Archive for November, 2015

What a great reminder this wine was tonight!  Thank you so much to the Tatsumotos for sharing.

laurel geln4Yes, having this wine reminding me how in the 1980’s & 90’s, Laurel Glen produced some stellar Cabernet Sauvignons, in fact, some of our very favorites out of California.  On this night, the wine gang saved a glass of this remarkably amazing 1981.

34 years old!….with a surprisingly youthful, solid core, structure & hutzpah.  I then thought about of the aged Californian Cabernets I have been fortunate to taste over the past couple of years & I was even more appreciative how truly special this 1981 was.  In fact, it was the 1977 Ridge Montebello that dazzled me last & that was at least 4 years ago.

A toast to winemakers Patrick Campbell & Ray Kauffman for the dedication & skill for such a wine!

AND, thank you again Sara & Ryan for sharing this.  Talk about having a wine at the perfect time of its life!

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A customer asked me the other night what wine they should “put away” for their kids until they reach at least 21 years of age.  Yes, I get asked this question quite frequently and the answer usually differs some based upon how many years of cellaring that means and more importantly, what kind of wine they generaly like & the budget per bottle they are looking to spend.

If it were, though, totally up to me, in almost all cases, I would mentioned top quality German white wines, not only for potential longevity, but also keeping in mind nobility and TOP quality, especially for the dollar spent.  Fritz Haag

Roughly 4 or 5 years ago, for instance, I had the fortunate pleasure to savor a 1976 Fritz Haag Gold Kapsule Auslese “Brauneberger Juffer”, which has to be one of the VERY best wines I have ever had, even at 30 or so years old!

Furthermore, 10 or so years ago, Fritz & Agnes Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch was kind enough to open and share a 1926 Spätlese Nackenheimer Rothenberg, which again clearly reminded me of their top wines’ aging potential.

Although many wines may age well, one has to be selective in finding the wines which get better with age, such as the 2 wines above.

In short, glorious.  From my humble experience, besides producers Fritz Haag and Gunderloch, I would also suggest— Reinhold Haart, Donnhoff,  Egon Müller, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Dr. F. Weins-Prüm & Zilliken just to name a few other standouts.  I would also recommend at least Auslese quality and most importantly they be stored at the right temperature & humidity.

Just know that, with considerable bottle age, the once apparent sweetness will change into more of a tactile creaminess/viscosity and will therefore appear much drier on the palate then you will remember what the wine tasted like in its youth.  Also, more pronounced fusel smell/lead pencil nuances will step forward & be much more pronounced than any fruit qualities, each qualities I look forward to and relish.

Potential buyers are really lucky, as there is still availability of the superb 2012’s.  My wife, Cheryle and I were there at harvest, in the vineyards, tasting grapes alongside many of the top winemakers.  2012 was truly something worth cellaring, at least from those listed above.

Furthermore, there are still a number of 2013’s still available here, which is yet another vintage worth cellaring.  Although things started out challenging earlier in the year, many of the top estates, such as those recommended, produced some truly superb wine.

I also hope that when you see the prices and compare them to top echelon Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Napa Valley, you will better appreciate the supreme quality for the dollar these wines truly offer.

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a Trio of Pinot Offspring

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Over the years, the Pinot Noir grape variety has garnered quite a reputation and following in Burgundy, France, and is now booming with much success in both California and Oregon as well.  What most wine lovers do not know, is that Pinot Noir is also the patriarch to a family of other Pinot grape varieties—two of which, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, can often offer exceptional value.

Take the 2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris blend, for instance.   Owner/winemaker Jim Clendenen has made quite an international name for himself and his Burgundian styled Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.   He is one of those winemakers, interestingly, who believe that the grand white Burgundies of old were not produced solely from the Chardonnay grape variety, but included other Pinot Noir off spring, such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Beurot and Pinot Blanc.  In homage of this thought, Clendenen produces this unique blend Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris as a separate bottling. At roughly $20 a bottle retail, this very elegant, highly refined, minerally Chardonnay taste-a-like REALLY over delivers for dollar.

Interestingly, Clendenen also blends these two grape varieties with another distant cousin variety, Aligote, to produce a vanguard Reserve level bottling named Hildegard (roughly $48 a bottle). We recently tasted the 1999 and 2003 and walked away totally wow-ed and impressed. They both were closer to a top echelon white Burgundy in quality, minerality and style. The emperor of Burgundy, back in its glory days, was Charlemagne. Hildegard was his wife, who Clendenen named this cuvee after as a homage to the glorious, aristocratic white Burgundies of old.

Another standout well worth checking out is the Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco (roughly $22 a bottle) from the steep, rocky hills of northeast Italy. This wine is brisk, riveting and full of lip-smacking minerality and refreshing acidity.  Furthermore, unlike many of the other wines from this area which are more fruit driven and much simpler, the Terlan Pinot Bianco has true character, virility & hutzpah. Because it also quite remarkably light in body, this wine can work with a surprisingly wide array of foods.

In 2007, Cheryle and I tasted a very unique white wine, while visiting Burgundy and the house of Lucien Boillot. The wine’s label simply read—“Les Grands Poisots” and was produced from the Pinot Beurot grape variety, which is another Pinot Noir offspring.   I was astounded to smell and taste such a cornucopia of cherry like essences from cough drops to sour cherry, to ripe red cherry; nuances I normally associate with a red grape like Pinot Noir. From this, I walked away with a clearer understanding of the connection between Pinot Noir and its offspring.

As a side note, I was then somewhat taken back, when I re-tasted the wine after it actually arrived here in the Islands, as the wine now tasted not of cherries as I remembered but instead much more about minerality  from the limestone rich soils the vines grow in.   Yes, the French have a skill of showing the “sense of place” through their wines. I had heard that a few cases of a more current vintage has arrived here in Hawaii.   At roughly $29 a bottle, this is a wine worth checking out, not only because of its uniqueness, but more about how elegant, refined and interesting it is.

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Vineyard Soil Display at VINO

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We reopened our VINO restaurant on October 1, 2015 & still wanted it to be a neighborhood eatery, where people could just come hang out & have some good wine & good food at reasonable prices.  It took 4 1/2 months to redo the place.

Well, there was a wall that needed some “loving”.

This past June while visiting Ancient Peaks winery in southern Paso Robles, our friend Amanda Wittstrom Higgins showed us how they were going to display 5 of their different soils from their Santa Margarita Ranch in their newly renovated tasting room.  Boing!!!  What an idea!….one we looked to also use on that VINO wall.  wall

This is just the start, but will give you an idea of the intent.

I thought of all the restaurants which showcase pictures of the owner/Chef standing next to some celebrity or in front of some iconic restaurant somewhere in the world, which impressed them.  I have also seen other eatery’s featuring pictures of farmers & fisherman they work with.

Well, for us, especially with a name like VINO, we look to feature the soils from some of our favorite vineyards in the world & here is the start.

Why soil?

There are many wines available which prominently label the grape variety.  Many of the resulting wines are much more about the grape varietal nuances.  (Familiarity…..which is really good thing).

In contrast, there are many other wines, especially from the Old World, which are named after their place of origin.  Furthermore, these also showcase that “sense of place” in both smell & taste.  In the most interesting of these cases, the soil the vines are planted in, somehow plays a very critical role in the finished wine’s character.  The French refer to this concept as “terroir“.

With that in mind, the 5 glass pipes on VINO’s rock wall feature soils/rocks from 5 of our favorite & unique vineyard sites.


#1 is schist soil from the seaport village of Collioure, down in southern France.  This is where the Pyranees Mountains dive into the Mediterranean Sea near the border where France meets Spain. Our favorite producer of the area (AND one of our favorite producers from anywhere else for that matter) is Domaine La Tour Vieille.  We love their various bottlings of Collioure, which is why their rocks are up on our wall .  The wines are VERY unique & feature a lurking, masculine, sultry, provocative core though done with grace, suave-ability & surprising deliciousness (as opposed to just being tasty)!  The site where these schist rocks came from is too steep to use any kind of machinery to just add further to the intrigue.  Co-owner Christine Chateau is a VERY insightful, deep though practical thinking, true artisan.

#2 is clay-limestone soil from Burgundy, France.  Beneath this layer is a bedrock of solid limestone.  There is actually a limestone quarry down the road some.  These rocks came from the Premier Cru vineyard of Genellote located above the hamlet of Blagny & entitled to label their resulting white wine as Meursault Premier Cru.  Interestingly, their limestone has some marl to it AND this particular vineyard is located at higher elevation making for VERY different wines than those from the vineyards located below.  I believe this is a monopole for Cherisey, & a real favorite of ours.  We love profoundly stony, soulful, intensely structured, old style white Burgundy like this.  It stirs the soul & reminds me of where we came from in terms of wine styles.

#3 (right in the middle) is fossilized oyster shells from the Santa Margarita Ranch located in southern Paso Robles, 1000 feet in elevation, 14 miles from the ocean.  The vineyard actually has at least 5 different soils types, but the owner, Ancient Peaks winery, is just now getting into a real winemaking groove, with blends from vines in the different soil veins.  We just, for instance, came up with a unique Cabernet blend, named “Pikake” for Hawaiian Airlines’ First Class Service International using a core of Cabernet grapes grown in the oyster shell influenced soils which is very different from their own estate bottling.

#4 is red slate from the Nackheimer Rothenberg vineyard, which is located in the Rheinhessen region of Germany.  Rising from the Rhine River, this steep, rocky/red slate soiled vineyard, in my opinion, is the crown jewel of the region.  Owner/winemaker Johannes Hasselbach (& previously his father Fritz) are producing some of the very best wines out of Germany under the Gunderloch label.  Furthermore, because of the resulting wines’ underlying stoniness (which greatly butresses the wine’s acidity) & the highly refined style make their wines VERY well suited for the kinds of foods, especially Asian inspired, that we have here in the Islands AND also so thirstquenching for those especially hot days.

#5 is black/gray slate from the iconic Wehlener Sonnenuhr, one of Germany’s most revered vineyard sites.  Since Bert Selbach of Dr F Weins Prum is a descendent of the Prum family, he inherited some of the Mosel River’s most hallowed vineyard sites, including this one.  Using grapes from these unbelievable sites, he masterfully crafts some of the most ethereal, airy, finesseful, filagreed  Rieslings out of Germany.   We just love his wines!

We did not label the rocks, because we did not want this to be a museum like piece.  Hopefully, however, these rocks will stimulate conversation.  They also remind & inspire us daily a handful of the true treasures of the wine world.

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Paul Bara–a note from Bruce Neyers

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Here is a note from long time wine friend Bruce Neyers, which I enjoyed reading & thought you might too.


I learned earlier this week that Paul Bara of Bouzy died a few days ago, in Bouzy at the age of 93. I had to pause and collect myself upon hearing the news. I met Paul on my first trip to France for Kermit, in January 1993. He greeted us wearing a suit and a tie, along with a handsome cloth homburg that seemed to have come right out of a Marcel Pagnol film. He said he wore it all day because he never knew when he had to go into the icy cellars. He collected all 12 of us in his office — prominently decorated with beautiful antique maps of the region. He poured each of us a glass of Champagne, then sat us down in classroom fashion and conducted a lecture replete with photos of the vineyards, and a history lesson of the Champagne region. He spoke of Champagne as three regions, and then talked about the historical, cultural and political reasons it had become divided. He was a big man, powerfully built and physically imposing, and he seemed even larger standing in front of us all, wielding his pointer to show this or that district and describe the Champagne from each respective area. He then took us to the cellar and pointed out the pick marks of the tunnels in the chalk. He explained how they were dug by hand in the days before the ‘Great War’, and then showed the tunnel extension that he had dug himself, alone, without help. I seem to recall that he said he could get about two meters deep a day, about 2.5 meters high, and 2 meters wide. Their bottling system was most impressive, as it was an antique, capable of doing only one bottle at a time. He would always disgorge a few bottles for us — I think he kept them on the riddling rack just to show off. No one could ever take a photograph of him disgorging Champagne, so fast was he able to disgorge it. He would do a dozen or so bottles in just a few seconds. He was an intellectual on his craft, and always affable, professorial and generous. And he loved to drink Champagne. He reminded me of why it is that Champagne makes us so cheerful. I’m so pleased that I had the chance to have met him. Please make it a point to enjoy a bottle of Paul Bara Champagne this week, and think pleasant thoughts of this impressive pioneer. He was one for the ages“.

Bruce Neyers

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants

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A day & a half in northern California

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I recently jumped on a plane on a last minute notice to San Francisco to meet up with my best friends Nunzio & Joanne Alioto.  Despite landing & getting settled around midnight, Nunzio & I headed for the Napa Valley at 6:30 the next morning to visit with some of Napa Valley’s true icons.  It was a very short visit I will certainly treasure forever.

Our first visit was with Ric Forman.  I remember tasting what I thought was his first wine, the 1969 Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon, back in the late 70’s.  (he corrected me…..apparently 1966 was his first vintage, though not at Sterling).  ric formanSterling was definitely a hot California wine ticket back then & one that escalated under his reign with the 1974 being a most highly acclaimed crown jewel.  Rick went on to Newton & later in the mid 80’s founded his own label–Forman Vineyard. On each visit to the Napa Valley, I make it a point to stop by & see his vineyard.  It really is something special–a pushed up river bed, surrounded by solid rock on each side.  The gravelly soils is what his Cabernets clearly showcase, especially with some bottle age.  Who better to talk story with about all of the different clones & selections of Cabernet Sauvignon in our effort to better understand where it all lies today?  Ric has always been a very straightforward man, who is an incredibly skilled & gifted technician & uber focused & dedicated. By the way, I was also surprised to see he now produces an bill smithAtlas Peak grown Pinot Noir with his wife Cheryl under the Rossi Wallace label.

As we headed back to St Helena for our next appointment, we stopped for a cup of coffee & ran into long time, iconic Howell Mountain Cabernet meister (subsequent Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir standout), Bill Smith.  Bill, almost unassumingly so, helped change the Napa Valley Cabernet category with his inky, massive, powerful, intensely structured Howell Mountain Cabernets under his La Jota label (which he later sold off to Kendall Jackson back in 2002 or 03).  In addition, he was instrumental in championing the Viognier & Cabernet Franc grape varieties through his stellar bottlings.  In speaking to him, I was clearly reminded how humble & unassuming he really is.  I just hope that the newer generations remember Bill’s remarkable ground breaking contributions made over the years to further the Napa Valley to the world class position it has today.

We then met up with the venerable Bruce Neyers.  We were anxious to meet with Bruce because of his long tenure in the Napa Valley where I first met himbruce in the late 70’s early 80’s when he was running Jospeh Phelps.  Secondly, since 1992 when he left Phelps, he worked with iconic wine importer Kermit Lynch creating quite an understanding & niche for all of their artisan French (& now Italian) producers across the country.  Thirdly, Bruce & his lovely wife Barbara launched their own wines under the Neyers label, which they purchased from Joe Phelps back in the 90’s.  Bruce made the most memorable 1992 Merlot from their estate vineyard in Conn Valley.  I knew Bruce would be a wealth of information, not only on Cabernet & the Napa Valley, but on even more critical wine growing topics such as sustainability, cover crops, clones versus heirloom/heritage vines AND a much more practical perspective on “hands off” winemaking.  He certainly delivered on all topics & then some.  Imagine speaking about what his friend, the truly iconic Joe Swan did way back when to help change the wine game in California & then 2 minutes later, talk about what Noel Verset & August Clape did in Cornas to change the game there.  I truly admire how Bruce is able to sift through all of the jargon, innovations, trends & understand & apply what makes the most sense in pursuit of a living vineyard & timeless wines.  When asked, for instance the pros & cons of rootstocks St George & the en vogue 3309 & 420A, Bruce said something simple like “St georges has been here for 40 or so years.  It wants to be here”.   To put it another way, here is a man who helped create Insignia & usher it on the world wine stage with all of its subsequent accolades, yet grow & make his own wine from a VERY different slant.  I can’t remember the last time, we bought an Insignia, awards, accolades & all, but we buy the Neyers Cabernet every vintage.

miaOur final appointment in the Napa Valley on this day was with superstar Mia Klein.  She consulted on many star projects such as Dalla Valle, Viader, Araujo, Spottswoode & Etude just to name a few.  Her own label is Selene.  I remember how thrilled I was when in 2003, Mia was selected as “Winemaker of the Year”.  It was one of those rare occasions, when someone received an award they really deserved.  My vote, if I had one, would have been won many years before, when a group of us were invited up to Dalla Valle to taste a vertical of their wines.  This meant tasting the early on ones made by Heidi Peterson Barrett & the 1994, 95 & 96 crafted by Mia Klein & Tony Soter.  It was a night & day comparison & I have been a believer since.  Mia’s wines have such elegance, grace, refinement, textured & balance, all masterfully done.  In addition, she has much aloha & is a REALLY good person, which makes it all a complete package.  Because Mia has consulted for projects sourcing grapes from up & down the valley, we knew we would get a very different perpsective on the topic.  She also pulled some barrel samples from various vineyards to illustrate her thoughts on site over vine.  (By the way, each of the wines were truly superb–inspiring & soulful core with an already charismatic, classy personality.)  I would love to go on & on about all of the wine highlights she crafted which I have been fortunate to taste over the years, but let me instead just say–She is a Master!dame

We headed home to shower & freshen up and then on to the City for dinner at Nostra Spaghetteria.  (It is a restaurant located in the Mission district which is a must to dine at if you are looking for great pasta, good wine & reasonable prices).  Anyway, who pops in–Fred Dame, the legendary Master Sommelier.  Just so every knows, Fred was the one who got the MS Program to come here to America back in 1986.  He gave us the opportunity AND he has been championing the whole program to more & more generations since.  Thankfully, Fred also came with a magnum of 1996 Chapoutier Hermitage “Le Meal” in hand to share.  Next to him on the right is Nunzio Alioto, another one of the iconic, old time Master Sommeliers.  TWO game changers to say the least!!!!

What a phenomenol 1 1/2 day trip, wouldn’t you say?

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