Sake: Mother Water | Bar Zingaro – April 11th, 2015

Sake: Mother Water

Click on flyer for a larger image.

If rice is the heart of sake, then water is its body. And as sake is 80% water, the influence the ‘Shikomi-mizu’ (brewing water) has on sake’s final quality, flavour and texture can not be taken for granted.

This month at Bar Zingaro we will be navigating the famous sake brewing waters of Japan and discovering the character that it imparts in each region’s delicious brews. Join Rebekah Wilson-Lye as she explores the theme of ‘Mother Water’ through a guided tasting of the beautifully crafted sake, as well as the ‘shikomi-mizu’,  from seven innovative breweries.

Aramasa – Aramasa Shuzo, Akita

Kakurei – Aoki Shuzo, Niigata

Izumibashi – Izumibashi Shuzo, Kanagawa

Kikuyoi – Aoshima Shuzo, Shizuoka

Soukuu – Fujioka Shuzo, Kyoto

Okuharima – Shimomura Shuzoten, Hyogo

Fukucho – Imada Shuzo Honten, Hiroshima
Please make your reservation by clicking on the link below and filling in the form:
Entrance fee of JPY3,000 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese and ham) will be collected on the day of the event.

We look forward to seeing you at Bar Zingaro!

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.


米がお酒の心臓だとすれば、水はそれ をとりまくお酒の体と言ったところでしょうか。お酒の80%は水からできていることから も、お 酒の 仕込 み水がフレーバーや舌触りなど、最終的な品質に関わってくるのも当然の事と言えるでしょう。

それがどのようにお酒の仕上がりにも影響してくるのか、皆さんで探っていきたいと思いま す。

ただお酒をテイスティングするだけでなく、素材としての水に焦点をあててのテイスティング には きっ と新 たな発見もあるはずです!

新政 – 新政酒造、秋田県

鶴齢 – 青木酒造、新潟県

いずみ橋 – 泉橋酒造, 神奈川県

喜久酔 – 青島酒造、静岡県

蒼空 – 藤岡酒造、京都府

奥播磨 – 下村酒造、兵庫県

富久長 – 今田酒造本店






Fuglen Sake: Pretty in Pink Spring Flight

Pretty in Pink Spring Flight

Spring has sprung and soon the country will be awash in pretty pink petals. The arrival of sakura is cause for celebration; its time to reconnect with friends under the blossoms with a bottle of seasonal spring sake.
Spring sake, or Haruzake, are all released as namazake – unpasteurised sake which further reinforces the freshness of the season.
Haruzake is young, delicately sweet and dangerously easy to drink. A fun option for long drinking sessions under the blossoms with picnic snacks.
As a tribute to the prettiest of the seasons, Fuglen will be serving a trio of Haruzake for your tasting pleasure.


Yamamoto Usu-Nigori

Yamamoto ‘Cheerful’ Junmai Ginjo Usu-Nigori (Lightly Cloudy) Namazake 

山本 うきうき純米吟醸 うすにごり 生酒

As cheerful its name suggests, this lovely nigori captures the exuberance of freshly melted spring snow.  Bright and fruity aromas invite you into the clean, delicately sweet flavour.  Its grapefruit-like acidity refreshes the palate and entices you back into the glass. Light, charming and eminently drinkable. The perfect ‘kanpai’ for your Hanami festivities.

Yamamoto Gomei Kaisha, Akita – 山本合名会社、秋田県

Sake rice: Akita Sake Komachi
Rice polishing rate: 55%
Yeast: Yamamoto Gorgeous Yeast
Sake Value Meter: +1
Acidity: 1.7
Alcohol: 14.8%

原料米: 秋田酒こまち
精米歩合: 55%
酵母: 山本ゴージャス酵母
日本酒度: +1
酸度 1.7
アルコール度 14.8%

* Usu-nigori has a light cloudy appearance due to being pressed through a coarse filter which allows for some of the sake lees to be retained.

Aramasa Amaneko

Aramasa Amaneko Shiro Koji* Junmai  新政 亜麻猫 白麹*純米 

This Flax Cat epitomises the modern taste of Aramasa sake.  Light and sweet in fragrance with a refreshing flavour, and a mikan orange-like sweet-sour acidity which spreads its the soft sweetness and emphasises its bright, charming character. Pair with Italian drinking snacks at this year’s Hanami picnic.

Aramasa Shuzo, Akita – 新政酒造、秋田県

Sake rice: Akita Sake Komachi
Rice polishing rate: (Koji) 40%* (Kakemai) 60%
Yeast: Aramasa Kobo  (Also known as No.6)
Nihonshudo: -15
Acidity: 2.2
Alcohol: 15%

原料米: (麹) 吟の精 (掛) 秋田酒こまち
精米歩合: (麹) 40%* (掛) 60%
酵母: 新政酵母 (6号)
日本酒度: -15
酸度 2.2
アルコール度 15%

* Koji rice is propagated with white koji mold used to make shochu.

Okuharima 'Longing for Spring' Yamahai Junmai

Okuharima ‘Longing for Spring’ Yamahai Junmai Nama Genshu*

奥播磨 春待ちこがれて 山廃純米 生酒

Rich and ambrosial on the nose.  Don’t be fooled by the pretty image on the bottle, this sake has the big-boned umami-packed flavour, solid acidity and dry finish for which Okuharima is renowned. Satisfying and moreish with a flavour that leaves you longing for more. Savour with grilled meat and cheese under the cherry blossoms.

Shimomura Shuzo, Hyogo – 下村酒造、兵庫県

Sake rice: Hyogo-ken Yamada Nishiki
Rice polishing rate: 80%
Yeast: No. 7
Nihonshudo: +7
Acidity: 2.0
Alcohol: 17-18%

原料米: 兵庫県内産 山田錦
精米歩合: 80%
酵母: 協会7酵母
日本酒度: +7
酸度: 2.0
アルコール度 17-18%


Sake: New Directions | Bar Zingaro

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 8.39.47 PM

Click on image to see full-size flyer

It’s a brand new year, and the future of sake is looking bright! To celebrate, we will be kicking off our 2015 sake events with a forecast of the exciting new directions sake is moving in.

This Valentine’s Day, come and join the Nihonshu Love with Rebekah Wilson-Lye, as she explores the latest sake trends through a guided tasting beautifully crafted sake from seven innovative breweries.

Aramasa                   新政

Dassai                               獺祭

Miyoshikiku                     三芳菊

Yamagata Masamune   山形正宗

Shouryuhourai               昇龍蓬莱

Hakuin Masamune        白隠正宗

Orouku                             王祿


<Reservations>  SOLD OUT
Please email your name and phone number to the address below:
Entrance fee of JPY2,500 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese and ham) will be collected on the day of the event.

We look forward to seeing you at Bar Zingaro!

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.Atilika Inc

The Aromas of Sake | Sake Event @ Bar Zingaro

The Aroma of Sake

Click on image to see full-size flyer

Before even taking a sip, the aromas of sake which emanate from the cup give us our first sense of the flavour that awaits. And these aromas are as captivating as they are varied: fruit, spice, fresh herbs, caramel, cereal and even yoghurt are just some of the notes you may encounter.

But how can a beverage made from rice have such extraordinary range of fragrances?

The answer is in the kobo, or sake yeast. Learning a little about yeast can help you pick out the aromas and flavours in sake, and guide you towards discovering what types of sake best suit you.

Come and delight your senses with Rebekah Wilson-Lye, as she explores the aromas of sake through a guided tasting of beautifully crafted sake from seven innovative breweries.

<Reservations>  SOLD OUT
Please email your name and phone number to the address below:
Entrance fee of JPY2,000 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese and ham) will be collected on the day of the event.

We look forward to seeing you at Bar Zingaro!

Special thanks to my sponsors for this event, Atilika Inc.Atilika Inc

お酒のアロマは様々に変化するのは、フルーツやスパイス、新鮮なハーブ、キャラメル、シリアルやヨーグルトといった馴染みのある香りを含んでいる からです。


日本酒ソムリエ(SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional) であるレベッカ・ウィ ルソンライと一緒に、お酒の香りを楽しみましょう。




Fuglen Sake Flight: The Autumn Harvest

The harvest season is here, and what a bummer crop it is! Around the country we are enjoying the rich array of nature’s abundance; tables heave with with fresh produce, new season rice, ripe fruit, and some of the fattiest, tastiest fish of the year. Autumn is indeed shokuyoku no aki – the season of hearty appetites.

Autumn has also long been regarded as the prime season for drinking sake, and the reason is that as the temperature chills and the leaves turn golden, crimson colours, breweries around the country finally release their fully matured brews.

The fresh autumnal sake is known as hiyaoroshi, and sometimes, more poetically, as aki-agari – ‘the autumn yield’. And like the madness surrounding the release of Beaujolais Nouvelle, there is always a lot of eager anticipation for the arrival of hiyaoroshi, which is officially released on September 9th. Hiyaoroshi, refers to sake that has been pasteurised only once before it is stored & then matured throughout summer. It is prized for its harmony of lively nama freshness and ripe autumnal flavours… the perfect beverage for pairing with the season’s harvest fare.

This month at Fuglen we will be celebrating the bounty of the season with a tasting flight of three rich and settled autumnal brews: Yamawa Junmai-Ginjo Hiyaoroshi, Yamagata Masamune Junmai-Ginjo Aki-agari and Senkin Akatonbo Yamahai Kame no O Hiyaoroshi. Cheers!

Yamawa Junmai-Ginjo Hiyaoroshi

山和 純米吟醸 ひやおろし

Yamawa Hiyaoroshi

A refreshing and easy to drink sake with a mellow, savoury nose and a smooth, supple flavour that lingers in the finish. Its nicely pitched acidity make it an the ideal companion for comforting autumnal fare. Drink it straight from the fridge and then enjoy the subtle shifts in flavour and aroma as it warms to room temperature.

Yamawa Shuzo, Miyagi – 山和酒造、宮城県

Sake rice: Nagano Miyama Nishiki
Rice polishing rate: 50%
Nihonshudo: +2
Acidity: 1.7
Alcohol: 17-18%

原料米: 長野県産 美山錦
精米歩合: 50%
日本酒度: +2
酸度 1.7
アルコール度 17-18%

Yamagata Masamune Akiagari Junmai-Ginjo

山形正宗 秋あがり 純米吟醸

Yamagata Masamune Akiagari

A gentle, refreshing fragrance, with faint notes of ripe fruit. The aroma is beautifully complemented by the calm, sweet richness of the Yamada Nishiki rice, which swells and reverberates across your palate.  And the finish – ah! It ends with the clean, sword like cut which is so characteristic of  Yamagata Masamune’s style. Carefully matured at low temperatures, this sake has a wonderful harmony of freshness and soft, settled flavour. 

Mitobe Shuzo, Yamagata – 水戸部酒造、山形県

Sake rice: Banshu A-Grade Yamada Nishiki
Rice polishing rate: 55%
Yeast: Kumamoto Kobo (Also known as #9)
Nihonshudo: +2
Acidity: 1.55
Alcohol: 16%

原料米: 播州特A山田錦
精米歩合: 55%
酵母: 熊本酵母 (9号)
日本酒度: +2
酸度 1.55
アルコール度 16%

Senkin Yamahai* Kame no O Hiyaoroshi

仙禽 山廃 亀の尾 ひやおろし

Senkin Yamahai Hiyaoroshi

Enter the dragon(fly)! The Akatonbo Hiyaoroshi is the latest creation of  Senkin’s genius Usui brothers. And what a stunning debut it is. Comforting notes of vanilla custard, caramel & dried fruits emanate from the glass and infuse harmoniously with the rich & mature flavour.  The palate is juicy with Senkin’s trademark sweet-acidity, and while its got some impact from the alcohol, its a punch with a velvet glove. Warm and nostalgic, this sake evokes images of an autumnal crimson sunset.

*Yamahai-shikomi is a traditional brewing method in which the yeast starter is made in a way that allows wild yeast and bacteria to be present, for a time, in the fermenting mash. It often produces a gamier, rustic flavour.

Senkin Shuzo, Tochigi – 仙禽酒造、栃木県

Sake rice: Tochigi grown Premium Grade Kame no O
Rice polishing rate: 80%
Yeast: Private
Nihonshudo: Private
Acidity: Private
Alcohol: 17%

原料米: 栃木県さくら市産亀の尾特等米
精米歩合: 80%
酵母: 非公開
日本酒度: 非公開
酸度 非公開
アルコール度 17%


Sake: A Taste of the Seasons | Morgan Salon 03

Click on image to view flyer

Click on image to view flyer

SEPTEMBER 28, 2014 (SUN.) 5PM~7:30PM 

ICHI FOR THE MICHI is please to announce this exciting collaboration with world renewed musician & photographic artist, Morgan Fisher. Come and join us for an evening of seasonal sake and live music!

For those of you who missed my last presentation at Bar Zingaro, this is your chance to explore seasonal sake through a guided tasting of fresh summer and autumn offerings from seven innovative breweries.

Then, the evening’s host, Morgan Fisher, will delight and inspire you with his unique brand of musical improvisation

MORGAN SALON is an ongoing series of cultural events held in the intimate surroundings of British musician Morgan Fisher’s personal studio.

Seats are limited to 30 people,  so reservations are essential.

Please email your name & contact number to


〒168-0063 Tokyo, Suginami-kuIzumi 2-2-4

Five minutes walk  from Daitabashi Stn (Keio Line). A map with be sent on confirmation of your booking. Door opens @4:30pm.


(Ticket incl. a selection of French cheese & bread)


2014年9⽉28日 (日) 17:00~19:30

SEC (Sake Education Council) 公認日本酒上級プロフェッショナルソムリエのレベッカ・ウィルソンライと一緒に季節の日本酒を楽しみましょう。7カ所の革新的な酒蔵からの日本酒を解説つきでテイスティングいたします。







〒168-0063 東京都、杉並区、和泉 2-2-4

京王線代田橋駅から徒歩5分。16:30 会場



Sake: Decoding the Grades |Tasting Event @Bar Zingaro

Sake Decoding the Grades

Click on image for event flyer

The sake boom is here, and suddenly everyone has a developed thirst for this superlative brew.
But for newcomers, the dizzying array of labels on the market, and the baffling terminology mean that sake can be intimidating to approach.
One of the easiest ways to navigate the options is to become familiar with grades sake is divided into.

This month at Bar Zingaro we will decode the classifications of premium sake, the variances in their production, rice milling rates, fragrances and flavour profiles. Getting to grips with these basics will not only give you more confidence, it will take some of the guess-work out of ordering.

Come and indulge your inner sake geek with Rebekah Wilson-Lye, a SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional, as she gives an introduction to the sake grades, along with a guided tasting of sake from 7 innovative breweries.

For ongoing updates, join the event on Bar Zingaro’s event page.

Please email your name and phone number to the address below:
Entrance fee of JPY2,000 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese) will be collected on the day of the event.
Entrance fee of JPY1000 for international students.

We look forward to seeing you at the event!


今月は、Bar Zingaroでプレミアム酒の分類、生産地、精米率、香りと風味の特徴について解説します。

日本酒ソムリエ(SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional )レベッカ・ウィルソンライと、日本酒の夜を楽しみましょう。





夏酒: A Taste of Summer | Tasting Event @Bar Zingaro

Click on image for event flyer

Click on image for event flyer

With the oppressive summer humidity showing no signs of abating, there is no better time to dive into a fresh selection of this season’s natsuzake.
This refreshing summer sake’s is designed to beat the heat, and revive natsubate fatigued constitutions. Come and cool down with Rebekah Wilson-Lye, a SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional, as she gives an introduction to sake’s seasonal styles, along with a guided tasting of natsuzake from seven innovative breweries.

Please email your name and phone number to the address below:
Entrance fee of JPY2,000 (to cover the sake tasting and a plate of cheese) will be collected on the day of the event.

We look forward to seeing you at the event!


Bar Zingaroにて、日本酒ソムリエ(SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional) であるレベッカ・ウィルソンライとクールダウンしましょう!



Fuglen Sake 101: Natsuzake – Summer Sake Flight

When the hot, humid days of summer arrive, brewers around the country wrap up production for the year and take the opportunity to enjoy a well deserved break. By now, the first batches of new spring sake have already been released, and the rest is settling & aging in tanks, so the market goes a bit quiet as everyone waits expectantly for the release of the year’s fully matured sake in October. But fear not, there is still plenty of great sake to look forward to during the summer season. It’s around this of year that pretty blue bottles of lively and intensely fruity summer namazake begin to appear in the refrigerators of good sakaya. These sake tend to be light, refreshing and, due to lower alcohol levels, eminently quaffable – perfect for quelling the meanest summer thirst.

This month at Fuglen, ICHI FOR THE MICHI has selected three breezy summer sake for you dive into.

Fuglen Summer Sake Flight

石鎚  夏純米 槽搾り

Ishizuchi Natsu Junmai Funeshibori*

Clean and refreshing, with Ishizuchi’s characteristic spring water-like minerality. An aromatic ginjo nose, with a light body that spreads nicely across your palate. Beautifully balanced, with notes of sweet rice, flinty stone, and a lingering crisp acidity. Slow-pressed with a traditional wooden fune to produce a fine-grained texture.

Ishizuchi Natsuzake

石鎚酒造 (愛媛県)Ishizuchi Shuzo (Ehime) 

Ishizuchi Shuzo is a small, family run brewery founded which was founded in 1920, near Saijo City, Ehime Prefecture. The name of the shuzo comes from Ishizuchisan, a mountain significant for being the tallest in the Shikoku region, as well as the source of the rich spring water which is used to create their sake.

This tiny brewery is run by four members of the Ochi family, who devote themselves to producing a small amount of high quality sake made with time-consuming, labour intensive techniques. Their sake is fermented for 40 days at a low temperature, then slow-pressed using a slow-pressed with a traditional wooden fune press. The result of this careful process is a finely textured sake with a smooth, clean flavour.

Sake rice: Locally grown Shizuku Hime
Rice polishing rate: 60%
Nihonshudo: +3
Acidity: 1.7
Alcohol: 16%

原料米: 愛媛県産 しずく媛
精米歩合: 60%
酸度: 1.7度
アルコール度: 16%

*Funeshibori 槽しぼり – Sake that has been pressed in a traditional wooden ‘fine’ box press.

Taka Natsu Junmai Happo Nigori** Namashu

貴 夏純米 発泡 にごり* 生酒

Lively and delicious! This happo-nigori’s light effervescence and cloudy appearance is reinforced by a fragrance of sweet Calpis and fresh grapes. On the palate the gentle sweet rice flavour swells and then pulls back to leave a refreshing dry finish. It’s delicate bubbles and nicely pitched acidity create a light, cool and refreshing summery feel.  – the perfect partner for convivial drinks on a hot summers night. 

Serving suggestion: Enjoy in a champagne flute, and pair with grilled meat & vegetables.

Taka Happo Nigori

Nagayama Honke (Yamaguchi) – 永山本家 (山口県)

Located in Ube City, at the south-western tip of Honshu, family run Nagayama Honke has been brewing its sake since 1888, with the mineral rich water from Shimofuriyama.

Under the leadership of fourth generation kuramoto, Takahiro Nagayama, the brewery is moving forward with a new, progressive vision. He is also one of the growing number of young kuramoto who are taking on the duel responsibilities of being a brewery’s managing director, as well as its master brewer.

Committed to producing only junmai sake, made with the best of the regions natural resources, Nagayama-san keeps production yields low in order to the quality high. The brewery is invested in supporting local agriculture, and contracts local rice farmers to supply sakamai for the brewery. Nagayama-san has also turned his hand to farming – cultivating his own Yamada Nishiki in the fields that surround the kura.

“Taka” (meaning noble) takes its name from the first kanji of the man who created it. The stylised font of the 貴 character, which Nagayama-san wrote himself, reflects his strength, passion and slightly wild personality. Since launching the label in 2001, Taka has become one of the darlings of the sake world, and for good reason. Its characteristic mellow flavour, and nicely chiselled acidity, favors wide range of delicious cuisine, and lends itself to a night of delicious fun.

Sake rice: Yamada Nishiki
Rice polishing rate: 60%
Yeast: No. 9
Nihonshudo: +-0
Acidity: 1.6
Alcohol: 15~16%

原料米: 山田錦
精米歩合: 60%
酵母: 協会9号系
日本酒度: +-0
酸度 1.6
アルコール度 15〜16%

**Happo Nigori 発泡にごり – Sparkling cloudy sake. Sake that has some residual rice lees – ori -remaining, and has undergone secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Tamagawa Ice Breaker Junmaiginjo Muroka Nama Genshu***

玉川  Ice Breaker  純米吟醸 無濾過生原酒

Ice Breaker by name, Heat Breaker by nature. Don’t be mislead by its fresh, pretty fragrance, this rich and flavoursome muroka nama genshu has plenty of punch. Delicious straight out of the fridge, or it enjoy over ice to soften the impact of its amped up alcohol level. Revitalising, tasty and eminently quaffable – the perfect thirst-quencher for the hanabi & summer festival session.

Serving suggestion: On the rocks. Perfect for enjoying with barbecued fare.

Tamagawa Ice Breaker

Kinoshita Shuzo (Kyoto) – 木下酒造 (京都県)

Kinoshita is an extraordinary brewery. And that’s not so much due to the award-winning Tamagawa sake they produce, or the old school brewing techniques they use, – as it is for their toji (master brewer). Philip Harper has the distinction of being the first and only non-Japanese to attain the rank of master brewer. He’s also responsible for producing Tamagawa’s remarkably intense brews.

Although there may have been some suspicion (and expectation of failure) of a foreigner brewing the country’s national drink, since taking on the role of toji at Tamagawa’s, in 2007, Harper has won over the sake industry and the nation with his flavour driven, masculine sake.

The brewery’s mission is take fine rice, grown by farmers they have a direct relationship with to create their sake. The distinct flavour, for which Tamagawa is so renowned, is derived from Harper’s use of traditional brewing technique called ‘shizen shikomi’ or ‘stontaneous fermentation’, a natural brewing preparation used during the Edo Period, but which is not widely used today. By combining the best natural resources with labour intensive brewing techniques, and an exceptional level of skill, Tamagawa aims to brew great sake with integrity, heart and soul & to strive to produce sake that will delight and inspire.

Sake rice: (Koji) Nihonbare, (Kakemai) Gyohakumangoku
Rice polishing rate: (Koji) 50%, (Kakemai) 60%
Yeast: No. 9
Nihonshudo: -2
Alcohol: 16~17%

原料米: (麹)日本晴、(掛) 五百万石
精米歩合:  (麹)50%、(掛)60%
酵母: 協会9号系
日本酒度: -2
アルコール度 16〜17%

***Muroka 無濾過 – Uncharcoal filtered

Nama 生 – Unpasteurised (fresh) sake

Genshu 原酒 – Undiluted sake

NOTE: As always, you can supplement your flight, or replace any of the above sake, with Norway’s own premium sake: Nøgne Ø “Nadakajima” Junmai, brewed with Hokkaido grown Ginpu sake rice – developed especially for cold climate conditions.

Shonzui 祥瑞 – Raising the (Natural) Wine Bar

Bio-organic, vin du naturel, shizenha, hipster juice – whatever the epithet – like them or not, natural wine is here to stay. IMG_6640 There has been much media fanfare surrounding the bevy of new natural wine bistros that have sprung up around the city; most notably Ahiru Store, Beard, Standing Bar Waltz, and – my local – Le Verre Vole. But this boom may didn’t happen in a vacuum, nor did it happen overnight. It was the result of pioneers like wine importer Francois Dumas and Shinsaku Katsuyama, a renowned restauranteur and bon vivant, whose passion and forethought broke open the market and brought this previously undervalued genre to the Japanese public’s attention.  In fact, if it weren’t for the efforts of these early Japanese enthusiasts some of the labels we enjoy today wouldn’t be on the market. In the early 90′s, when natural winemakers were struggling to find a market for their wine in France, it was Japanese wine buyers who came to the rescue, buying up to 80% of some of wineries stock, thereby establishing Japan as the biggest importer of natural wine in the world and saving cash strapped winemakers from certain financial ruin. IMG_7736 It would seem that the significance of these early vanguards is not lost on the new generation of bistro du vin owners. When I asked Le Verre Vole’s Ryo-san where he choses to dine out on one of his rare nights off, the answer was emphatic: Shonzui – a Roppongi institution run by the aforementioned Katsuyama-san.

Established in 1993, on the ‘right’ side of Roppongi (away from the sleazy strip clubs and gaijin watering holes of Gaienmai-dori), Shonzui has long held a reputation for its excellent wine selection and hearty bistro fare. In days of old, Katsuyama-san, whose unassuming and jovial character belies this incredible wine knowledge, worked the floor as both host and sommelier, serving rustic dishes inspired from his his extensive travels throughout the wine regions of France. festivin2012_0823_MwebThese days he has handed these duties over to a young talented team, so he can devote time to his new Chinese BBQ venture, “Lucky”, promoting natural wine through his Festivin project, and pursuing his other great love, jazz. Shonzui interior On a chilly spring evening, Ryo-san rallied the troops for an evening at his favourite dining room. We were a curious multi-national and multi-generational coterie, comprised of la families Le Verre Vole (including the angelic, 9 month old, Anjou) the babes of Standing Bar Waltz (wife and newborn – sadly Papa had to work), two Frenchmen, a Norwegian, and yours truly. We were warmly greeted by the dapper maitre d’, Tsubo-san, and immediately treated to a bottle of wine to kick off our festivities. IMG_7689 Complements of the house: a bottle of Gilles et Catherine Verge’s Pétillant Naturel Bulle à Zéro, from Viré, in the Mâconnais district of southern Burgundy. The vividly yellow appearance and slightly oxidised apple aromas of this semi-sparkling chardonnay were more reminiscent of a Jura-style than something I would associate with the south of Burgundy. I was later to learn that the Verges, who only make san soufre wine due to sulphur allergies, lift the lids of the vats during the vinification process to encourage oxidisation and to allow nutty flavours and cider aromas to develop. Is it me, or do the bourgeoisie seem to have terribly delicate systems these days? All cynicism aside, the zesty lemon honey and limestone flavours combined with a soft effervescency made it a pleasant enough start to the night. Kajiki maguroThe blackboard menu lists an array of simple, unpretentious and unabashedly meat-driven bistrot fare. But in all my visits I’ve never ordered from it. Instead, I seek inspiration from the counter, where a selection of proteins stand resplendent: whole Bresse chickens trussed and ready for roasting, enormous steaks of aged wagyu, and, on this evening, a huge cross section of kajiki-maguro (swordfish) – a welcome sight to someone with pescatarian tendencies. After preferences were sort, we sat back and relaxed as the kitchen went about plying us with plate after heaping plate of flavoursome rustic food. IMG_7690First up, “The Boucherie’s Plate”. Amongst the charcuterie assortment: roast pork, parma ham, roast pigeon hearts, terrine de campagne, cornichons, and pork rilette, which we liberally heaped onto crusty slices of freshly baked campagne bread. IMG_7710Les Vieilles Vignes des Blanderies 2006, a beautifully composed Chenin Blanc from Domaine Mark Angeli, in Anjou. Like the Verges, Angeli has demoted all of his wine to the humble ‘Vin de Table’ status in protest to the appellation’s rigid regulations and refusal to reduce the use of pesticides in the region. In fact, this became an emerging theme throughout the night. Kajiki saladThe kajiki-maguro appeared table-side in the form of a protein-packed salad made with rocket and home cured sardines. It was as generous in flavour as it was in proportion. IMG_7723Our lively conversation was briefly interrupted when a pot of live lobster was brought to the table for our inspection. Would this be to our liking? Indeed it would! Lobster Quickly dispatched by the chef, the lobster, along with two of its friends, returned grilled with a liberal saucing of herb butter. But where were the claws? Lobster gratinThey arrived atop a wickedly rich and decadent dish of oven roasted potato gratin. Swoon! EponaAnother Chenin, and yet another Vin de Table: Domaine Griottes’ Epona, from Lambert du Lattay, in the Loire. Made by Patrick Desplats and Sebastien Dervieux, two wild and wooly rebels of the natural wine movement, who espouse an ultra-traditionalist non-intervention method; no SO2 or additives, and  wild yeast fermentation. The Epona charmed with its subtle bouquet and fresh, mineral taste. A nice counterbalance to the rich creaminess of the lobster gratin. IMG_3865   An old friend from the North: Domaine Gérard Schueller. Somewhat of a firebrand, Bruno Schueller’s winemaking philosophy is based on bio-dynamics, but his idiosyncratic style and aversion to regulations, particularly those of the INAO, mean that his wine seems to defy easy classification. His minimal intervention approach; using only a tiny amount of SO2 at bottling, as well as lengthy fermentation & maturation periods results in vivid, lively wine with nice balance & depth. I’ve also noticed a bit of bottle variation  – possibly due to poor storage conditions post-dispatch from the winery.

Having enjoyed the Gewurtztraminer & Riesling from Schueller in the past, I was interested to try the Pinot Noir. Pale ruby in hue, with an abundance of fresh raspberry & rhubarb aromas. Slightly petillant with bright acidity and a distinct minerality – this is a great quaffing wine for a summer bbq… but sadly, lacked the body & structure to stand up to our hearty steak dinner. WagyuHoly wagyu! We were presented with two strapping sirloin cuts of aged Yamagata-gyu, each weighing around 900 grams. The red meat deprived Norwegian literally started purring at this stage. Steak Frites Steak Frites 2 IMG_7735La vache! Two heaving boards of perfectly rendered sirloin, cooked to the rare side of medium-rare, with simple accompaniments of duck fat roasted potatoes and dressed leaves. A reverent hush fell across our table as members savoured the pleasure of each flavour-releasing chew. From all accounts it was a succulent flavour-bomb of well cooked cow. Tsubo-san The mothers and babes bid us farewell, and with their departure the games began – Tsubo-san acting as our incorrigible enabler. Sensing our desire for something more robust, Tsubo-san appeared with a selection of more hearty varietals. After giving a detailed and eloquent description of each wine, a clear winner emerged… Les Balatilles Les Baltailles! This san soufre gamay, from the Beaujolis vineyard Domaine Phillipe Jambon, was an absolute stunner: rich and intense with dried fruit, bitter chocolate and umami flavours. In this instance its ‘vin de table’ moniker works well, because has it been labelled ‘Beaujolais’ one might have expected something much lighter and less structured in the glass. 2008 Domaine Léon Barral Faugères Valinière As with namazake, I find that when you drink natural wine the aroma and flavour are masked by the haze of it’s fresh unpasteurised character. I register that it’s a natural wine, rather than get any sense of terroir or grape. Not so with this 2008 Domaine Léon Barral Faugères Valinière. Clean and well balanced on the nose, with plum, dark berry and pleasant mineral notes. The flavour was a revelation. Made with 80% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, and aged two years in barrel, it was full and lush on the palate, with nicely integrated tannins and acidity. The clarity and precision of this wine are a testament to the craftsmanship of Didier Barral, a biodynamic vintner, who eschews the use of sulphur, filtering and fining. Definitely worth seeking out. Bacchanalia As the evening progressed, and more bottles were produced, the bacchanalia increased and soon the line between patrons and staff blurred. We took the ‘cheese course’ standing at the bar, the chef shaving slices of aged comte onto our hands in between slugs from his wine glass. Some Roquefort appeared and immediately disappeared, along with bowls of Shizuoka strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar. And on and on the wine kept following… IMG_3867 At 2am, red-cheeked and full-bellied, we reluctantly bid adieu to our generous hosts. It had been an evening of good honest food, vivid wine and exceptional hospitality – a night with good friends that will be indelibly etched in my memory.

At some point during the festivities, a marker had been produced and a drunken message was scrawled amongst the tributes on the wall. “Forget Michelin,” someone had written in wobbly cursive script, “this is the real star dining experience.” Someone may have been seriously sloshed, but as the saying goes, “In vino veritas!”

UPDATE: Sadly, Tsubo-san has departed from Shonzui. You will find him at Le Cabaret, working the floor with his usual charm.