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Japanese wine drinkers seeing red

table January 29, 1997
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent May Lee

TOKYO (CNN) -- Japan is seeing red -- and drinking it, too.

Red wine is pouring into the hearts, minds and mouths of the Japanese, who traditionally have sipped lighter white wines, sake and whiskey.

Hiroshi Ishida is well aware of red wine's growing popularity. At just 27, he is Japan's top sommelier, and he uses his expertise at the world famous Tour d'Argent restaurant, where a bottle of vintage red can cost $3,300.

"The change in taste here can be compared to what happened in the U.S.," Ishida said. "First choose the light white, then dry white and then move to something stronger and more sophisticated. In Japan, this coincided with news that red wine can be good for your health. A recent survey showed that one in five people started drinking reds for health reasons."


Economics also played a part in boosting red wine's popularity.

A few years ago, a cheap red wine costing less than $5 a bottle hit the market here. Not only was the price appealing, but so was the taste. Lighter than most reds, it hooked consumers. And just like wine, the Japanese palate began to mature.

Now they just can't get enough. Last year, wine consumption topped 38 million gallons. New books and magazines on wine are hitting the shelves, and trendy wine bars are popping up all over.


"There are cheap wines available now, so students like me can afford them," said one new wine lover. Added another, "Wine is something cultural, so I'm trying to learn more about wine to enjoy it."

A pioneer in the wine bar business is Katsuaki Kakizaki. Three years ago he opened Bordeaux Cellar, a cozy restaurant with a colossal collection of reasonably priced wines.

"When I first opened this wine bar, I wanted to make it a milestone for the wine drinking culture," Kakizaki said. "I thought if more wine is consumed, the price will go down and it will help bring in more imports. If people learn to drink wine, they will learn how to buy it, which will remove the fear that people have about wine."


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