The yearly wine event Festivin just took place in Tokyo a few days ago, it's a smoothly-functioning wine-tating fair taking place in two sessions in a single day on the last sunday of november. It has such a success among wine lovers in Tokyo that the tickets are sold well in advance. I attended my first Festivin wine fair in march 2014 but it was kind of a minor-key version of the real thing because there had been issues back then on renting the usual exhibition space. This was already a great tasting event, even though like usual I could taste few wines considering the time I spend at each table plus the time spent looking at people, listening to the music and shooting pictures... This Festivin 2015 was in line with my first experience, add to that a music entertainment that was by itself worth the ticket even if you had been a teetotaller, the credit for that great music part goes of course to our friend François Dumas, the French Tokyoite and wine importer who also has a long experience and good taste in music shows. François Dumas is pictured on the right with John Wood, a New-Zealander who spent years working in Tokyo (moved recently to Melbourne for the studies of his children) and who worked several years as staff for Festivin.
The wine tasting even took place at Ebis303 which is a convention & exhibition centre in Ebisu, a trendy area on the south-eastern edge of Shibuya. That day was very sunny and mild (few people know Japan has great weather in november) and I walked all the way from Ikebukuro, where I was staying, and Ebisu, spending time in Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Harajuku & Shibuya on the way, great stroll and a great way to discover a city by the way, even when the walked-through neighborhoods aren't of touristic value.
The entree fee was high on Paris standards where tastings are often free or charged a symbolic 5 € (which usually pays for the glass), but I was willing to pay the ¥ 7500 (56 €) asked for the 4-hour session because that's really a way to feel the beat of natural-wine in Japan and have a glimpse on its public. As an introduction while we were beginning to enjoy the wines we had a speech by Shinsaku Katsuyama, the core organizer of the event who sported for the occasion a hat made of corks (pic on left). Katsuyama-san is a pioneer in natural wine in Tokyo and he is the founder of Shonzui, now an institution for natural wine and great food in the Japanese capital.
Again I was struck the age of the attendees at this tasting, most were young and there were lots of women, a point which I underlined over my first vist at this tasting in 2014, it's encouraging for the future of the natural-wine market in this country, the down side for us in France of course is that this could drive the prices of our favorite wine upwards in the long term, although the different actors of the trade succeeded until now to prevent this from happening. Natural wines, many of them from France, have a steady flow of followers in Japan, and thanks to the good work of a couple dozen importers the Japanese have access to a very wide range of cuvées, some of them not even being sold in France. Regarding the price levels of these wines in the wine shops, while higher than in France of course, some are pretty affordable like a bottle of Cheverny 2013 by Philippe Tessier which I spotted in a wine shop during this trip at ¥ 2000 or 15 €. Given the intermediaries and the long distance in temperature-controlled containers, that's a very reasonable price.
The two sessions that sunday november 29 were respectively 12:00 to 3:30 pm and 4pm to 8pm, with half an hour in between to clean up the room and be ready for the 2nd round, all this done in a very orderly manner, like usual in Japan (see pic on left with people waiting patiently the opening time for the 2nd tasting session).
Each visitor was given a wrist strap, a glass and a cotton bag to hold the glass (pic on right), plus a list with the names of the 260+ vignerons & domaines with their respective importers in Japan. The event is by the way the result of the collaborative work of the Japanese importers dealing with natural wines, and unlike France where vignerons can bring samples and pour wine for free to get people know their wines, here the bottles are already paid for when they reach Japan, that's why the fee for the event is higher than the ones practiced in France.
There was a lot of staff at the tables to pour and give some explainations about the wines, all were from what I know employees of the many import companies participating to the event. A page coming with the list of wines displayed a plan of the room with the importers location at these tables, each having selected a few wines from their portfolio. These importers were Eastline, VinsCoeur, VinaiOta, Vortex, Espoa, Orveaux, Crossroad, The Vine, Sagamiya, Symphonie, Sunliberty, W, Diony, Terravert, Nonna & Sidhi, BMO, Herrenberger Hof, Mottox, L'Avenir, Racines, Raffine, Le Vin Nature, Wine Diamonds.
There were a few Japanese natural-wine producers taking part too : Sakai winery, Takeda winery, Villa d'Est, Coco Farm, Domaine Oyamada, Shion winery, Beau Paysage, Caney Wine and Fujimaru winery.
Here are the domaines that were offered for tasting during this event, I scanned the 4 pages of the flyier given to each attendee : page 1, page 2, page 3 and page 4, you can see by yourself that these are a lot of wines. If most domaines were French you'll notice quite a few Italian as well and wines from a few other regions including Georgia.
Another leaflet showed on one side a plan with the tables and spots where each importer was located, the other side listing the participating venues (wine bars and wine shops) which by the way may offer a useful glimpse on the good wine spots in Tokyo.
__This time my first stop was at Beau Paysage, as the Japanese domaine's natural wines are so courted
that if you wait too much the samples available for the tasting will be empty. Eishi Okamoto-san had brought
only one cuvée, Private Reserve 2012, a rosé, and he was the pouring himself. The bottle was almost empty when I reached the table (I guess he had others because the session was just begenning). This man is certainly one of the most revered winemakers in Japan, on the natural-wine scene, and my few experiences with his wines tell me it's completely justified. If his production was not so small he'd certainly have an export potential as foreign amateurs would love to experience these wines.
Generous nose, the mouth is in the same vein. The wine feels aerated but without the unpleasant side of what we all oxidation, there's a roundness here, almost sweet but very aerial and light, a nice wine. If I remember it's made with a wide range of varietals, possibly leftovers from all his cuvées, that'd be why it's named Private Reserve and why it's so light in color.
__ Sakai Winery (Yamagata), Jobitaki 2015. A bright-pink, turbid wine, exciting like a Bugey-Cerdon, drier though. Nice mouth touch like silk paper with a refined tannic texture.
__ Villa d'Est Tazawa, Merlot 2013. Suave wine, flowery notes. Screw closure. The mouth offers lots of freshness with balance and a refined tannic touch. Excellent wine.
__ Domaine Oyamada BOW ! 2014 white, Japanese table wine. Domaine working on 3 hectares in the eastern Yamanashi region, seems it has begun applying biodynamics in 2004. Don't use lab yeast even for its sparkling. On this says SO2
is used in minimal doses.
Rich VinsCoeur page (in Japanese) it and savory wine, some residual sugar it seems to me. Made with Delaware and a bit of Petit Manseng. 11 % alcohol. Easy drink for sure and also the good thing is that these wines are affordable.
__ Domaine Oyamada BOW ! 2014 red, Japanese table wine. Muscat Bailey A and Cabernet Franc. Exciting color, that is, light and lightly turbid. Super-easy to drink, also 11 % in alcohol and costs only ¥ 1600 or 12 €, a terrific value. A good alternative if you want to try Japanese natural wine and can't afford the prices of Beau Paysage (the other issue being finding the wines in Tokyo but natural-wine cavistes like Nodaya or Espoa Nakamoto should stock it).
On the back label you can see a strange word (not Japlish here but Japfrench ?) : Paysannat which may mean either the world of paysans (farmers) or paysan naturel. You'll agree with me with the color, we're not into overextraction here...
The Kanai Winery is located in the Yamanashi region.
__ Chardonnay - Delaware 2015, no name yet, it's not on the market. Turbid, wheat notes on the nose. In the mouth an aerial feel, here is again a wine you can trust instinctively, you feel immediately at ease with it, you feel it's true. My stomach makes noise when I swallow, usually a good sign, it loves it. 10 % alcohol, no added SO2, I'm told it costs between ¥ 2500 and ¥ 3000 retail (18 to 22 €).
__ Vino da Manriki 2013, Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon. Nose : notes of dust with freshness all around. I already salivate. Color : not that dark for a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon. Swallowed : Man, this is good.... no question, I can't spit any of this until now. You don't really feel the 13 % it is said to be. Nice tannic texture here too.
__ Vino da Manriki Delaware 100 % 2014. 10 % alcohol. Very nice, same enjoyability; these 3 wines are so good, you need to try them too if you find some.
There was also all this music show in the background, and the artists were so good many wine tasters were standing in front of the stage
with their glass in the hand, listening to the
This video is far from perfect, especially the audio part when I moved too close from the sound system, but you'll still appreciate the music I'm sure.
Another great artist who took my attention was Hiroko Ito (pictured on left) who is an accordionist and speaks a perfect French from what I heard in her comments between her interpretations of French standards. Her webpage (which is in French) says that she fell in love with accordion at the age of 10, later met Marcel Azzolla and settled in Paris where she worked with a virtuoso for this intrument in France.
I tasted a couple of wines at the table of James Dunstan of The Vine, an import company that ships mostly (but not only) Rhône and Catalonia wines to Japan.
__ Fleur de
Cailloux 2014 from Jean-Philippe Padié, vigneron in Calce (Languedoc, Côtes Catalanes, a region near the Spanish border). Padié is the only vigneron still working inside the village of Calce, there were lots more in the past and Gauby himself moved out (in the vicinity).
The wine is a white blend made with Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu. It is surprisingly easy to drink for a southern wine, makes 12 % in alcohol.
__ Nas del Gegant, Conca de Barbera 2013, a domaine doing biodynamics. 13,5 % alc. Costs ¥ 3400 (25 €) in Japan.
What a nose ! Complexity with notes of evanescent flowers. Nice vividness and power, it's all in trefineness, that's certainly good.
__ Mendall Vi de Taula Abeurador 2014, a red from a biodynamic domaine.
Notes of cherries, compoted fruit, but with freshness and wrapped in refined tannins. Love that, very easy drinking, lovely wine indeed. Costs ¥ 4950 or 37 €, more expensive but if the Japanese can afford, it's worth it.
__ Le Lapinot Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2013 by Nicolas Testard. 12 % in alc. Color is evolved. In the mouth, the tannins are pretty forward but backed with an appropriate freshness. The aromas are evolved too, like a wine that'd be older, but I like that. The general lightness of this wines hides a certain powerful side. Sells for ¥ 5000 or 37 € here in Japan.
__ Remi Poujol, le Temps Fait Tout 2012, a red table wine (vin de France). A bit tannic and powerful but well focused. Very elegant actually, after a 2nd sip, I love that.
__ Amateus Bobi Saumur-Champigny 2007 by Sebastien Bobinet. 12,5 %. Someone of the staff has written the odd words "Je Suis Français" in white chalk above the label, as I ask why, the woman who pours says that it's because it's easier to explain this wine to a Frenchman because the Japanese have often some kind of prejudice against Cabernet Franc. The color is light, the nose makes me hint already the refined tannic texture.
Nice aromas of élevage in barrels (if I'm right), just through a feel of the aeration of the wine, its exposure to oxygen, not really wood aromas. Imported here by Eastline, a 10-year old import company.
__ Mauvais Temps 2012 by Nicolas Carmarans, a
red from the Aveyron near Auvergne,
by the former owner of the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in Paris (Panthéon). A valeur sûre for me, I had to taste that in Tokyo...
Clear color with a light veil of turbidity. That's really my kind of wine, very acidic but natural acidity is so enjoyable. My stomach again sings its praise for the holy wine....
__ Vanité, Vin de France [table wine] 2013, a white by François Ecot. Chardonnay. Some tannicity like if it had had skin contact and some power feel, but well focused and sharp. Very elegant actually, I love that.
__ Domaine Fontedicto, Promise, Coteaux du Languedoc 2002 by Bernard Belhassen, a red. Is it because I'm beginning to saturate with wines, this one feels a little overextracted for me. But it is a very appreciated domaine and vintner, I'll taste again when I have the opportunity.
__ Gerard Schueller Sylvaner Cuvée Particulière 2013. I love these "minor cuvées" made by geniuses. Turbid wine. Woaoo...this wine rocks....Such an energy and life... I can't stop sipping, beautiful... I'm sure the Japanese get all the goos stuff here, I'm jealous. Sells for ¥ 3000 in Japan, or 22 €.
__ Gerard Schueller Riesling Cuvée Particulière 2013. 12,5 % alc. Man, is there something I didn't like i this wine fair ? How could they manage to keep all the liveliness of these wines after all the freight time and transportation hurdles ? These wines must be stronger than initially thought.
__ Soleil Couchant Bourgogne 2013 by Delphine & Sébastien Boisseau. A red Burgundy. Nice power feel, but I begin to saturate, that's what happens when you indulge in drinking the good stuff. This wine is imported by Racines.
Of course there was a lot of great artisanal foods, with plates being brought among the crowd by the staff, not counting all the food stands including one where you could have thin slices of ham cut at the demand. If you'd spend too much time on food and listening the show you could easily forget that this was supposed to be a tasting event, that that was what made this event whole and perfectly balanced, even though a couple hours more per session (6 instead of 4) might be a good change and allow a more relaxed enjoyment without the burden of having to worry about the time, especially that when the hour came everybody moved swiftly out with the staff efficiently gathering the empty bottles for recycling and cleaning the room (we're in Japan and when the light is red you don't cross the street even if there's no car in view).