Japan’s Love For Natural Wine And 6 Of Tokyo’s Best Bars To Drink It At
This Natural Obsession Gives You No Hangover
January 23, 2020
Food & Drink, Where To Drink In Tokyo
Going all natural will be your new favorite way to quickly unwind from the day after drinking in one of these tiny no frills standing natural wine bars.
It may seem too good to be true, but natural wine is very much the magical “Jesus juice” we all hope to find when it comes to fun drinking without the concern of a hangover the next morning. Not sure why? Read on, but be warned — you’ll get naturally (and pleasantly) dizzy.
What is “natural wine”?
Natural wine, also known as “unadulterated wine,” is made up of organic grapes in a process that uses minimal chemical and technological manipulation. Unlike organic wine, which usually just means, “made of organic grapes,” natural wine goes beyond the grape, ensuring an entirely organic process from start to finish, also using minimal sulfates.
There’s a funk to natural wine that makes me tingle with warmth inside.
One of the first major adopters of the movement, Japan has had an obsession with natural wine since the ’90s. It wasn’t until 2000 that natural wine peaked in France, and if it weren’t for Japan drinking 75 percent of it by then, many of those small French wineries would have shut down.
Still today, natural wine is not (yet) well known in many countries. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, a waiter actually scoffed at me when I asked if they had any natural wine available, sarcastically assuring me “there’s no such thing.” Fair enough, there is no one official certification process or legal definition for deeming wine all-natural, which makes things more complicated, but for those who know it, they know that it’s very much different from “regular” wine.
What makes it so drinkable?
There’s a funk to natural wine that makes me tingle with warmth inside. There’s an earthiness to it — a flavor that only mother nature can produce, the way it was intended for us to drink. I must admit, however, that at first, even I questioned the validity of it when hearing the term “natural wine.” It sounded like more hippie shenanigans coming back to haunt me from my LA days of kale smoothies and crystal healings — “probably just another ‘organic’ gimmick or subpar product,” I initially thought, but I was wrong — just like that waiter.
Unlike organic wine, which usually just means, ‘made of organic grapes,’ natural wine goes beyond the grape.
I’ve always been a lover of earthy wines, and upon first taste, natural wine completely embodied that for me. It’s easy to drink and totally unpretentious — definitely more of a grassroots vibe than an overproduced bottle from one of your big Chateau wineries. I love the way that each bottle radiates a secret mystical power lurking around at the bottom of every unfiltered bottle. The murkiness lets me know that a bottle of natural wine is very much a living and breathing thing — almost like a drinkable terrarium full of magic.
Now, let’s drink!
When it comes to wine, Japan prefers it stripped down, funky, naked, and raw — something I couldn’t be more happy about. Here are six places in Tokyo where you can enjoy the best of natural wine and never fear hangover the next day.
1. The Wine Store (Nakameguro)
Simply put, the name says it all: What you see is what you get at this shoebox wine shop in Nakameguro. Upon entering, you are surrounded by two floors to ceiling walls of carefully chosen bottles from around the world. Walk a bit further, and you’re in a chic little tasting room with one small concrete counter and no seats. The shop is owned and operated by a Japanese woman, something which immediately makes me like the shop more since the wine world is generally so heavily dominated by males (except, of course, the actual consumption).
The murkiness lets me know that a bottle of natural wine is very much a living and breathing thing.
Every day there are about five carefully chosen wines open for tasting. Choose a tasting size of 30ml or 60ml. Prices are fair enough that tasting all five bottles would be close to the same price you would pay at an official tasting room in somewhere like Napa. The selection is a nice range from sweet to dry bottles — usually two whites, two reds, and there is always a bottle of sparkling open. Bottles come from all over the world. I’ve experienced lovely California wines here (something that can cure any amount of homesickness for myself), French wines, and even a delicious natural wine from Bulgaria.
People come in and out of the store while you taste so there’s a very casual laid back vibe and the musical selection is bar none, the best.
The Wine Store
Address: 3-5-2 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: Irregular (best to call first)
Cost: ¥800 / glass
2. Wine Stand Bouteille (Shibuya)
Smack dab in the middle of Nonbei Yokocho (aka Drunkards Alley), this sweet little wine bar is a baby refuge from the obnoxious tourists and watered-down cocktails of the area. Bouteille is great because it’s also female operated but only fits about 5-6 people max at its standing counter. On any given day, it is full so you have much better luck going as a party of one.
Here you will find plenty of quirky and fun labeled bottles from around the world. Usually, there is always an Australian bottle, Italian bottle, and French bottle open for tasting. Sometimes you can even have a glass from Georgia — a country known for its ancient old world style of winemaking, and a country getting a lot of attention from Japanese wine lovers in general.
Wine Stand Bouteille
Address: 1-25-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Business Hours: Open daily, 6 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Cost: ¥1,100 / glass
3. Bar a Vin Maison Cinquante Cinq (Yoyogi Uehara)
This cramped little tasting room happens to be the first floor of a three-story bistro. Getting here early before a dinner res would be a nice starting off point for the night, whether you are having dinner at the bistro itself or elsewhere in the area. Prices are not entirely cheap, but they have a nice selection of natural wines nonetheless.
Bar a Vin Maison Cinquante Cinq
Address: 3-5-1 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
Cost: ¥1,200 / glass
4. Ahiru Store (Tomigaya)
Ahiru store is definitely the most famous on this list. If you love natural wine and live in Tokyo, then you know about Ahiru Store. It’s run by a sister and brother team who also serve some beautiful charcuterie, bread, and small dishes. Unfortunately, patrons line up before the shop even opens so getting a spot at the bar is quite a feat at any time of its operations hours. Regardless, the local vibe is really fun and the staff is friendly when asking for suggestions.
Ahiru Store via Tabelog
Address: 1-19-4 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: Open: Mon – Fri 6 p.m. – 12 a.m., Sat 3 p.m.-9 p.m., Closed: Sun and 1st Sat of every month
Cost: ¥900 / glass
5. Shimokita Komorebi (Shimokitazawa)
Just a few steps below ground level is the tiny dugout that is Shimokita Komorebi. Komorebi happens to be a Japanese word that describes “light when it leaks through the trees,” so I automatically love this place for its poetic name. Although the bar can feel very quiet, the staff are accommodating and friendly when squeezing you in.
Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to try any food on its brief menu, but the small dishes being served looked lovely. Overall, I happen to think this place is much more suitable for a solo nightcap, rather than a date based on its size and noise level.
Address: 2-10-8 Shimokitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: Open: 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. Everyday
Cost: ¥1,000 / glass
6. Winestand Waltz (Ebisu)
There is no wine list and there are no prices listed at this little hideout, however, most of the natural wines served here are from Japan or Japanese producers based in France. Walk in and choose a glass of red or white. Whatever is open that day will be served and you can expect to pay a good amount for a rather small glass of wine. It’s a bit out of the way from the station, but if you’re close by, give it a try.
Address: 4-24-3 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business Hours: Open: Mon-Sat 7 p.m. – 12 a.m. Closed: Sun and holidays
Cost: ¥1,500 / glass
Cheers to happy and hangover-free drinking!