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My wife Cheryle & I decided to go to Greece, which had been number one on her bucket list for quite some time.  We really didn’t have a strict, detailed itinerary planned other than 2 days in Athens, 6 days on the island of Crete & 3 days on the island of Santorini.  AND, we did not plan out any winery visits ahead of time.  We would just go, have fun & a relaxing time.  After 2 days in Athens & doing walking tours at such landmarks as the Acropolis, we left the big city & flew to Crete, specifically Chaniá first. 

In Chaniá, Salis Restaurant was THE eatery recommended to us, mainly because of how fresh their seafood is & the fact that it is open air & located right on the water & cooled by the fresh ocean breezes.  In addition, they have quite the reputation for their wine program.

We ended up going there to dine 3 times in 2 days.  The food was fresh & good, the winelist well selected & the sommelier–Grigorios Rappos–was quite the professional–very helpful, very knowledgeable and really charming &. gracious. Grigorios was kind enough to let us try a bunch of Greek wines.  If you are visiting Chaniá, this is definitely a restaurant well worth seeking out.

To top off our enjoyment at this restaurant, on the 3rd visit there we met Afshin Molavi (who happened to be the owner of Salis) & we hung out until 10:30pm (7 hours), during which time he popped open many, terrific wines to share.  Afshin is really passionate & knowledgeable about wine….& it was quite the night of talking story & just hanging out.  

He offered to take us to his winery the next morning–Manousakis.  I had no idea of what to expect & was blown away with the vision of this project & its remarkable vineyard.  Thank you to Afshin for sharing!

The Manousakis estate & its wines labeled under the Nostros label, is the dream of Theodore Manousakis (Afshin’s father-in-law), as a way to give back something to his homeland of Crete. 

I was in awe of how breathtaking this property is–25 hectares planted (half in 1993)–located in a rugged, vertically remote (up to roughly 2500 feet in elevation) wild, mountain side, wind pounded & with a breathtaking view.  The soils were extreme & iron rich planted on various nooks & crannies along the mountain contour.  The vines include–Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Mourvedre with Greek grapes varieties such as Romeiko, Vidiano & even a little Assyrtiko.  The rest of the wild countryside has all kinds of wild shrub, wild herbs–thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender & lots of bay leaf (a nuance very pronounced in their red wines).

The wines were very well made, had style, polish, wonderful texture & balance.  The 2 most interesting were the Mourvedre (1 hectare) & the Syrah (roughly 3 hectares).  Both were quite masculine with a warm & real savory generosity.

In short I was really blown away with the vineyard, the vision & passion behind their mission.  This is a winery to watch out for.

Thank you Afshin for sharing!  I am so thankful to have found a new, special wine friend on the other side of the world.  Congratulations on all of your amazing projects.  Wow.

CAMBIATA

I believe I first met Eric Laumann during his tenure at Bonny Doon.  He has since launched his own label, Cambiata.  For me, these are tasty, interesting wines at quite reasonable price points.  Here is what his website aptly says—

Cambiata is not your average California winery. We are a little more unconventional and iconoclastic than our compatriots around the Golden State. I launched Cambiata in 2002 after making wines for other people for nearly two decades. My intention was to make distinctive wines that go beyond the Franco triumvirate of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. Today, we are vinifying a handful of compelling wines from some of California’s scarcest grape varieties including Albariño, Tannat and Dornfelder. We also make limited quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands.”

From what I can best make out, Eric was working for a large vineyard owner down in Monterey, making wines for them under various labels, including Poppy.  Through his knowledge of the vineyards & his relationship with them, he was able to find some interesting parcels to work with AND even have some parcels planted for him. 

I first tasted his very own Cambiata wine, an Albariño, based upon a recommendation from fellow Master Sommelier, Peter Granoff, at his Ferry Plaza Wine merchant store some years back.  I was instantly quite taken by the wine because of its lovely, enticing aromatics & its vivacious, refreshing personality.

2015 Cambiata Albariño—the 2015 marks the 11th vintage of this wine.  Not only is it hard to find such wonderfully perfumed, well made, tasty, delicious & buoyant white wines, the very reasonable pricing makes it a no brainer to work with on our wines by the glass list.  If our staff can serve a Sauvignon Blanc, why can’t it instead be this wine?  Same kind of mouthfeel & crisp refreshingness, BUT with more wonderfully dynamic aromatics which create a much more interesting food pairing.  Wines like this are hard to come by, especially when one considers there were only 205 cases produced of the 2015.

2012 Cambiata Tannat—this was the second eye catching wine for me—a BIG, bold, provocative BLACK wine, which greatly overdelivers for the dollar.  I admit I was quite leery of tasting the 2004 back then.  My previous experience with the Tannat based red wines of southwest France was dark, gnarly, highly tannic, higher acidic red wines, which they said would finally open up after 20 to 30 years of cellar time.  Who could wait?  And, who would want to wait?  Well, the 2004 was in fact a bold, wildly rustic, full flavored beast, which was still however quite an interesting drink & far more interesting than many of the Zins & Petite Sirahs I was tasting at the time.  I loved its intriguing, provocative, soulful core!….& how well textured it actually was!  I haven’t unfortunately had the pleasure of having too many vintages since.  I happened to reach out to Eric a short time ago & he sent me some of his new releases to try.  OMG!!!!  Here is what he had to say about his 2012—

We planted our small Tannat vineyard in the rocky and well drained soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The cool growing conditions allows us to harvest grapes that are fully ripe yet still possessing an appropriate amount of food worthy acidity.  Tannat has an incredible ability to absorb oxygen. Technically speaking, the wine is full of procyanidin‐type tannins, which slow the aging and development process to a crawl. While today’s technology has given winemakers aggressive tools to introduce oxygen, at Cambiata we do it the old‐fashion way – extended barrel aging. For our 2012 Tannat it took 28 months before the wine had reached an appropriate balance between fruit and tannin that allowed us to put it into bottle.   We fermented the black juice in small open‐top fermenters and pumped over twice a day during fermentation. The wine was then pressed straight to 60 gallon barrels (100% French, 40% new). Our 2012 Tannat is incredibly deep and concentrated with notes of earth, blackberries, saddle leather and licorice. On the palate it is thick and chewy with bold, well‐integrated tannins. Big wine. Good wine”, well worth trying!!!!!!

Cambiata Pinot Noir Estate 2015—surprise, surprise, now a Pinot Noir!!  Why?  Because he is working with a very old vine parcel!  Yes, don’t expect any of that snazzy, flamboyant, showiness one associates with Dijon clones here.  This a very pretty, natural beauty who needs no make up to be what it is—pure, delicious, refined & quietly captivating.  At $16 a bottle, it is also quite a steal for the price that’s for sure!!!!  “The grapes come from the oldest Pinot Noir planting in Santa Lucia Highlands, planted 1973. Because the vineyard is old and somewhat virus led, the morphology is inconsistent and fairly unique vine to vine. I make the wine because it has the flavors I remember from Pinot’s we made in the 1980s. (1983 was my first professional harvest.) With everyone moving like lemmings to Dijon clones, this selection stands out as a viable option for a unique, old school experience. This is why I include the wine in the Cambiata portfolio. I always want people to drink different, I’m not out to follow the crowd and this selection gives us a moment to reflect and reevaluate what we’re doing with Pinot Noir and with our bulldozers.  It’s a hillside vineyard about halfway up the ridge. The grapes are certified sustainable (SIP) but I don’t put it on the label because as a one person operation I don’t have time to do everything. Soil is typical SLH decomposed granite. No stems. I do a bit of thermo maceration to enhance and stabilize color as well as denature esterases giving the wine (particularly when young) some carbonic macerated character.  Oak is 30% new, French/American 75/25. I think a bit of American oak adds complexity. I don’t leave it for too long in oak, about 5 months”.

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Over the many years I have been in the wine industry, one of the most influential wine “minds” I have run across is Bruce Neyers.  In short, he is a wine “yoda”.

When I first met Bruce, back in the late 1970’s, he was the GM of Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley.  At that time, Phelps was truly one of the standout, vanguard wineries out of not only Napa Valley, but out of all of California.  In the 70’s they excelled with Riesling and were one of the first to really strive to grow and produce top quality Syrah.  They also launched a Cabernet based red wine blend they named “Insignia”, I believe in 1974, which helped kick start a whole new category of Californian red wines, later named as Meritage.  This category would allow Californian wineries to blend Bordeaux grape varieties, just as was commonly done in Bordeaux, France, in an effort to produce better and more worldly wines AND be called a Meritage rather than just a “Red Table Wine”.  (Meritage therefore then created  a new genre of Super red wines, which would later include Opus One and Dominus, just to name 2).

Yes, Bruce was a busy man and the Joseph Phelps winery was certainly a “game changer”.

The whole Joseph Phelps era of his career would have been enough of a legacy for most.

Bruce, on the other hand, had other ideas.  With the 1992 vintage, Bruce and Barbara Neyers bought the Neyers label from Joseph Phelps and launched their own namesake winery and label.  The first wine I tasted from this new project was the 1992 Neyers Merlot which I still consider one of the finest “game changing” red wines I have had out of the valley.

Subsequently, with the 1995 vintage, Neyers released a stellar & highly rated Chardonnay which was crafted by new winemaker Ehren Jordan, a disciple of superstar consultant Helen Turley (who also happened to be their winemaking consultant).

Also in 1992, Bruce became the National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, one of the real pioneers and most world renown of importing true artisan, boutique wines from France (and now Italy) into the U.S..  Part of his responsibilities included taking 2 to 4 trips to France a year to visit wineries, their vineyards and taste wines from a who’s who list of French artisan winemaking superstars.  As one would imagine, this also really greatly encouraged Bruce out of his Napa Valley “box” and therefore grow and produce better and better wines each year because of what he saw and learned from his wine friends in France.

Today, because of his considerable experience—40 plus years in California and 25 years of working with the very best artisan producers of France, Neyers is therefore still producing some of the very best wines out of California, but under the watchful eye and mastery of winemaker Tadeo Borchardt.  I am still in awe of how they look to use fruit from heirloom/heritage grape vines,  farm sustainably so passionately and fervently and craft their wines without addition of yeast, nutrients or any enhancers, just as they do in their home garden AND just as they do at many of the standout domaines he works with in France.

Having said all of that and wishing I could or had said even more, I would also add, that considering staunch principles, beliefs and resulting high quality of wines done the ‘right” way, they are also way underpriced, especially when one considers what’s in the bottle.

On August 2, 2017, we did a dinner at VINO with Bruce & Barbara Neyers, which was one of the most memorable of all time for me personally.  It was just another chance for us to work with the wine “yoda”.  with each experience, I am always in awe with the additional knowledge & insight I walk away with.  Thank you to Bruce & Barbara for sharing.

 

Aug
13

MauiWines “Ulupalakua Ranch”

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One of the big, happening banners being waved in our local food and wine industry is to BUY LOCAL and rightfully so.  A profound question/statement once asked by a friend is how can we buy 10% more local food product.  He noted that could translate into 100’s of millions of dollars that stay in our State economy.  If we do it well, he further added this could also help move us towards self-sustainability as a State.  It could also help a farmer actually make it, financially.   All, good things.

Along those lines, I was recently reminded of yet another opportunity to support local.  The Kauai/Oahu Chapter of the Chaine des Rottiseurs (a very celebrated international food and wine society) held a dinner at VINO recently spearheaded by current Bailli, Kathryn Nicholson who requested to pair our foods with the wines from MauiWine, Ulupalakua Vineyards.  The group had apparently visited the Maui based winery & vineyard late last year & decided to do a dinner featuring their wines.

I was astounded to find that this Maui based winery has been around for 42 years!  And, despite the challenges of so many obstacles seemingly endlessly popping up, this winery has strongly and almost stubbornly persevered.  When one considers, for example, that their estate grown vines do not typically have a true dormancy period (sleep time in vine language) that would be like me staying up 24 hours a day.  I need sleep and rest and so do the vines.  That is just one of the countless challenges MauiWine and its unbelievable leader, Paula Hegele have worked through for 42 years!    

They currently have 6 grape varieties planted—Syrah, Malbec & Grenache for red wine & Viognier, Chenin Blanc & Gewürztraminer for white wine.

Each of the first five wines listed were featured at this group’s VINO dinner.  I watched in fascination as these connoisseurs ooo-ed, awed and nodded their heads in approval with each taste of wine.  We knew that if any of these wines were not good, we certainly would have heard about it & quickly.  Winery spokesperson, Joe Hegele was there to color commentate the experience & answer any & all questions.  I would readily say, people left appreciating & enjoying a whole new niche of wine they had not considered before.

A couple of weeks later, I and two other VINO teammates were on Maui visiting our newly opened, sister restaurant, Shearwater Tavern, in Kihei.  In the late morning, the Tavern chef team took us up to visit one of their core farms who supply their produce—Maui Nui Farms up in Kula.  It was a very insightful experience to say the least & we were clearly reminded how hard these farmers work & we walked away with an even greater respect for what & how they do & of course their product.

We decided to then go to Maui Wine because we were so close to the vineyard & winery.  

Their 23 acre vineyard of various parcels is located roughly at 1800 feet elevation with rich volcanic soils and an absolutely breathtaking, panoramic view of Maui’s southwest shore, including Molokini Island.  One gets a strong sense of place while visiting the vineyard that’s for sure. 

On this visit, the wine which caught the eye of VINO General Manager, Ann Taketa, was the very pretty, delicious, uplifting, pink sparkling wine, which they label as “Lokelani”.  The grapes come from California, but the wine is aged on the lees (part of the process of how the French make Champagne) and then bottled right there on their Ulupalakua site.  We were all so mesmerized looking through the green colored bottles and its floating lees, as it would slowly mature and increase its complexity during the lengthy process.

Ann was so impressed, she is looking to feature Lokelani by the glass at VINO, just as Managing Partner, Ivy Nagayama is looking to also do at both Sansei Waikiki and DK Steakhouse.

Yes, just another way to support local!  You can help too, by checking out their wines.

 

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Jul
31

2015 Nichon Semillon

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In all of these years of being in the wine industry, I cannot recall having a Semillon which really stood out.

Well that all changed when we tasted the 2015 Nichon Semillon a few weeks back.  This 100 case lot of 80% Semillon & 20% Sauvignon Blanc is yet another remarkable, totally ingenious wine project of superstar Master Sommelier Richard Betts.  The 60 plus, own rooted vines are planted in the deeply sandy soils of Vine Vale, within Australia’s Barossa Valley.  Betts writes to us–“way beyond organic or biodynamic to a style that we refer to as feral. Yup, it’s wild and full of wildlife (read: gigantic spiders, etc.) The vines are pruned, the grapes are picked and other than this, nothing else occurs – no plowing, no water, no pesticides, no herbicides, did we say no plowing?  whole cluster BASKET pressed…Barrel fermented in second use french barrique. (We get used chardonnay barrels and ferment and age in here.) then aged entirely in second use French oak for 12 months. There is NO malo, no fining, no filtration.  Did we say no plowing?

 

Here was yet another get together of “Young Sommeliers”–to taste wines, in this case from the Mediterranean basin, BLIND.  Again, not to identify anything except if it is a “good” wine or not…..how much would one pay for it….AND finally, what kinds of foods would you recommend for each.

In addition, the offerings of this category available locally have been noticeably getting less & less.  Yes, getting quite restrictive.  So, here was a chance to share one’s stash.  Here we go!

The first wine– 2016 Marquliani Sciaccarellu Rosé–is one of our favorite pink wines in the world!  We are always amazed at how effortlessly light, airy, ethereal, minerally it really is.  90% is the indigenous Sciaccarellu grape variety with 10% Syrah blended in, all grown in Costa Serena–on the east side of Corsica.  Direct pressed.  Importer Kermit Lynch says it best–“Drinking her rosé is like drinking a cloud. There’s an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume.”   Our friend Keith, in comparison, brought 2015 Ameztoi Txakolina Rosé “Rubentis”–a very delicious, thirstquenching frothy Spanish pink-ster.  Thank you, Keith.  The 2015 is a blend of the indigenous 50% Hondarribi Beltza & 50% Hondarribi Zuri grape varieties.  While the wine is not as fresh, zesty & alive as having it there, it still is wonderfully delicious, uplifting & gulpable.  Keith asked me why I poured this wine after the much finer, more complex Marquiliani.  Because the Tzxakolina was lower in alcohol at 10.5 versus 12.5.

We poured the 2015 Gregoletto Verdiso “Colli Trevigiani” next as a reminder of the Italian white wines of old–dry, straw mat/goza smells, stoney, light to medium in body with a distinct bitter almond finish.  Today, the indigenous Verdiso grape variety is not seen too much any more on its own.  It is mainly relegated to a blender, which adds backbone & to shore up the middle to Prosecco bottlings.  Gregoletto is quite renown for his sui lieviti (on the lees) Prosecco bottlings (which appear clouded, somewhat murky) AND also for championing the Verdiso grape variety.  (Incidently, I just discovered that Gregoletto was once named “FIVI Winemaker of the Year”. quite the honor).

The 2015 Ciu Ciu Pecorino “Merlettaie” is a very masculine, brazen, virile, strong willed, macho white wine produced from the indigenous Pecorino grape variety which in this case is  grown on the sun baked, bare & steep slopes of the Piceno Apennines.   The intent for this flight was to show tasters white wines which have mojo as opposed to those from cooler, higher altitude vineyards up in the north, which can be much more minerally, ethereal & lighter in weight.  We followed that with the 2013 Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis “Bel-Arme”.  Clos Ste Magdeleine is without a doubt one of the real iconic wine estates of southern France.  Its stellar white wine masterpiece, Cassis, will be forever the definitive pairing with regional Provencal bouillabaisse.  A few year back they started producing this deluxe cuvee–“Bel Arme”–65% Marsanne, 15% Clairette, 15% Ugni Blanc, 5% Bourboulenc–from the vines planted on the terraced slope, below the Cap Canaille.  The wine is fermented in concrete, sees malolactic & aged on its lees in concrete   Thank you Keith for sharing.    As VINO regulars well know, I am always on the look out for really “good” aromatic white wines.  They are just really hard to come by.  Our latest query is the 2014 Riofavara Moscato di Noto “Mizzica”–a fully dry, masculine, rugged white wine from the southern tip of Sicily & its chalk-limestone soils.  We have been checking out this wine for a bit, but have yet to pull the trigger.

The next wine–2014 Occhipinti Terre Sicilano “SP68”–60% Moscato di Alexandria, 40% Albanello, grown in red sand, chalk, limestone at nearly 1000 feet elevation.  Wild yeast fermented & aged for 6 months in concrete.  This is currently one of the most happening white wines out of Italy & Arianna Occhipinti is truly hotter than hot.  I liked the wine, especially its   savoriness & am really glad we had the chance to try it.  Once was enough.  The 2015 Sigalas Assyrtiko is a VERY masculine, hearty, sun drenched, savory white wine from the Greek island of Santorini.  If I closed my eyes, I would think this is actually a red wine because of its viscosity & abundant tannins.  I often wonder when tasting this wine if Assyrtiko, the name of the grape variety, was derived from the word assertive, because assertive, it really is!  The 2014 Coenobium is a very unique wine–a blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Verdicchio–produced by consultant winemaker, Giampiero Bea.  These “orange” styled wines are NOT for everyone by any means.  This wine, however, has a huge following among the avant guard sommelier community in the big cities across the country.  Most other people, however, would not know what to make of its “oxidative quality that blankets layers of minerals, faint nuttiness & acidity“.  (I would add a real savoriness).  Definitely an acquired taste.  For me, just too much.

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Thankfully, another get together with the “Young Sommelier” community.  On this date, we blind tasted a bunch of wines from around the Mediterranean basin, in search of “good” wine.  This was a REALLY fun opportunity!

We begin with the 2011 Casa da Passarella Dao Tinto.  This really good Portuguese “country” red wine is a blend of 4 indigenous grape varieties–Touriga Nacional, Alfrochiero, Tinta Roiz & Jaen from the Dao appellation.  It is tasty, interesting, flows on the palate well & GREATLY over delivers for the dollar,  What a “find”!  We then tasted the 2014 Scarpone Montepuciano d’Abruzzo.  Over the years, we have found the indigenous Montepulciano grape variety is very capable of making very interesting red wine.   This one comes from “a 5 acre vineyard, planted in 2001 at an elevation of 200 meters (600′) above sea level, in 2001 to all local massale vines of the traditional Montepulciano grape. This region, called the “Colline Teramane” after the nearby mountain town of Teramo, is aknowledged to produce the finest wine in the region. It is the first and only zone in the Abruzzo to be given the Italian government’s highest quality ranking of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)”.  We found this wine is so very tasty, with interesting mojo & character, while still being UN-heavy, very food friendly & a truly remarkable value.  Consider serving with rustic braised pork or chicken dishes.  The 2014 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio “Cru des Agriate” comes from a very remote part of the Island of Corsica.  I reminded tasters not to be fooled by the lighter coloring.  We have been quite intrigued with this particular Niellucciu based red wine because of how tasty & provocatively savory it really is.  When considering foods, consider savory, rustic meat preparations.  All 3 of these wines could work with the VINO Roasted Chicken with Tuscan styled beans or Braised Spanish Octopus with ham hock stew.

We started of the next flight with the 2012 Domaine Barral Faugeres.  Didier Barral is one of the revolutionary winemakers of southern France.  This Carignane red wine blend bares the sun baked rocks, wild herbs/shrubs of the wild countryside surrounding the vineyards.  Some would say the severe rusticity comes from his style of winemaking, others will say its the soil.  Me, I say a combination.  I can remember a day, when each of his bottles tasted different, (which by the way, I think is a good thing).  The main attribute I found compelling was how delicious this wine is & I would therefore definitely buy it again!  The 2011 Riofavara Eloro “Sciave” is Nero D’Avola (grape variety, organically farmed) in the southern tip of Sicily.  This was the very first Nero d’Avola that has caught me fancy.  It is manly & wild in its core, yet statuesque, well mannered, well manicured & quite provocative.  I will definitely be buying this wine again!  I bought the 2011 Le Piane Vino Rosso “Mimmo” at a wine store in Seattle.  This masculine, savory, well structured blend of mostly Nebbiolo with some Croatina & a tiny bit of Vespolina hails from the extreme Boca growing region of northern Piemonte.   Yes, the wine is interesting & sheds a very different light on what Piemontese red wines can be.  Furthermore, at $25 a bottle I would say it provides really good value.  I am so glad & thankful to have tried it, but once was enough.

The final flight of red wines started with the 2011 Domaine La Tour Vieille Collioure “Puig Ambeille”.  Collioure is an appellation in southern France, right on the Mediterranean, close to where the Pyranees mountains dives into the Mediterranean near the French/Spanish border.  The steep terraced hillsides are schist, all of which is constantly pounded by La Tramontagne, a fierce, relentless wind.  Normally, the La Tour Vieille Collioure reds are Grenache dominated, “Puig Ambeille”, however, is more about Mourvedre & its masculinity, thick skin & dark, virile core, still, with surprisingly deliciousness combined with a wonderful savory edge.  Thank you Chris for sharing.  In comparison, the 2010 Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Tourtine”, another southern French Mourvedre based red wine (though from Provence) had much more vinosity, character & pedigree, but in a very rugged, hearty, heftier, coarse, bordering belligerent way.  It certainly was a wine to be reckoned with.  Thank you Brian for sharing!

What a fabulous night!  Thank you all for sharing!!!

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Aug
01

Look what I found!

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I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family.  In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe.  I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.

Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened.  On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.

As expected, I was amazed at the wine list.  It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices.  Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.

Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some0012 wine.  After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list!  Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001.  They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell.   His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special.  During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue.  In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well.  It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew.  The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines.  It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit.  In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released.  That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.

I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills.  That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink.  Why?  Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple.  11 years old, $75….even more so.  Thanks Gary!!!!

So, that bottle didn’t last very long!  The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively.  Ok, let’s order bottle #2.  00132005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”.  This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night.  Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up.  It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that.  Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured.  I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time.  Be patient.  It will be worth the wait, believe me.

That bottle was also emptied far too quickly.  Ok, one last bottle.  We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, 0014also $62.50!!!!  Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character.  As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.

I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming.  Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way.  There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.

If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!

The Managing Partner of both DK Steakhouse & Sansei Waikiki, Ivy Nagayama,   1A5loves creating interesting & thought provoking wine & food pairings.  Her latest craze is with the wines from the Pacific Northwest.  On this night, she & Sansei Exec Chef Jason Miyasaki created a menu & pairing for visionary wine mogul, Mark Tarlov of Chapter 24 out of Oregon & a few select local customers.

Chapter 24 Dinner1st Taste: Contemporary Sushi DuoFoie Gras Nigiri Sushi & Shichimi Pepper Seared Ahi Nigiri (wine: 2013 Two Messengers Pinot Noir)    0A1

Intermezzo: Opakapaka CarpaccioMaui onions, Nalo basil relish, red jalapenos, kalamansi essence

0A22nd Taste: Red Wine Marinated Grilled Duck Breastwith Nalo Farms mixed greens & roasted fingerling potatoes, Maui onions, hard boiled quail egg, & a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette (wines: 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Flood” & 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Fire”)  0A5

Entree: Red Wine Vinegar Braised Kurobuta Pork Bellywith Kaneshiro Farm’s bok choy, Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms, roasted peanuts, saffron rice pilaf & star anis jus (wine: 2012 Chapter 24 “Last Chapter”)

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As VINO regulars well know, we are HUGE fans of delicious, wonderfully light, food friendly & absolutely gulpable wines.  Furthermore, because of our Mediterranean/Italian comfort style of cooking in VINO, we generally look to the Mediterranean basin for inspiration, both in food & in wine.

We are therefore absolutely thrilled that on this night, TWO of our favorite French producers of delicious “country” styled wines will be joining us at VINO– Ghislaine Dupeuble (Domaine Dupeuble) & Cyriaque Rozier (Chateau La Roque/Chateau Fontanes).

0c2Dupeuble hails from Beaujolais where they have been for well over 500 years.  Typically, theirs is one of our favorite because of its deliciousness, unpretention & incredible food friendliness. “They tend to their vines without the use of any chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. The grapes are harvested manually and vinified completely without SO2. The wines are not chaptalized, filtered, or degassed and only natural yeasts are used for the fermentation”.

Cyriaque Rozier is the highly revered winemaker and vineyard manager 0c1at Château La Roque in the Pic St-Loup appellation of Languedoc.  (He also makes his own wine under the label Château Fontanès).  The land is hard as a rock, quite literally, and composed primarily of limestone and clay. To plant a vineyard here is a game of patience and incredibly hard work. Over the last few years, Cyriaque has taken to farming biodynamically, a noble task that forgoes the shortcuts that most vignerons have at their disposal today in favor of producing organic grapes in a rich, healthy soil. Make no mistake, raw terroir and spicy garrigue abound in these wines, with rich, juicy fruit and silky tannins”.

I am sure for them this trip all the way to Hawaii is part of a life long dream.  For us, this will also be quite a dream come true, having such authentic, exemplary, artisan, “country” vignerons visiting us at VINO & a night of their delicious, gulpable, food friendly French “country” wines paired with a special menu created by VINO Chef Keith Endo.  Here was the menu–

0c3Kona Maine Lobster Uovo–with Kahuku corn ricotta cheese, tarragon brown butter

WINE: 2013 0c4Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc–Beaujolais Blanc accounts for only about 2% of the appellation’s wine production & is mainly found in the northern & southern parts, where clay (& some limestone) can be found.  This soil is very different from the more common granitic soils & results in a surprisingly, mesmerizing minerality & vibrancy in the Chardonnay based white.  Dupeuble has but 4 hectares planted, which is why we do not see this wonderfully delicious, uplifting, food friendly, gulpable wine too often here in the Islands.

 0c6Shinsato Farms Smoked Fennel &  Sundried Tomato Sausage–with pancetta bacon demi glace, corn relish

WINE: 2013 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 0c7–I have been a HUGE fan of this estate & its authentic, TRUE Beaujolais for many, many years, not only because of their much more natural approach to grape growing (now biodynamic) & winemaking, but mainly because of how delicious & incredibly food friendly their Beaujolais is, year in & year out.  Most people would scratch their heads why we would pair this wine with a hearty, flavorful pork sausage & its fixings, but this wine’s innate fruitiness , stoniness & wonderfully refreshing edge not only counters the dish’s richness, but also absolutely keeps the palate fresh & alive between bites.  (reminiscent of how the cranberry sauce works at the Thanksgiving feast).  I hope the attendees walked away with a  better understanding at how food friendly this wine truly is.

0c9House made Papardelle–with shredded red wine braised chicken,  cured  smoke bacon, Nalo Farms Swiss chard & natural jus  0c10

WINE: 2012 Chateau Fontanes Vin de Pays d’Oc (Cabernet Sauvignon)–on this night, I was clearly reminded why my wife Cheryle & I were so taken by this wine on a visit there some years back.  It is a wonderful representation of what a really good, delicious, food friendly “country” wine can be.  AND, it certainly smells of the earth where it is grown & the shrub, wild herbs & sun baked countryside which surrounds the vineyard.  Cyriaque began this family project back in 2003.  The soil is reddish with limestone chips scattered throughout.  This wine is interestingly 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (40 to 50 year old vines, biodynamically farmed).  It, however, is really NOT about the grape variety & therefore does NOT resemble any Cab from California or Bordeaux.  In fact, if you think of this wine as a Cabernet, you might be missing out.  It really is about a wild countryside & a family & should therefore be served at one’s family dinner table, just as they would do there.

0c11Pear Braised Short Rib “ Au Poivre”–with truffled parsnip puree, charred carrots & chimichurri  0c12

WINE: 2012 Chateau La Roque “Cupa Numismae”–Cyriaque is the winemaker & vineyard manager for this venerable, historic site & estate.  It is said the Romans first planted here, which is further supported by an old Roman coin found there.  (By the way, it is this coin that is the legacy of Cupa Numismae).  This is a remote, rugged terrain with clay-limestone soils & an abundance of wild scrub & wild herbs seemingly growing everywhere surrounding the vineyard itself, which also somehow finds its way into the core of each wine.  “Cupa Numismae” is the bottling (of 8), which originally caught our eye.  Once, it was Mourvedre dominated.  Today, it is roughly 2/3’s Syrah & 1/3 Mourvedre, without compromising its sense of place, integrity & soulful-ness.  (I was once VERY leary of the meteoric usage of Syrah booming down in southern France.  Because Syrah can be such a dominant grape variety, it can easily mask a wine’s terroir, especially if it is not grown in the right place, by the right people). Having spent some time with Cyriaque, thankfully one gets an immediate feeling/understanding his is a belief of terroir & balance first & foremost.  In fact on this night, one of the diners opened a 1997 ballyhoo-ed northern Rhone Syrah to share.  Judging from his facial expressions, one could immediately tell this wine was not to his liking.  It was not because of the near over ripe fruit, nor the lavish amounts of new oak dominating the wine, but instead, the presence of “green”, unripe tannins protruding.  The wine was not balanced & therefore not drinkable/enjoyable. The $150 to $200 a bottle price tag was therefore quite disturbing to him.  In the Chateau La Roque “Cupa Numismae” bottling, in comparison, Cyriaque was able to find an intriguing,  synergistic coupling of Syrah & Mourvedre with seamless-ness & a fine tuned balance without compromising its strong sense of place, character & mojo.  It really is such a pleasure to drink, with or without food.  Kudos, my friend!

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