boudin noir alongside well-curated selections of mostly French wines.
If you can elbow your way in, tiny, standing-room, cash-only bars like Winestand Waltz in Ebisu or the slightly roomier Ahiru Store in Shibuya offer hard-to-find natural wines in a cozy, congenial atmosphere that’s distinctly Japanese.
The sommelier culture in Tokyo is deeply learned, but also pays meticulous attention to wine and food pairings that crisscross regional boundaries with flair. Bunon in Nishi Azabu features traditional Japanese cuisine with a heavy emphasis on fresh seafood and quirky selections of natural wines from around the world. For fine dining with a touch of whimsy, the two-Michelin starred L’Effervescence executes Japanese-French haute cuisine alongside pairings of saké, wine and more.
In recent years, the quality and popularity of domestic Japanese wines featuring indigenous grapes like Koshu or hybrid varieties like Delaware have skyrocketed. Tucked away in Araki-cho, one of Shinjuku’s off-the-beaten-path drinking districts, Nippon Wine Nakamura is a serene, Lilliputian wine bar devoted to such Japanese offerings, with only eight seats. More casual, Kurabuu, in Ginza, offers around 200 selections of domestic wine alongside a full dining menu.
Seating is competitive at most restaurants, so call ahead.