Osaka wine bars channelling the city’s ‘kuidaore’ culture

Japanese drinkers are increasingly interested in wine and Osaka's rich food culture makes the city a natural place for a wine scene to thrive. Jim Clarke picks out five of Osaka's best wine bars

Words by Jim Clarke

The restaurant and bar at Wassy’s Dining Souple in Osaka

Within Japan, Osaka is noted for a few things: its baseball team, the Hanshan Tigers; a sense of humour that’s given birth to many of the country’s best-known comedians; and its food culture. ‘Osaka is known as a “kuidaore” town,’ says Noriko Washitani, owner and sommelier at the French restaurant Wassy’s Dining Souple, which roughly translates as a place ‘to eat and drink so extravagantly that you become poor’ or, alternatively, ‘to eat so much delicious food that you fall over.’

Washitani says the local love for good food runs the gamut from fine dining to street food. Diners enjoy everything from kaiseki (banquet-style) meals at any one of the city’s 94 Michelin-starred restaurants to takoyaki – battered, fried octopus balls, finished with Japanese mayo and bonito flakes – from a vendor on the busy, neon-lit streets of the Dōtonbori district. ‘I think this part of the culture means they also enjoy a wide range of wine,’ Washitani says.

‘There are certainly many places to drink wine,’ says Hiroki Fujitsugu, Academie du Vin Educator and owner of the Conextion Wine Bar. ‘They are mainly concentrated in the Umeda and Namba neighbourhoods,’ making it easy for visitors and locals to explore different establishments in a single evening. A great drinking culture goes hand-in-hand with the wonderful food.

Food and wine upstairs at Wassy’s Dining Souple

While Osaka gave birth to some of Japan’s first craft-beer breweries, and some of the country’s best-known and biggest sake breweries lie just outside of the city – Kenbishi has been in operation since 1505, and Hatkutsuru and Kiko-Masamune are among the country’s biggest producers – wine has roots here as well.

‘A century ago, the Osaka prefecture was home to more vineyards than anywhere else in Japan,’ Fujitsugu says. With interest in wine skyrocketing throughout the country – which is now the largest wine importer in Asia and home to 332 wineries – it’s only fitting that Osaka’s food culture has taken wine to heart as well. Here are some of the best Osaka wine bars in which to enjoy drinking in Japan’s third-largest city.

Five of the best Osaka wine bars


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Okonomiyaki – savoury pancakes built around a core of batter, cabbage, and a mix of proteins, topped with furikake, mayo, and bonito flakes – is one of Osaka’s signature dishes. At Pasania, the brother and sister team of Yoshio and Chie Nakagawa serve refined but still hearty renditions of the local favourite, along with its noodle-based counterpart, yakisoba, and a wide variety of Indian-influenced starters. ‘I’ve always loved South Indian food,’ Yoshio says, ‘and wanted more flavours in my cooking.’

This is one of the best Osaka wine bars for the promotion of natural wines from all around the world. Yoshio says the ‘pure fruit flavours and lower alcohols’ of the wines suit his menu’s emphasis on vegetables. ‘I’m the one who both prepares the food and pairs the wine, so I can balance them in various ways.’


Michel Vin Japonais

Sommelier Masatoshi Watanabe, nicknamed ‘Michel’, and his brother and chef Hiroyuki opened this intimate wine bar in 2006. The bar’s name may be French but ‘Japonais’ is the important part; Watanabe serves only Japanese wines, and there are few better places to introduce oneself to the cutting edge of wine production from all across the island nation.

The offerings change on a daily basis, with almost 20 wines offered by the glass. One might begin with a glass of sparkling Chardonnay from the Japan Wine Agriculture Research Center, a Nagano-based training ground for winegrowers and winemakers, before enjoying an Alvarinho from Ishikawa’s Heidee Winery or an unorthodox blend from Azucca e Azucco in Aichi. Hideyuki is prepared to accompany your wine choices with custom pairings whether you’re looking for a snack with your wines or a full meal.


Shimanouchi Fujimaru

Japan’s first urban winery, Fujimaru opened in Osaka in 2013; previously owner Tomofumi Fujimaru had been making his wines at Katashimo Winery in Kashiwara, outside of town, a region with a long history of grape production. Fujimaru owns 2.5 hectares of vines there but occasionally sources grapes from other parts of Japan as well – Pinot Noir or Kerner from Hokkaido, for example.

The upstairs bar and dining area look over the tanks and equipment of the winery, including a couple of qvevri; Fujimaru is the first Japanese winery to import the traditional Georgian amphorae, and makes good use of them for his white wines, including some remarkable Delawares and the aforementioned Kerner. The menu is loosely Italian-inspired but very much focused on Japanese ingredients such as lotus roots, cod milt, and Osaka beef.

Aside from their own wines, Fujimaru sells a small, well-chosen selection of international wines; Fujimaru’s import company brings in several hundred thousand bottles annually. They also have a wine bar and retail shop in the Shinsaibashi neighbourhood, close to Dōtonbori, and a wine shop in Tokyo.



What is now Wassy’s wine specialty shop began in 1930 as an off-licence; in 1999 they turned their focus to wine and three years later they added the restaurant upstairs, above the retail space. The menu is French-inspired, featuring both local and imported ingredients: Perigord truffles, Brittany lobster and Mont-St.-Michel mussels might share space on the menu with Yamagata wagyu beef, Hokkaido leeks and Iwate pork.

The Wassy’s shops are noted for carrying a deep selection of US and southern hemisphere wines in addition to the more usual European offerings, and the restaurant’s list is particularly strong on Burgundy and Californian wines; there is some excellent value to be found in back vintages of the latter. A variety of prix-fixe options are available, and the sommelier team is well-prepared with pairing options at several different price points. It can be tempting to ignore European cuisine in the heart of Japan’s foodie city but Souple is worth seeking out.



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La Champagne

At this ten-seat, single-counter Osaka wine bar, south of the city’s railway station, gentle LED lighting built in the bar highlights the stream of bubbles in the glass from below, offering an oasis of calm and elegance in a busy dining and shopping area. By-the-glass offerings change daily, ranging from a pre-10:30pm deal priced at only JPY1,000 (just over £5) up to indulgences like Salon 2012 or the 1999 Pol Roger Winston Churchill. The 300 or so bottles on offer show a similar range, with classic houses and boutique grower-producers treated with equal appreciation and reverence, and even the still wines on offer come from within Champagne’s borders. La Champagne makes a great stop for an aperitif or refined after-dinner respite.