The Gaijin's Wine Guide

Thinking about ordering the plonk at your local gaijin bar? Mark Guthrie reviews your chances

I would be the first to admit that I’m not the most cultured of fellows. I find it difficult to grasp the idea that oysters, supposedly the most elegant of delicacies, are anything other than the salty snot of the seabed. I once fell asleep in Sydney’s famous Opera House. I also thought, for many years, that the correct term for a professional wine taster was a ‘smellier’. It makes sense, right? I mean, they smell the wine first and, well, a lot of them are French. In fact, it was not until my sister became romantically entwined with a sommelier that I was disavowed of this notion.

This fact, that by a single degree of separation I was connected to such a person, opened up a whole new world to me. I mean, if he could do it, why not me? Sounds great, doesn’t it? On the piss and on the payroll. Is there a better way to spend your life? If there is, I can’t think of it. It must be easy to drink a glass of wine and talk shit about it. Presumably the more glasses of wine, the easier it is to talk shit. In fact, for someone who has been dallying in the business on a purely amateur level, though with a great enthusiasm, for so many years, stepping up to the world of the professional piss artist seems the next logical progression. So I decided to give it a try.

Now, I know nothing about wine and its industry. However, I am aware that Japan isn’t exactly a nation of Keith Floyds either. Of course sake is plentiful and very much enjoyed, but speak to your average Japanese about Shiraz, Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio, and you may as well be speaking another language. Which, of course, you are. But, whilst understandable from a cultural perspective, herein lies the greatest obstacle to my sommeliering future: cash. Top range wine in Japan, invariably comes at a top range price, with even a cheap bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau coming in at up to ten times its French price. To be quite frank, the vast majority is well outside of my pay scale.

However, I was not to be abashed. If there was a way into this world of plonk on the payroll, then I would find it. Cheap, cheerful and full-bodied, that’s me. And so, without further ado, I bring you…

The Gaijin’s Wine Guide

Penguin’s Kiss – ¥380 (glass) ¥1900 (bottle)
Hub Sakae

Penguin’s Kiss? Seriously? Penguin’s Kiss? Someone’s taking the Michael aren’t they? And, well, spoonerisms aside, it’s served bloody cold. That’s not right is it? As previously mentioned, I know bugger all about wine, but the one thing that I do know is that red wine is served at room temperature, isn’t it? White is cold, red is warm, and rosé is, by that logic, tepid, I guess. Well, my presumption here is that the chill is supposed to mask the, ahem, unusualness of the flavour. It doesn’t. Penguin’s Kiss comes at you like a hedgehog with a dagger between its teeth. It grates your throat on the way down and proceeds to set up camp in your stomach like a squatter with a penchant for a dirty protest. I wish that I could say that I get a whoosh of hollyhocks, the like of which Jilly Goolden is so fond, but as I force down the rest of the bottle (waste not, want not) the only whoosh that I can recognise is one of nausea. The moral of the story: even should you find yourself on the brink of dehydration, if a kenguin cocks its leg, decline the offer lest your taste buds die before you do.

Franzia – ¥590 (glass)
Shooters, Fushimi

This one’s cold as well. I’m sure that’s not right but, perhaps there’s been a dramatic shift in wine culture, and someone forgot to tell me. Or perhaps they did tell me, yet the twelve pints of cheap cooking lager I was drinking at the time resulted in a momentary memory lapse. Anyway, this one’s not too bad. Like a good woman it’s easily drunk and has the scent of a recently cleaned locker room. What’s really good about it is the glass it comes in. This is no Y100 store glass like the shitty one the Penguin’s Kiss came in, no this is a top quality glass. Kind of posh. In fact, you can almost feel it complain about it being deserving of a better wine than this. No, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for reddening the sheets.

Chianti – ¥1100 (bottle)
Saizeriya, Biwajima

All I know about Chianti is that Hannibal Lector was partial to a glass as an accompaniment to liver and fava beans. This could be where I’m going wrong, because it’s bloody awful with my spag bol. Maybe it needs some human flesh to truly compliment the distinct odour of window cleaner. I pass this witticism on to my waiter but he doesn’t seem to get the joke. It’s possible that he hasn’t seen the movie, or that, after polishing off the bottle, my comic timing is a little off.

Soave ¥380 (glass) / ¥2500 (bottle)
Hub Nagoya Station

Okay, right, this makes a bit more sense. It’s white and it’s cold. For a moment I was beginning to think that I was in some kind of, you know, whaddyacallit, backwards world, or something. Well this is drinkable at least. It’s thankfully bland in many respects, and each of those respects is a bland one. But in a kinda good way. Like, it hardly touched the bloody sides. The whole fecking bottle was, like, whoosh. Right down that went. It tasted of, uh, I dunno, grapes? No, that’s not it. It was more like, uh, god, buggered if I can remember. I just necked the thing. Quaffed it. Yeah, you could say that it was a quaffing wine or something. Wooh. It was a bit spinny, you know? Like, it’s making things spin a bit. Christ, I think I might need a little lie down.

Carlo Rossi Canadian Red – ¥800 bottle
7-Eleven, Nagoya Station (purchased for outdoors consumption)

Anyone got a corkscrew? Anyone? Oi, you! Mate! Mate! Yeah, you! You got a f*cking corkscrew? Oh, f*ck off then. Oh, hang on; it’s got a screw top. Never mind. Tosser. Yeah, this one’s all right. Well, it’s not cold, so it’s gotta be a good one, right? I’m not sure what it tastes of. It might be that it has subtle hints of something, but to be honest my taste buds are kinda fecked after five bottles of wine. It’s made my teeth a bit black. So that must be good because all those posh pricks have got shitty teeth and they drink good… is that my vomit on my shirt or someone else’s?

Well, yeah, that smellinger thing’s a doddle innit? Piece of piss! Don’t know what all the bloody fuss’s about. Anyway, I need a pint after all of that. I bloody deserve one, I reckon. Yeah, barman, pinto beeru onegai… onagee.. kudasashi… yeah, one of them mate.


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