Archive for July, 2016


What’s happening with German Riesling?

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As far back as I can remember, Riesling was & is one of the world’s most under appreciated grape varieties.  Absolute bewilderment!

Back in the 80’s, 90’s & early 2000’s, it seems whenever I asked a Californian winemaker what grape variety they wish they could do well, it seems the word Riesling regularly popped up.  I could say the same when I asked sommeliers & wine professionals, what wine (& therefore grape variety) really wows them, especially at the dinner table.

Then why hasn’t/doesn’t this kind of buzz filter down to the general public?

There must be some kind of conspiracy or something of the sorts going on to supress Riesling’s success, otherwise I cannot & have not been able to figure out why more & more people just don’t jump on the Riesling bandwagon.

When you mention the word Riesling, wine tasters make their funny faces, a way of saying, “ohhh…..I don’t like sweet wine”.

Why is it then that most people look for a pineapple, a tomato, an orange or a lychee to be “sweet”?  In fact, in these cases, if the fruit is NOT sweet, then it is a disappointment.  The sweet-sour teeter totter, especially when done well, is part of the magic of a good tomato, lemonade or shave ice.  Why not with wine?

Another thought to consider is maybe you are having the Riesling too young.  I have had many winetasters over the years, proclaim to me how their once apparently sweet Kabinett, now tastes dry after 30 years of proper cellaring!  Yes, I am continually amazed how the once apparent sweetness of a wine seems to “dry out” & actually create a more creamy viscosity in its texture, along with allowing the minerality to once again step forward.

Interestingly, especially in the past 20 or so years, many of the top producers of German Riesling also seemingly ramped up their production of dry & medium dry wines in addition to their fruity, slightly sweet (lower alcohol) renditions.  Although clearly marked as “trocken” (dry) or “halbtrocken” (medium dry) & all of the attempts to help educate tasters & especially professionals, adding more categories just seem to create further confusion for the general public.

Furthermore, especially at the top echelon, producers looking to gain world wide prominance & esteem, added yet another quality layer–Grosse Gewach (or Estes Gewachs for some).  For the lay person this just added to their confusion.  For the true connoisseur, this was Germany’s attempt to establish a Grand Cru stature, along the lines of what Burgundy has been able to accomplish.

In my humble opinion, the way to better appreciate & therefore at least somewhat understand the true potential of these dry & medium dry wines, I would suggest you try one 15 years old from a venerable estate–a 2001 Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese trocken (dry), for instance.  In short, slightly aged Rieslings like this gets glorious because of the additional cellar time.  Glorious in perfume AND glorious in taste…….with a much rounder, viscous, creamy mouthfeel & blossoming to the point of being gorgeously harmonious & breathtaking.

One just has to be patient.

Interestingly, the conversion curve from youthful/primary to glorious is VERY different for more fruity, slightly sweet to sweet Riesling.  AND, it is so different wine to wine, producer to producer…..vintage to vintage.

The dangling carrot, however, is how incredibly glorious aged Riesling can ultimately become.

The current “curve ball” for wine professionals is how the global climate change has greaty affected the ripening of the Riesling grape variety, even in Germany.  It wasn’t that long ago, when Germany was lucky to fully ripen their Rieslings 2 or 3 vintages out of every 10.  Since 1988, however, we have essentially had a “ripe” vintage virtually every year.  Yes, that is a very drastic change!

FYI–Germany measures the sugar in the grapes by öchsle.  20 years ago, good Mosel River Kabinett level wines were harvested at somehwere between 67 & 82 degrees öchsle.  3 weeks ago, I tasted three 2013 Mosel River Kabinetts & each were above 92 degrees öchsle (which would have been considered 2 levels higher-Auslese-20 years ago).  The point being, the wines are riper, bigger & more dramatic today.  For the wine consumer this a great thing.  One can get an even higher quality wine more so now than ever before.  For the sommelier, however, one now has to change/recaliberate their window of foods to pair these wines with, and/or then look to change the wines they have been buying accordingly.

For the German wine producer this is usually also a great thing.  They now get 9 or 10 vintages out of 10 where they can make quality wines to sell.  Plus, their wines, at least at the top echelon, get higher scores than ever.  They therefore can now make more money.

Is this the virtual end of an era, although some would say otherwise–the beginning of a new, great era?

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Here are some of our thoughts about the 4 wines we tried in VINO tonight–

Just so you know, we are not presenting here 4 esoteric wines, just to showcase the latest fashion/trend. Each of these are stellar, standout wines, so much so, one can readily measure other wines you taste to, they are that good. It begins with very individually unique vineyards that truly have something special to say. And, these wines also feature truly masterful, artisanal winemaking. The combination is game changing. Over the years, finding this truly remarkable quality of wines is what rings my bell. Finding them from lesser known appellations before the high acclaim & therefore high prices & scarce availability is just the icing on the cake.

2013 Robert Denogent Beaujolais “Cuvée Jules Chauvet”  a1 beaujolais

Bet you’ve never had a Beaujolais like this before! Jules Chauvet was a true yoda of his craft & was so far ahead of his time with his au naturale approach to grape growing & winemaking. Much later, contemporary icons like Marcel Lapierre & Jean Foillard followed in his footsteps with his approach. At the same time, so did Jean Jacques Robert over in the Maconnais & his small portfolio of single, old vine parcel Chardonnays. Here is the first red wine from him which has come to the Islands. The parcel is leased from Jules Chauvet’s niece (20 & 70 year old vines grown in sandy decomposed granite) & the grapes are wild yeast fermented in old barrels & then aged for an additional 16 months in 7 year old barrels.  The color is very light & the wine quite transparent.  The wine’s nose had a distinct gunflintiness in its core, with a rustic Old World charm.  So pretty with understated vinosity & character.  It is surprisingly light on the palate, but still with good intensity & concentration, just done with remarkable lightness & fabulous deliciousness.

2009 Chateau Belle-Graves “Lalande de Pomerol”

a2 pomerolA fabulous, relatively new discovery for us. Situated in Lalande de Pomerol, just north of Pomerol, Belles-Graves produces Merlot-dominated wines with a lush, velvety texture and very fine tannins. The vineyards are planted on slopes that descend to the east, south and west of the estate, which sit just across a small stream from some of the famous estates of Pomerol (& of all of Bordeaux for that matter). Their greatness comes from their own terroir of varied clay and gravel where flint, quartz, and mica offer distinct mineral components to each parcel.  How can one not love the lush, velvety plumpness in the front & middle with the prominent gravelly finish.  It is really nice to find an true artisan, estate grown Bordeaux which truly over delivers for the dollar.

2011 de Villaine Rully “Les Sainte-Jacques”   

From the truly iconic Aubert deVillaine & interesting vineyards near his home in the lesser known Chalonnaise appellation. Their single-vineyard parcels are a3 rullystunning examples of what this complex and amazing terroir can yield. These wines have great purity, true character & intricacies, qualities one might expect from a true Master such as de Villaine. “Much of this is due to both the diversity of his vinestock and his organic and biodynamic methodology in the vineyards, both of which Aubert stands by with great conviction“. I bet you’ve never had a Chardonnay like this!  The nose has great purity–slightly honeyed, floral (in the limestone kind of way) & totally captivating in its minerality.  I was really taken by its compelling “presence” & seeming vinosity.  On the palate I was also quite taken by how wonderfully seamless & textural this wine masterfully is.  What a fabulous drink!!!!!  It is wines like this, from a vintage like 2011 (generally lukewarmly received by the media), which reminds one that vintage charts are generalities & scores, just one person’s opinion.

2013 Faury Condrieu 

Condrieu was once considered one of the great white wines of the world & here is your chance to try one of the most pure and most interesting. “The steep slopesa4 condrieu of Condrieu have a grade of up to 55% & present a challenging terrain where farming is only feasible through terracing. The work is therefore back breaking & is done because of true passion“. Domaine Faury is one of the northern Rhone Valley’s true artisanal producers & the resulting wines exemplify authenticity, done with soul & deliciousness, a rare combination. The primary fermentation is done in stainless steel cuves & then the wine is aged 11 months on its lees, in 10% new barrels, 30% 2 to 5 year-old barrels, and 60% stainless steel.  What an exotic perfume!!!  Apricots, jasmine, stone, honeysuckle, plumeria–all so pretty & enticing.  The palate is rich with all kinds of exotic fruit coupled with definite stone nuances & a slight nuttiness.  What a real pleasure to drink & savor!

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For the longest time, southern France was never thought of as producing top flight, world class wines.  Over the past 20 or so years, we are seeing, however, an emergence of really interesting, terroir driven wines produced from various nooks & crannies & by families who had a vision to bring their wines into the modern era, without compromising what makes them so special & unique.  Here are four true standouts!–produced from indigenous grape varieties and masterfully crafted by some of the very best. Yes, this is a quartet one can readily measure other wines you taste to. I think this is an incredible learning opportunity.

aa 1 Gros2010 Domaine Gros Nore Bandol

Here is your chance to taste the scarce white wine from one of the true stars of the Bandol appellation. 70% Ugni Blanc, 30% Clairette. They farm sixteen hectares of vineyards on the rolling hillsides around La Cadière d’Azur, composed of both clay and limestone, imparting a pronounced structure of earthy, splintered rock.  Yes, this wine is very stony & masculine with lots of vigor & structure that’s for sure.  I wonder how it would taste with some bottle age?

2013 Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis  Cassisaa 2 Cassis

Historically, this is one of THE true, iconic white wines of southern France. 40% Marsanne, 30% Ugni blanc, 25% Clairette, 5% Bourboulenc. The vineyards of Clos Sainte Magdeleine jut out on a private cape to meet majestic limestone cliffs, poised spectacularly above the sparkling, azure Mediterranean. One can smell & taste the resulting ocean character, which also makes it quite the pairing with bouillabaisse & other seafood stews.

aa 4 Magnonmagnon2014 Maxime Magnon “La Begou”

Primarily Grenache Gris Some Grenache Blanc in schist-limestone soils in steep, high altitude vineyards & farmed organically & biodynamically. It was but only a few years ago when we couldn’t get any of the Magnon wines to Hawaii. Here is your chance to taste one of them!  While this wine star produces more delicious, seemingly fruit forward red wines, this white bottling is quite masculine, stony &, hearty with lots of mojo & attitude.

2014 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure “Les Canadells”  Collioureaa 3 La Tour

70% Grenaches blanc et gris, 10% Macabeo, 10% Roussane, 10% Vermentino. The seaport village of Collioure is located right on the Mediterranean, where the Pyranees Mountains dives into the sea, near the Spanish border. Domaine La Tour Vieille is the standout producer. They passionately farm the very steep, schist hillsides to make produce their standout red (& one white) wines. This is a virile, masculine white born of the rock & sun baked earth surrounding this impossibly steep site. Intriguing, totally unique & a fabulous, mesmerizing drink!


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Communal Table in VINO 05-19-16

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We haven’t done a “Communal Table” in VINO for a while, so we thought to do another on this night.  For those who don’t understand the concept, everyone sits on BB8one long table to enjoy a meal with wine pairings by Chuck. You might not know each other in the beginning of the night, but by the end of the evening, hopefully, you will have new found friends. Kind of like what a family does at home…..good food, good wine…..good fun! Isn’t that the VINO way?

Stromboli with soppressata, mozzarella & fresh basil

FIRST COURSE   (served family style)

BB2 sausageBB3 RoseHomemade Sausages

–spicy fennel pork, veal, sage

–chicken & sun dried tomatoes

with roasted peppers, moustardo, pickled Kako’o ’Owi Farms vegetables

wine: My Essential Rose–since the pork-veal-sage sausage had some heat to it, we needed a wine which would cool.  Furthermore, this lighter, ethereal pink wine also acted like cranberry does at the Thanksgiving feast–refreshing the palate between bites.


BB4 beef shankBB5 Petite SirahHomemade Spaghettini

Hamakua mushrooms, braised Big Island beef shank, Nalo Farms Swiss Chard & chimichurri

wine: Hybrid Petite Sirah–just enough hutzpah for the braised beef shank, earthiness & spice for the chimichurri, but still delicious & gulpable needed for a family meal.


BB6 chickenBB7 ValpolicellaENTRÉE

Brick Oven Roasted Organic Chicken

herbed Yukon Gold potato, creamy truffled polenta, charred baby bok choy

sauces—romesco, creamy basil pesto, country sausage gravy

wine: Tedeschi Valpolicella “Lucchine”–these kinds of delicious, food friendly “country” styled wines are ideal for the family dinner.


Fresh Berry Crostata

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It was a very busy night in VINO.  My wife, Cheryle, came in to help.  It’s not often the staff get to hear her insights of the world of wines, so we took this opportunity to open a bottle of wine to show the staff a different perspective on wine & have Cheryle chime in.

AA2 De VillaineWe chose to showcase the 2006 DeVillaine Mercurey “Les Montots”.  Why?  Mainly to remind people that, while BIG, opulent, powerful, lavish red wines are IN right now, hopefully there is still a niche for more finesseful, pure, elegant & refined wines like this too. And so, by tasting such a wine, it will make our younger team members experience a different perspective.

I absolutely loved the alluring perfume, the sheer purity & transparency, finesse, fragility, etherealness & the superb balance of this wine.  OMG.

Several other thoughts came to mind, since tasting it last night.

Interestingly, when this wine was released, it showed alot of fruit, in fact, too much so for my taste, but I bought it anyway because it was from DeVillaine.  Today…amazingly…..the mineral is in the forefront, not the fruit…..& this uplifting, mesmerizing minerality makes this wine so captivating, ethereal & interesting both in the nose & taste.

Furthermore, I thought 2006, though only lukewarmly received by the media, would evolve into wines that would be refined & offer wonderful perfume.  This is an example of what one could only hope for.  I only wish I had more!

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