Archive for February, 2020


Leeward Community College

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Tommylynn Mokihana Benavente is a long time, dining room instructor at Leeward Community College.  She exemplified & taught graciousness to her students & I was completely reminded of that when I stopped by The Pearl to give her a lei before service began today.  It was so rewarding for me to listen to hear their pre-service meeting.

Today, was her official last day of “live” service at The Pearl dining room on their campus.

I am so thankful to see how she & the Chef Instructor Chris Garnier are teaching the new generations of students such meaningful “restaurant culture”, ethic, habits & values.

Much mahalo to you Tommylynn (& Chris Garnier).


Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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A Dinner with Reynvaan Wines

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I have been watching the steady rise of this true artisan winery of Washington state, especially over the past eight or so years. I recently had quite an eye opening jaunt through their wine country a couple years back and I shook hands, talked story with many top caliber winemakers and walked some of the more revered vineyards. Here is what I learned:

–Watch out for Merlot and Syrah driven wines moving forward, with Mourvedre following to provide the next wave of excitement.

–There is a large amount of own rooted vines still in full swing up there—something other winegrowing regions of the world can only dream about.

–I just had to get to the Reynvaan to the islands!

The Reynvaans own two different vineyards–1 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains & the other in what’s nicknamed “The Rocks” over in Milton Freewater.   Yes, 2 VERY different terroirs, as we hope to show at this dinner.  

Well, thank goodness we were able to get some of their wines, despite their small production AND their astronomically high ratings by the wine media.    I thought, there was NO way we would be getting some here! Well, here we are, three years later and Gale & Mike Reynvaan are coming to VINO to do a dinner with us!!!!!! It is a true honor and it should be some kind of night. Yup, we will be serving some of their highly acclaimed wines. BIG scores. Each with a couple of years of bottle age and therefore in a real sweet spot, just the way we like them. What a very special opportunity!


first course 

Squid Ink PastaKona Cold Maine lobster, cauliflower puree and mint-shiso pesto 

WINE: 2014 Reynvaan Viognier “Foothills in the Sun Vineyard”–a 95 point rated Washington state Viognier in all its glory




second course 

Hudson Valley Duck ConfitSwiss chard and red wine-foie gras sauce

WINE: 2013 Reynvaan Syrah “In The Rocks”–co-fermented with 5% Viognier, 97 point rated from their in the rocks estate vineyard





Peppercorn Crusted Nature’s Natural New Yorkroasted red pepper couscous, Kalamata olives, baby arugula & a red vermouth-peppercorn vinaigrette

WINE: 2015 Reynvaan Syrah “In the Foothills Reserve”–100% Syrah from their 1600 feet elevation estate vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.  rated 95 points



My Friend–Nunzio Alioto M.S.

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I met & actually worked for Nunzio Alioto back in 1977.  He & his family had opened a restaurant in Honolulu on Makaloa Street across the street from the then named store–Holiday Mart.  The restaurant was named Alioto’s & they featured foods from their family recipes which they served for 3 generations at their world renown, iconic, namesake restaurant on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  Nunzio’s grandmother, Nonna Rose Alioto, is in fact credited in the cookbooks as the originator of the iconic crab ciopino dish.

Nunzio was groomed early on to take over the family business at some time, attending the Culinary School in San Francisco, the hotel & restaurant school in Laussanne, Switzerland & then staging at several notable restaurants including Pic, a highly revered Michelin 3 star culinary destination in France’s Rhone Valley.

In addition to all of that, Nunzio had a true love & passionate fascination of wine–yes, of course–Italy, as well as Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley & Germany just to name some.  Because he was born & raised in San Francisco, though, he was also very well versed & knowledgeable in what was unfolding in California from the 1950’s on up & not just with the Napa Valley.

So, our paths crossed in 1977.  He was in the middle of opening a restaurant on the top floor of a business building on the Ewa-Mauka corner of the Makaloa & Kaheka street intersection.  I lived only a block away & just walked in to see how all of the construction was progressing & what it was starting to look like.  I ended up applying for a job that very day before leaving.

One of the main reasons was because of the wine list.  It featured ONLY California wines.  Please keep in mind, 1977 was a time when “boutique”, quality driven (versus commercial grade) California wines were barely visible here in the Islands & were just gaining traction in the California restaurant scene.  I was intrigued to say the least.

Notable white wines on the list included Joseph Phelps Johannisberg Riesling, Chappellet Chenin Blanc, Wente Grey Riesling & a host of Chardonnays–1973 Chateau Montelena, 1976 Burgess Cellars, 1975 Cuvaison, just to name a few highlights.  On the red side–1971 Robert Mondavi “Reserve”; 1973 & 1974 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, 1974 Clos du Val, 1973 & 1974 Sterling “Reserve”, just to name a few.

I was totally fascinated & started trying to get to know everything I could about these wines & what was happening in California.

As the months went by, Nunzio would host many winetastings at the restaurant in an effort to share his knowledge & his stash of wines he had collected over the years.  It wasn’t only for the staff, but also for the various “sommeliers”/avid wine lovers from around town.  I remember one tasting, for instance featured  a mini vertical of Beaulieu Vineyards “Private Reserve” Cabernets–1968, 1970, ’71, 73 & ’74.  Or a horizontal tasting of 1968’s–Ridge “Monte Bello”‘ Beaulieu “Georges de Latour”, Mayacamas, Joseph Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard”, just to name a few.  As time went on, I completely realized I was tasting historical treasures & was so very thankful for the opportunity.  AND, it was NOT limited to just Californian wine either.  I vividly remember the aha moment of trying, for instance, the 1971’s from  Dr Thanisch Auslese “Bernkasteler Doktor”, JJ Prum  Auslese”Wehlener Sonnenuhr” & the Staatsweingut Steinberger Auslese.  Epic to say the least.

He was & is my older sibling, my biggest mentor AND a truly treasured life long friend.  (I could thankfully say the same about his wife Joanne too.  It was after all, she who convinced me to get off my ass & stop feeling sorry for myself AND go back to take the MS exam again).

Although he (they) soon moved back to California, we still remained friends & still very much in touch.

Imagine 4 decades of a friendship which started with merely 1 1/2 years working together in Hawaii & the rest long distance between San Francisco & Hawaii.  Yes, there were the many trials & tribulations of life, work, children & family with each of our own lives, but there was also still the love of food, wine & most importantly our friendship.

Along the way, we both took the Master Sommelier examination (my invitation, most likely greatly influenced by Nunzio’s lobbying on my behalf).  I would have never pursued the MS diploma or even had a chance to take &/or pass it if it weren’t for Nunzio & Joanne.  I am forever grateful.  The whole Master Sommelier chapter, as it turned out, was a big one & affected both of us greatly–not only because of the prestigious title but more so about being involved with the unfolding of this British ideal to America & its candidates.

Fast forward to 2020.

A group of Master Sommelier old timers attended Wine Speak this past January–including Fred Dame, Madeline Triffon, Emmanuel Kemiji & myself.  Yup, real old timers.  I hadn’t seen Madeline or Emmanuel for at least 20 to 25 years ago.  It was great to see, hang out & talk story with them all.  Imagine, Emmanuel was the latest to pass of the group, being the 12th American to pass the exam.  We all worked together on projects & examinations totally hands on back then & therefore knew each other quite well.

The moment that made everyone’s eyes shine again in wonderment, just like the old days, was Nunzio again opening some wines he brought with him to share with us all.  It was typical Nunzio MO.  The wines were stellar, in fact some of the very best I have had in my life time.

The first wine was the 1995 Chave Ermitage “Cuvée Cathelin”–a wine Chave produces in only certain vintages.  I am not exactly clear on the whys, hows & whens, AND I have only had the 1990, 1995 & 2009 over the years.  What I can say is Ermitage “Cuvée Cathelin” is very different from their Hermitage bottling that’s for sure.  In the case of this 1995, it is seemingly more masculine, somewhat more macho, guttural & more grand with more swag, while still being so aristocratic & majestic.  It certainly is  something to behold.  Truly a most memorable wine for me!

The second wine Nunzio opened & shared on this night was the 1989 Gentaz Dervieux Côte-Rôtie.  I have stated several times over the years, this wine is the most memorable I can remember ever having.  (yes, of course there were some Burgundies over the years also surreal & bewitching, but this 1989 Gentaz I would say was very haunting for me & was therefore in my consciousness as well as my brain).  I had the wine at the domaine in either 1990 or 1991 on a visit.  Marius told he had just under 2 hectares of Côte-Rôtie–(50% “mauve” syrah originally from Hermitage–big berries, tightly packed; AND 50% traditional Petite Serine–small berries, more loosely packed).   I loved its breathtaking & sincere purity, its innate majestic pedigree.  Yes, it was earthy, masculine, wonderfully concentrated with lots of peppery, animal, raw meat/gamey, smoke/sandalwood nuances.  But, all done with a finesseful, masterful touch.  Nuance versus power.  UN-heavy & ethereal versus thick & opulent.  I was also quite taken by Marius himself–seemingly humble & down to earth, but certainly armed with so much knowledge & experience from his years of hands on work, both in the vineyard & the winery.   Yes, this was game changing wine for me.  It helped to imagine the possibilities of what can be!   Interestingly, on the last day of that particular trip, while in Paris before flying home, we found a score of this same wine at a four story, very chic, upscale Chinese restaurant in Paris (which we bought as many as could to take home with us).  It was certainly the most memorable wine of the trip for me & that is saying a lot considering we also visited Coche-Dury, Chave, Verset, Clape, Raveneau, Tempier, Vieux Telegraphe to name just a few along the way.  I believe this was the last bottle Nunzio still had & I am so thankful & grateful for him sharing it with us on this night.

There were 2 other wines that Nunzio had brought to share which I should highlight, the first being the 1989 Trimbach Riesling “Clos Ste Hune”.  This was an aged, SENSATIONAL, world-class Alsatian Riesling in all its monumental & majestic glory.  Explosively perfumed with lots of bravado, mojo & swag on the palate intermixed with innate complexities/character, definitively noble from one of the world’s top & most historic sites.  OMG.

The 4th wine which I feel deserves a real shout out for was the 1981 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage.  Yup, the word Hermitage was still part of this “tour de force” Australian red wine back then.  What was once a big, thick, opulent, lavish, masculine red wine is today, much lighter on its feet, with still dark, masculine, grand nuances but with a more transparent, sheer curtain as opposed to what was once ultra-ripe fruit, hedonistic & devoutly oaky.  It has finally had the chance to resolve itself to be something of beauty & class rather than just power & flamboyancy.

In each case, thank you Nunzio for your long time mentorship, friendship, brotherhood & your willingness to always share.  I am eternally & deeply thankful….beyond words.



Why do you do Wine Speak?

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The main goal for Wine Speak is how can we affect change?

 Affect change through sharing, camaraderie, talking story & hopefully collaboration moving forward. 

That first year, we had a dream list of 15 people (from the New World) who we felt had something very profound to share.  We were able to get all 15 to come.  While they may have known each other by reputation, they really didn’t know each other well.  Wine Speak was the venue to bring these people together.

It is important that everyone involved believes in the common goal of–“how can we affect change“?

It really starts with the “home” team–co-founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP of Operations, Ancient Peaks winery) & her whole team.  Amanda is certainly the rock, heart & soul of this event. She is so driven & determined with amazingly all of the honesty, graciousness & intangibles which makes the intent so credible, believable & achievable.  It is clearly understandable why she was deservedly selected as 40 under 40 by the Wine Enthusiast & prominently featured on the cover.  Yes, she is the real deal.

Her team vehemently has the vision, the dedication & will power to make everything happen AND on so many different levels & complete aspects.  They relentlessly persevere & get things done with integrity, grace & very importantly, in a way that makes everyone feel included.  They are like a family & they are so inspiring to watch them pull everything together.  It is NOT just a job or just another event.  Wine Speak resoundingly has meaning for each & one can clearly see & feel that.  I am always so honored & touched to be part of this family.  

I have also been privileged to get to know better every year the owners of Ancient Peaks winery–Rob Rossi, Doug Filipponi & Karl Wittstrom.  (Doug & Karl I would say are proudly real cowboys & could easily be in a group with John Wayne & the like.)  They are salt of the earth, honest men & it is so heart warming to see how they completely embrace this event with all of their resources & at the same time, I can see it in their eyes, that they are learning & growing along with everyone else. 

I should also mention & thank the community & people of the town of Atascadero.  They have warmly welcomed all of us visitors with genuine, wide open arms AND just jumped in to help whenever & wherever they can.  It is always so touching & amazing.  From the Mayor to the City Council to the small businesses, to the hotels to the restaurants to the wineries–I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.  I marvel how what we call in Hawaii the aloha spirit also resides in Atascadero.

I remember that first year, the attendance was way more than we ever anticipated.  The looming question was–where could we now do it?  

Thankfully, the mayor & the City Council allowed us to use their chamber in City Hall to conduct our seminars.  What????  What other city would jump in like that?  Also, that year there were heavy rains AND mud slides which shut down Highway 101 heading south to LA.  So, there were of course emergency meetings, after which the Mayor & City Council would set up our tables, chairs, wine glasses, etc for our seminars the next day!!!!  What????  Exactly my point.  This is a clear example of a community just jumping in to help us create an event & fulfill a dream.  I thank you all so much. 

So, the infrastructure was set & continually evolving, under the watchful eye of event matriarch Amanda Wittstrom Higgins.

What would happen when all of the winemakers/professionals, sommeliers & gang come in to share, get to know each other so we could all better talk story added much dimension to the goal of how can we affect change.

I should mention, it was a thrill to have so many younger, wanting to learn & share sommeliers (headed by Chris Ramelb) & winemakers attending this year. 





And, I was so thankful for all who came & shared their wines.  Most notably Nunzio Alioto, legendary Master Sommelier & my best friend for over 40 years. 






How do we affect change?–

3  or 4 years ago, I remember watching the face of a young, VERY reserved assistant winemaker’s face as he first smelled the 2015 Faury Condrieu (which I had brought).  It stunned him.  You could see it on his face.  The sense of great wonderment on his face heightened with his first taste.  (I was watching from a distance).  It was absolutely blowing his mind.  When I showed him the bottle, he was just shaking his head in disbelief, because he also grew & made Viognier, BUT nothing like this.  One could easily & readily see this wine changed the way he thought.

Fast Forward to 2020.  We brought Lionel Faury to speak.  That assistant winemaker is now a winemaker & I made sure they met & hung out for the 2 days.  I was touched when these two very reserved individuals were hanging out and belly laughing loudly & freely one night.  A dream come true? Yes, certainly for me.

On night 2, my best friend Nunzio Alioto, MS, brought several wines to share with all.  He served the first, 1995 Chave Ermitage “Cuvee Cathelin” to Lionel BLIND.  This wine absolutely stunned him, just as his wine had that young winemaker years ago.  You could see & feel a strong sense of bewilderment & wonderment on his face, even more so when he tasted the wine.

The earth shattering moment continued as Nunzio served Lionel next BLIND the 1989 Gentaz Dervieux Cote Rotie, the single most memorable wine I had ever had.

Both were from his general area & the Gentaz from the same hillside he works.

When he saw the labels, I would say, tasting these two wines were also a dream coming true. for him.  These are 2 of the very most legendary wines of the northern Rhone of all time, at least for true purists like him.  He had not had either before.  It was a grand, game changing moment for me to watch & marvel.

Just in this one vein of people, look how the event affected each of these people.


Yet another example. 

For the first year, since I have helped train flight attendants for Hawaiian Airlines, I asked two of the principals to come to Paso Robles & do a seminar on the Aloha Spirit/hospitality. 

The attendance was 250 AND these 2 ladies killed it. It was truly a chicken skin moment.   I would say 80% of audience were young ladies & one could easily see wonderment on their faces.  I can be like that.  I want to be like that.

Being inspired by all of this, for the second year, we created a panel, which we named “Wine from a different Perspective”.  4 panelists—Meredith May (Publisher/owner The SOMM Journal/Tasting Panel); Jordan Fiorentini (winemaker Epoch); Helen Keplinger (former winemaker of Bryant Family/former Food & Wine magazine “Winemaker of the Year”); Shelley Lindgren (owner/wine director of A16/SPQR both in SF AND former James Beard Wine Professional of the Year).  Moderator—Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Operations Ancient Peaks/ co-founder Wine Speak/ cover of Wine Enthusiast—40 under 40 issue).  ALL very successful women.  I told them they could talk about anything, NOT just about being a female in the business.  For me, having 5 earnest, intelligent, charismatic, hard working, very successful professionals on stage together discussing their professional paths was truly inspiring in itself.   It was sooooo emotional, & people including myself were crying.  OMG.  Jackpot.  It certainly inspired many to the umpteenth degree. 


For 2020, rather than having so many on stage, we decided just to feature just two—Madeline Triffon (Detroit)—6th American to pass the MS, first female American/ 2nd female in the world.  In a totally male dominated fine dining industry, she rose above it all.  Moderator– Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Operations Ancient Peaks/ co-founder Wine Speak/ cover of Wine Enthusiast—40 under 40 issue).    They again had everyone crying, it was again so emotional & impactful. 

ALL three of these addressed the goal of how can we affect change.  AND, they gave each attendee someone or something to aspire to.

Why do I do Wine Speak?  I hope these examples help to answer that very complex question. 

AND, I must honestly say, I was undoubtedly the person most inspired, because of the all of the people who came to share, create camaraderie & looking to create collaboration moving forward.

A special thanks to Cameron Ingalls of Acacia Productions, whose pictures capture those special moments & brought them to life.   

Thank you to all of the sponsors.  I am so touched by each of you for jumping all in to support.  Your actions speak louder than words.

Also, a BIG thank you to all of the wineries who came to share their insights & their wines to all of us is so very much appreciated.  We can make a difference because of your support.  

Much mahalo to you all!


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Wine Speak 2020–a recap

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2020 was the 3rd Year for our Wine Speak event.  With every year, we look to present topics & insights from very different perspectives.  We believe this fosters continual learning & more & more camaraderie, by including new speakers who have something profound to share.  As you will notice, 2020 is still New World centric, but we are segueing to more discussions including terroir rather than only about grape varieties. We therefore also seasoned the list of speakers with some from faraway places such Argentina, Spain & France, just to add further dimensions to the sharing & discussions.  It goes back to our original core value—how can we affect change?

With that thought in mind, here is our list of panels for Wine Speak 2020.  All modesty aside, the 2020 event truly was magical.


“Sense of Place”–with Tegan Passalacqua (Turley) & Laura Catena (Catena, Argentina)

A long time winemaker friend asked us, “when are we going to start discussing “sense of place” rather than grape varieties?”   That was the inspiration for this panel.  And, in this case, rather than do a comparative tasting, we sought to bring in two speakers from very different niches on the subject. 

For example, Turley Wine Cellars from day one specialized in the Zinfandel grape variety & took the perception of what can be with this grape to a whole ‘nother platform.  Today Turley, based out of Paso Robles, features wines grown up & down California without skipping a beat in quality and media prominence.  Under the direction of winemaker Tegan Passalacqua the wines are much more transparent stylistically & seemingly crafted with balance in mind.  We are asking Tegan to come share his insights into what “sense of place” can mean from his perspective.  What a truly fabulous, “complete package” presentation Tegan expertly did.

For a completely different take on our sense of place theme, we will be featuring Laura Catena CEO of our very first Argentinean winery—Bodega Catena Zapata. “ Founded in 1902, Catena is world renowned for its pioneering role in resurrecting the Malbec grape variety and in discovering extreme high altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza.  Although the family has vineyards at different altitudes and aspects, their highly revered, iconic Adrianna Vineyard is their crown jewel.  Located at almost 5,000 feet elevation it has been called the Grand Cru of South America”.  The 2016 Malbec “Adrianna Vineyard River Stones” was rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate.



“Paso Robles Overview” –Moderated by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (co-founder of Wine Speak/ VP of Ancient Peaks) & featuring Jason Haas (Tablas Creek), Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch), Steve Peck (J.Lohr) & Michael Sinor (Ancient Peaks)

We created this opportunity so attendees could learn more about this meteorically rising wine growing appellation.  To add to all of the recent media coverage, we asked moderator Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (co-founder of Wine Speak/ VP of Ancient Peaks Winery) to give us the insider’s scoop using a panel discussion with 4 of the appellations’ top winemakers—Jason Haas (Tablas Creek); Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch); Steve Peck (J Lohr) and Michael Sinor (Ancient Peaks).


Talk Story–with Bruce Neyers “My Wine Yoda

I first met Bruce Neyers back in the 1970’s when he was running the then promising, upstart Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley.  Unlike many of their peers, Phelps continually challenged the norm.   While their Johannisberg Riesling bottlings created quite the revelation back then, it was their 1974 Syrah that was my first experience with a commercial California born Syrah.  In the same vintage they also conceptualized and launched “Insignia”, a premier, soon to be “game changing” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelaise type grape varieties.  That would be quite a career for most.  In 1992, however, Bruce then took over the National Sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants and helped them build one of the real noteworthy, quality driven, iconic wine importers of our time, featuring true artisan, game changers from France and later Italy.  He visited with each of the wine families 2 to 4 times a year, talking story, walking vineyards & tasting their wines with them.  Who better to talk story with to learn from than my wine yoda, Bruce Neyers.


“Talk Story” —with Lionel Faury of Domaine Faury  (northern Rhone Valley, France).

The first 2 years of Wine Speak, we asked a select few New World winemakers to come share their insights, wisdom and experiences, so that we all could learn a thing or two and at the same time foster camaraderie and collaboration moving forward.  For Wine Speak 2020, while still New World centric, we will be seasoning the list of panelists with some from the Old World.  Lionel Faury was our first to confirm and we are thrilled.  This northern Rhone Valley domaine was created in 1979 (with Lionel taking over the reins from his father in 2006) and features wines from mainly the St Joseph, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie hillsides.  This really is the world’s epicenter for Syrah & Viognier.  I brought bottles of each with me to the past 2 Wine Speak events to share, because of the mesmerizing purity, sense of place & real artisanal winemaking their wines deftly displayed.  Furthermore, wine historians believe Condrieu & Côte-Rôtie were first planted by the Romans, so there is a strong sense of place & history in their vineyards.  This domaine therefore approaches their craft with much respect and” a real attention to detail, with nothing done in haste.  Every method used encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility” and terroir”.   I found this vigneron to be truly humble & down to earth.  It was quite a special moment watching his face as he tasted the 1995 Chave Ermitage “Cuvee Cathelin” AND the 1989 Gentaz Dervieux Côte-Rôtie .


Dream Big Darling“Wine from a Different Perspective”–with Madeline Triffon, Master Sommelier & moderated by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (co-founder of Wine Speak/ VP of Ancient Peaks) 

Dream Big Darling is really about inspiring others.  We therefore spend quite a bit of time finding professionals who will inspire.  In the world of sommeliers, one of the truly inspirational “Hall of Fame” icons is Madeline Triffon of Southgate, Michigan.  She passed the rigorous Master Sommelier exam in 1987, becoming the first female American Master.  She persevered through all of the challenges and rose to the very  top of the profession through her hard work, true graciousness and genuine hospitality.  She is and has been a TRUE inspiration to me and I only hope you take the opportunity to hear the insights, wisdom and experiences from this legend which I believe will greatly inspire & help you moving forward.  There was real magic in the air for this panel.


Inside/Outside—“Crazy Red Blends” –with Stephan Asseo (L’Aventure, Paso Robles, California) & Emmanuel Kemiji, Master Sommelier (Clos Pissarra, Priorat, Spain)

My first really eye opening experiences with “Crazy Red Blends’ started with the 1978 Mas de Daumas Gassac, the 1977 Domaine de Trévallon and later the 1992 Grange des Pères, all from southern France.  (Because Trévallon’s red was typically an unusual blend of 50% Cabernet and 50% Syrah, it had to be labeled as Vin de Pays back then.  That’s how avant garde his concept was at the time).  Still in all 3 cases each vigneron had a clear vision what their wine was to be.  Each wine was therefore an orchestra of their terroir rather than just a horn section.  We continue these discussions with two modern day vignerons—Stephan Asseo from Paso Robles & long time Master Sommelier, Emanuel Kemiji & his Clos Pissarra wines from Priorat, Spain.  2 very different terroirs and 2 very different visions on what their wines can be.  This seminar will hopefully be as crazy as their blends—crazy good that is!  Come on, let’s talk story!  As one young, aspiring sommelier noted–“how special it was to watch these two become fast friends right before our eyes“.


Inside/Outside—“Cabernet Sauvignon”–with Thomas Brown (Rivers Marie, Napa Valley) &  Fred Dame Master Sommelier (Daou, Paso Robles) 

We continue the discussions of this king of grapes with two leaders of what this grape variety can be in California.  Thomas Brown is a bonafide winemaking superstar, based in the Napa Valley with many wine projects such as Schrader and his own label Rivers Marie.  Fred Dame is one of the most iconic Master Sommeliers in the world & has now joined the Paso Robles power house, Daou, who not only created Daou Mountain and subsequently a whole slew of highly acclaimed Cabernet wines, but in doing so is also bringing Paso Robles onto the world class stage for this grape variety.


Inside/Outside “From a Wine Journalist’s Point of View”–with Matt Kettmann (Wine Enthusiast) & Randy Caparoso (The SOMM Journal). Moderated by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins ( co-founder Wine Speak/ VP of Ancient Peaks)

Here is an opportunity to taste and learn about wines from a very different perspective. I frequently taste with winemakers, sommeliers & other wine professionals, but rarely do I have the opportunity to taste wines with journalists. For this panel we will taste some wines with two of the very best in the wine media field.  It truly was quite interesting to say the least & I really adored the great synergy this two beamed & the fabulous insights into their expertise.


“Wine & Food Workshop”–with Randy Caparoso (Editor at Large, The SOMM Journal) 

Pairing wines & food is undoubtedly an art.  One of the big questions in the wine field is how do we nurture & provide insight for sommeliers & wine professionals on this art?  For Wine Speak 2019, we featured a Paso Robles paired luncheon with a local star chef, a journalist & superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame color commentating.  To take the concept a step further we created this workshop, which will be led by Randy Caparoso, Editor at Large of The SOMM Journal.  Earlier in his career Randy was one of the founding Managing Partners of Roy’s restaurants. This group was an epicenter of some of the most progressive & imaginative wine and wine & food programs in the country, if not the world.  NO overstatement here.  We therefore asked Randy to help lead us through this much needed workshop & share his insights, knowledge & expertise at this art.  He truly has a gift & I really think he will inspire all those who attend, just as he has inspired me for all of these years.  Local Chef Jeffery Scott will prepare two dishes. Each dish will be paired with 2 different Paso Robles wines. The wines featured are as follows: Caliza Kissin’ Cousins, Alta Colina Sun Worshipper, Ancient Peaks Renegade, and Adelaida Viking Cabernet Sauvignon.  The outcome of this session will be to showcase the different ways that wines can enhance foods.


“Talk Story” on Blind Tasting”–with 3 long time, legendary Master Sommeliers—(in alphabetical order by last name)–Nunzio Alioto, Fred Dame & Madeline Triffon

When speaking to an Exam candidate recently, we asked what kind of wine should be served for their upcoming BLIND tasting.  He replied—it should be solid, well made & “true to type”.  If that is true & “fair” for the exam, shouldn’t that also be the kind of wines we seek out for our winelists?  While winetasting can be very subjective, the question then would be how do we determine as professionals/wine buyers what is “good” wine—good enough for a blind tasting and good enough for our winelists.  We have asked 3 truly iconic, legendary Master Sommeliers to help lead us through a tasting of 3 wines & provide their insights & wisdom in the selection process.   (Yes, this would be a very different methodology than tasting for the Masters.)


“Talk Story” on Hospitality–with 3 long time, legendary Master Sommeliers—(in alphabetical order by last name)–Nunzio Alioto, Fred Dame & Madeline Triffon

We therefore created this Sommelier Round Table—talking story with some of the very best—to share some of their personal, stellar hospitality experiences….also ask the audience to chime in with some memorable hospitality experiences.  Hospitality, after all, is one of the keys to excellent service, whether you work at a restaurant, winery or hotel. 

Thank you to all of you.  These were truly 3 amazing, unforgettable days of sharing, camaraderie & talking story, which will help our industry & community move forward!!!!!

Yup.  It was that time of the year again.  It snuck up on me way too quickly.


A group of us caught the red eye (Hawaiian Airlines) leaving Honolulu on Saturday, January 11th, arriving into Los Angeles around 5:00am Sunday morning.

We then did the 3 1/2 hour drive up to Atascadero & our hotel–The Carlton.

After checking in & dropping of our bags off we went to see some vineyards.

We started of at Caliza to see Carl Bowker.  Carl is such a nice guy (with Hawaii roots) & I really wanted to walk his vineyard with him & taste some of is newly or soon to be released wines.  (I am sorry to say, I don’t know what happened to all of the pictures I took during our visit).  I will say, as I had remarked to Carl that day, this was the best line-up of wines I have tasted from Caliza & we will certainly keep an eye out moving forward on what they are doing, that’s for sure.

We then took the gang right next door to Booker.  (Again, for some unexplainable reason, I cannot find the pictures of that visit either).  Many of the young sommeliers/wine professionals traveling with us, had not been to either Caliza or Booker, so it was quite the treat to see, walk the vineyards & taste each of their wines.

We then drove to Turley down the road, just to show them their vineyards as well.

Our final stop was to Linne Calodo.  Although we did not walk any of their vineyards, we did taste several of their wines AND, I wanted to make sure they took a look at the winery–with its many sizes/types/shapes of concrete vessels & oak barrels/foudres/large format.

I was hoping each of these stops would create vivid memories/pictures for each moving forward.

After a quick stop to the hotel to freshen up, we then went to dinner at a terrific “new” restaurant in Paso Robles, named Les Petites Canailles.  The food was really good….in fact some of the best I had eaten in the area over the 26 plus years of visiting the appellation.  I wholeheartedly encourage visitors to check the place out!



More & more of the event SOMM team had arrived.  It was great to see & meet all of the members.

from left to right–Ivy Nagayama (Corporate Director of Operations, DK Restaurants); Emily Edeen (sommelier, Canlis Restaurant); Matthew Dulle (Beverage Director, Lazy Bear); Madeline Triffon, MS; Chris Ramelb (Director of Fine Wine, SGWS Hawaii); Zack Musick (Corporate Director of Wines, Merriman’s Restaurants); my wife Cheryle Furuya & Sara Villers (General Manager, Sansei Waikiki).  Others joined in throughout the day.

In addition, Nunzio Alioto, a legendary, long time Master Sommeliers later joined us for the day of touring vineyards, along with Rafael Santos (sommelier, Acquarello), Taro Kurobe (Wine Director, Hy’s Steak House); Sang Hyun Mun (Wine Director, The Pacific Club) & Ariana Tsuchiya (Beverage Director, Royal Hawaiian Hotel).  

Our first stop of the morning was to Epoch’s Paderewski Vineyard with winemaker Jordan Fiorentini & vineyard manager Kyle Gingras.   








Epoch’s original consultant Justin Smith had taken me out to the vineyard before & as it was being planted to check it out.  (Check out the slant/grain of their bedrock.  It allows for the roots to burrow down easier in search for nutrients & water & drainage–some of the insights Justin showed before they started planting).   It is amazing now to see it all come to fruition.  It really is one of the special vineyard sites of the whole region.  AND, what a winemaking dynamo Jordan Fiorentini truly is.  It makes it easy to understand why this is a top level wine project.  Epoch & epic.



When jumped in the van & headed to see Daou, just to give the group a “look” at Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordelais planted vineyards… Adelaida District.  The view from the 1900 or so foot elevation tasting room was truly magnificent & the tasting room itself was quite THE hospitality venue to say the least.



As we drove to our next stop, since we were in the Adelaida district, we just had to also make a quick stop to Adelaida Vineyards & Winery to see our long time wine friend Paul Sowerby & a quick look at their estate vineyards, also reputed to be some of the highest in the Paso Robles appellation.  (They too had acquired a large part of the HMR estate).  Spectacular views & a chance to catch up to their wonderful wines.  Definitely a worthwhile stop!





Our next stop was to James Berry Vineyard/Saxum to meet Justin Smith.  I have quite a surprisingly long friendship with Justin & I am thankful & truly grateful it has endured all of these years.  he has graciously provided me with so many insider’s insights, knowledge & information into the unfolding Paso Robles appellation that I would not have otherwise been able to get on my own. 














What an amazing two days!  Thank you to all!

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A Quartet of Other German White Wines

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Of the top ten standout wines of all time to me, I would say at least four were German Rieslings. Each of these wines displayed such incredible pedigree, filagree and innate breed that was truly mesmerizing, captivating and memorable to me. Germany has produced some of the world’s finest riesling based wines and over the years, but was lucky if they produced two or three vintages out of every decade, that’s how marginal of a growing region it was.   What the German government decided to do then, was create vine crosses, which would ideally feature Riesling’s innate nobility, BUT would ripen earlier. The two most successful were Scheurebe and Müller-Thurgau, each named after the doctor that created them. Since 1988, these conditions have greatly changed because of global warming, we now essentially have a ripe vintage every year in Germany, so now Scheurebe and Müller-Thurgau are now shrinking in popularity and, therefore acreage planted. Over all of the years, both of these grape varieties and Silvaner were considered inferior to the all mighty Riesling and were more often used in less expensive, regional blends and planted mainly for cash flow. I would say there are four noteworthy renditions, which rise above the norm AND provide something unique and wonderfully food friendly. Here is your chance to better understand what these “ugly duckling” grape varieties are capable of. 

2016 Rudolf Fürst Müller-Thurgau “Pur Mineral”–Without a doubt the finest Müller-Thurgau in the world is grown and produced by Paul Fürst, a former “Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” in Franconia, Germany. Paul has .75 hectare planted in red sandstone soils of his home turf in Bürgstadt.   The wine perennially displays riveting purity and class with seamless flow and texture and a very sophisticated air to it. It is also wonderfully food friendly. They deftly show us what this grape variety can truly be.


2015 Hans Wirsching Silvaner DRY Erste Lage “Iphöfer Kalb”–Also from Franconia, Germany is the house of Hans Wirsching, a 14 generation run family winery, who is also a former “Gault Millau Winery of the Year”. We learned quite some time ago, while the Silvaner grape variety is certainly NOT of Grand Cru quality, it has a remarkable pliability which makes it work magic with a wide range of foods. Well, this is one of the very finest examples of what this grape variety can be. FYI—the Erste Lage designation is Germany’s attempt at establishing a Grand Cru/Premier Cru hierarchy.


2014 Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Kabinett DRY “Iphöfer”–For me, it should get a 100 point score for how incredibly food friendly it is and quietly so.   This comes from another truly iconic estate and this for me, is their crown jewel. It is not because it has Grand Cru potential, but much more about how incredibly tasty and wonderfully food friendly it typically is. I really think this wine should be on most top end restaurants’ winelist for that very reason.


2017 Müller-Catoir Scheurebe DRY–This is the same Scheurebe grape variety BUT ramped up a few notches. Müller-Catoir is regarded as one of the top German wine estates for at least two decades. While they get high praise and accolades for their Riesling bottlings, they also have been considered the master of the Scheurebe grape variety for some time. I remember eating at Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans and being served Müller-Catoir Scheurebe Spätlese by their wine director blind paired with a duck course. It had the exotic fruit and spiciness of gewurztraminer but much more civilized, earth driven and focused. The pairing proved to be one of the most memorable of all time for me. Fast forwarding to today, here is a DRY version from 2017, exotically aromatic and lots of potential with contemporary fusion fowl, foie gras and meat dishes. At least, it is an opportunity to taste this seldomly seen discovery.

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The old adage of white wine with seafood, though still applicable, is not the only way to go. One can also readily have red wine with seafood, too. And this is THAT opportunity. We have created this special dinner for pure enjoyment AND because we want to always add a new dimension to learning a thing about wine. This is the next episode in our quest to shed light on what pairing wines and foods can be. The culinary world has greatly changed during my professional career and this is my opportunity to show another dimension to it all. Nothing fancy……..just plain good!

Just as a reminder, “country” styled wines typically are those that are served at cafes and neighborhood eateries with their casual fare. They are so very different from the “trophy” wines that win all of the awards, high scores and accolades and need to spend years in the cellar before consuming. They are more for tastiness and enjoyment NOT for swirling, analyzing and taking notes. They unpretentiously and deliciously wash down the foods and freshen the palate between bites.

The challenge is finding the “good” ones, as not all café styled wines are created equal. We will feature three very tasty, interesting and unique renditions for this evening. We have worked hard to get these wines because they are so different and each provides a glimpse of their respective region, their indigenous grape variety and each done in a VERY different style. Chef Keith Endo created dishes for each and we hope the wines and the pairings will not only taste good, but will shed light on what can be.



WINE: Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rouge–It was pure joy when we first ran across this Loire Valley family owned and run estate back in the 1990’s. Just to give you some perspective, this general area is where Joan of Arc did her crusades. Yes, lots of history. While we first fell for this estate’s wonderfully delicious, vivacious white wines, more recently, we also have been quite taken by their especially delicious, light as can be, pretty, thirst-quenching red wine blend (Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir & a tiny bit of Cot). This “country” style red wine brings such joy when taking a big gulp after an especially hard day’s work, especially when served well chilled. This family has been growing and making their wines since 1898. I would also venture, over the years, they’ve drank more than their fair share of their own irresistible wines, like this charmer.

Mushroom Crusted Scallop mushroom ravioli & red wine sauce





WINE: Col des Vents Corbieres–Another French “country” styled red wine, but this one is from Corbieres, down in southern France near the Mediterranean. Yes, it is really the style of red wine served in neighborhood cafes and small” hole in the walls”. This wine is typically blended with a large chunk of Carignane, with smaller bits of Grenache and Syrah “seasoning”. These kinds of wines are a way of life in this neck of the woods. Yup, delicious, light, food friendly and completely gulpable.

Braised Spanish Octopuscharred vegetable ratatouille with balsamic, red wine and black pepper reduction





WINE: Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro d’Alba–Lacrima is the name of the grape variety in this case. Never heard of it? It is only now making a tiny comeback, after nearly going extinct. In fact, when the Italian government recognized this appellation in 1985, I was told there were but only two people still growing it. Thank goodness. This delightful, fresh, wonderfully perfumed, vivacious Italian “country” red deserves a “voice”. It’s aromatics make it such a captivating wine and food experience.   Here is that pairing.

Seared Swordfishsquid ink pasta, roasted vegetables and rustic San Marzano tomato sauce





WINE:  Filippo Gallino Birbet–here is a very refreshing, slightly sweet, FIZZY, uplifting reddish wine produced from the Brachetto grape variety in the Roero, Piemonte.  I find versions such as this one to be lighter, friskier, more vivacious & uplifting than their Brachetto d’Acqui (& more famous) counterparts.

Strawberry Tiramisuwith mango sorbet

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A Quartet of Pinot Blanc

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What is Pinot Blanc? Most avid wine scholars would say it is a mutation of Pinot Noir. Others would disagree. I looked it up and here is an excerpt–“the white-berried mutation of Pinot, part of the vast family of vaguely Burgundian vines. The main characteristic of wines made from Pinot Blanc is a certain roundness of flavour, verging on apparent sweetness sometimes because the acidity is relatively low. They are gentler rather than demandingly appealing, having even fewer distinguishing marks than Chardonnay and generally rather less body”.

Over the years, rarely have I encountered a Pinot Blanc which really caught my attention. Having said that, here are four really worth checking out. Their success certainly has something to do with soils, climate, terroir AND the respective, respectful champion who made it happen. Yes, wines like this just don’t happen. It really takes a champion.

2016 Wolfberger Pinot Blanc–Here is an example of the softer, prettier side of what Pinot Blanc can be, from Alsace, France and a family who has been at their craft for over 100 years.


2017 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco “Tradition”–This is a Pinot Bianco much more about minerality than the grape itself. When we opened VINO, this was a wine we just had to have on the list. Cantina Terlan is from the Alto Adige, located at high elevations in northeast Italy. The soil is rocky with a myriad of soil types because of glacerial movement and erosion over the years.


2014 Fürst Weissburgunder “Pur Mineral”–This a VERY pure, effortlessly light, VERY sophisticated, mineral driven example of what this grape can be. The grapes from vines grown in limestone/gravel soils of Volkacher Karthäuser in Germany and crafted by the “2003 Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year”.


2014 Guillemot Savigny- lès-Beaune “Dessus Les Gollardes”–A very unique white wine from Burgundy, France, made from 70% 55 year old vine Pinot Blanc & 30% Chardonnay from vines grown in the limestone, clay, gravel soils. ½ fermented in stainless steel and ½ in old demi-muids, then aged for 15 months in old demi muids.

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