Wine Bars in Japan

A few weeks ago I took my dad on a trip to Japan to watch the Rugby World Cup, specifically 4 of the South African matches. We sadly lost the opening game against New Zealand, but luckily it all ended very well with South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup! Happy days!

We spent the first few days in Tokyo near Kanda Station. Here we had some wonderful coffee at Glitch Coffee, explored some of the surrounding neighborhoods and really just enjoyed walking around this spectacularly huge city. We didn’t have a whole lot of time here since we only spent time in Tokyo to be close to our first rugby match. To be close to our second match, we stayed a few nights in Nagoya. And this is where some of the wine adventures began.

During one of the more relaxing evenings, we decided to walk around Nagoya Station and the surrounding area. I’ve spent time in Tokyo and Kyoto a few years ago, but we never thought about visiting Nagoya. So I had a lot to explore. This is where we stumbled across Vinofonica, a natural wine bar. We walked up the staircase to be greeted by the bartender, who was one of the nicest people I’ve met. Sat down, I ordered a white wine and my dad ordered a red. The bartender was attentive and started asking us a bunch of questions. Where we were from, what things we’re doing while we’re in Japan, and the conversation I enjoyed the most, what kind of wines I enjoy.

Although he did speak a bit of English, I figured that showing him my Vivino list of wines would be way more productive. And that’s where the fun began. We went through the list and I picked out some of my favorites. I have to admit, I don’t have a whole lot of natural wines in my vision history. (Expect an article on natural wine soon though). But he really enjoyed learning about some of the wine I’ve had and vice versa. This also helped him pick out some wines for me to try when I told him to pour me whatever he loves. After a few drinks and a wonderful conversation, my dad and I had to go get some food. Before we left, he gave us his business card but also recommended another natural wine bar in Nagoya that we have to check out.

The following evening we decided to take him up on his recommendation and visit vinvino (ヴァンヴィーノ). This is a lovely wine bar with a balcony overlooking the Hori River. It has a super small kitchen where someone was preparing a few dishes (one looked like a delicious pasta dish). We decided to sit at the counter because I really wanted to meet and talk with the owner while we were enjoying the wine.

Naturally I started with another white wine, and I wish I wrote down all the wines we had here. We mentioned that his friend at Vinofonica recommended this place, and he treated us like he’s known us for years. It was a lovely evening with conversations about wine, cheese, traveling while enjoying some of the best natural wines I’ve had.

For the remainder of our trip we spent the time in Kyoto, with some day trips to Kobe, Nara and Osaka. Here I discovered Winebar Marco. Although a little difficult to find at first, it’s a lovely place to just spend an evening and enjoying some good company with the owner and a variety of small dishes. He had a few wines available by the glass including some natural wine from Japan, my first Japanese wine!

We both pulled out Google Translate since we asked each other a whole bunch of questions. Topics ranging from wine (of course), to the Rugby World Cup and what other activities we had planned during our trip. Another couple came up a few hours later soaked from the rain outside, which helped us decide to stay here for a few hours more.

If you’re ever traveling through Nagoya or Kyoto, I’d recommend the places above. We had an amazing experience meeting the owners and talking so much about wines. Something I’ll never forget.

From what I can remember, here are some of the wines we had:

  • Hojyo Sakyu Red 2015
  • Herve Charlopin Marsannay ‘Clos du Roy’ 2017
  • Domaine Henri Boillot Bourgogne 2016
  • Fabulas Fara Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016
  • Benedetti Show Vin Rouge 2017
  • Coup de Jus Athena Rockit 2017
  • Domaine Mathieu & Camille Lapierre Raisins Gaulois 2017
  • André Kleinknecht Orange Is The New White 2018
  • Cantina Giardino Bianco 2015

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