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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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10 or 11 years ago, Cheryle & I met Dino Coro’ & Isabella Zambon aabb01& their two beautiful, young children—Jessica & Filippo, as they dined in our Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas restaurant.  Every year, they would come back to vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii & make periodic “shopping” trips to Oahu & dine at night either at VINO or Hiroshi’s.  They have become such dear friends over the years & we have watched Jessica & Filippo grow up & blossom.  They all really warm my heart.

A few years ago, while on a wine trip in Germany, Cheryle really wanted to go to Venice to see the city, but also to see our friends.  We discovered that their Osteria Oliva Nera eaterie ab02is generally regarded as the finest restaurant in Venice & we had 2 great meals there. We were also amazed at how many people from Hawaii have dined there too & every year when the Coro’ family came to Honolulu thereafter, their Hawaii friends would get together with them in VINO on a special night.  For 2015, after a hiatus of 3 years, the Coro’ family (Isabella, Jessica & Filippo) came back….& January 8th was that special night.

Rather than asking Isabella to cook, VINO Chef Keith Endo aabb02came up with a special menu & we came up with the wine pairings.  For all who know the Coro’ family, this was their chance to say hello.  For those who do not know them, this was a chance to savor some of Chef Keith’s foods AND meet some very special people, (which may come in handy if they ever were to go to Venice in the near future).

Here was the menu—

dinoaperitif—Sommariva Prosecco–a toast to Dino Coro’

Crispy English Pea Tortellini–served with charred Kahuku corn & smoked Big Island pork

WINE: Corte Gardoni Bardolino “Chiaretto”  ab08

UOVA–with sage brown butter sauce 

WINE: Hofstatter Pinot Bianco

ab09Compressed Chioggia Beets–served with fried cheese, pickled hearts of palm, prosciutto & balsamic drizzle

WINE: DeMedici Lambrusco “Quercioli”  ab10

Crispy Pork Porchetta–stuffed with mushrooms & served with charred Spring vegetables, home-made cavatelli & pork jus

WINE:  2006 Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino

Pear Tart–with caramel sauce

Yes, it was a very special night.  Thank you to all who came.  ab01Also, many thanks to Isabella, Jessica & Filippo.  I know Dino was also there amongst us & I thank you for coming.  As I have said many times in the past, I am somehow connected to this family beyond what I can explain.  They truly warm my heart.

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Sep
12

A Trio of Old World Syrah 09-11-14

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Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time.  Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why.  I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them.  I would be rich!

I am saddened to hear of this plight.

Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world.  Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness.  The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon.  Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.

Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.

0aa11Cote Rotie2001 Michel & Stephane Ogier Cote Rotie

The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label.  At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie.  Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000.  Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new).  In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak).  This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out.  This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture.  It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge.  I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!

1995 Noel Verset Cornas  0aa16

Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be.  His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional.  I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind.  They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue  with lots of herbal notes.  His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year.  Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring.  (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991).  Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet.  It was the end of an era.  Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset.  I was completely enthralled with the 1995.  It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage.  It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.

AAA1Hermitage rocksHermitage white stones2000 Chave Hermitage

For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah.  The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481.  The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed.  “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.”  The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west.  Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality  with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish.  His parcels have very old vines.  I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black  cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel.  Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic.  Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance.  Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge.  Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement.  L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates.  The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section.  Chave is the best at that!  and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!

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The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located midway in the Santa Maria Valley.

The vineyard traces its roots back to the year 1837 when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was made to Tomas Olivera by Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California. This grant covered nearly 9,000 acres ranging upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. The ranch was generously watered by Tepusquet Creek, so called by the Chumash Indians to whom it meant “fishing for trout.” Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and daughter Martina. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine“.

The current owners, Miller family, purchased this tract in 1969 & soon thereafter renamed the vineyard “Bien Nacido”.

Today, Bien Nacido covers roughly 800 acres of vines & is still quite breathtaking in scope.  There is a myriad of designated blocks & soils, each “farmed to order” to the leaser.  A good portion is sandy loam with tiny bits of seashells & sees morning fog & is cooled by afternoon sea breezes.

What is most tantalizing to winemakers is that several of the blocks still have the vines, which were planted in 1973 AND on their own roots.  Of course, there is a pecking order to who gets what grapes.  First in line for the prime parcels, includes those who worked with the grapes since nearly the beginning such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach of Ojai & Bob Lindquist of Qupe.  We are also seeing a transition, as some of the Old Guard who helped bring this vineyard to the forefront, such as Chris Whitcraft & Bryan Babcock, no longer work with the fruit.  In their place, we today see a whole slew of young bucks such as Justin Willett of Tyler & Gavin Chanin of Chanin wines just to name 2.

Just the other night, two of our really good wine friends, Gail & Vern Isono, put together a BYOB tasting themed “Bien Nacido Vineyard wines” at our VINO restaurant.  It really turned out to be a VERY memorable tasting, to say the least, as the participants brought an interesting selection of true standouts from this iconic vineyard to share with the gang.

0bb110bb31995 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “La Bouge”

There is no doubt that Jim Clendenen has over the years crafted some of the most compelling Bien Nacido Vineyard wines.  I also would say, he was one of the biggest believers/advocates who helped bring the Santa Barbara appellation onto the world stage of quality wines.  This specific bottling, which was previous named simply “Bien nacido Vineyard” was his signature wine.  The grapes came from “K” Block (Chardonnay planted in 1973 on its own roots in sandy loam soils). I have always been amazed at how Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido” Chardonnay always showcased real physiological ripeness, innate compelxities & class with remarkably lightness, 13 plus alcohol, well integrated oak (despite being barrel fermented & with roughly 75% to 100% new oak) AND ageworthiness.  Here is the living proof!!!!!!!  The wine was all about mineral out of the gates…high toned, highly refined with fresh peach skin & layers of marzipan, which acvhnged to more of a creamsicle note with more air.  This 1995 was so pure, seamless & complete with fabulous texture & balance (2 of Clendenen’s signature winemaking traits) with a long, citrusy finish.  AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still!  Crazy good!

1998 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Nuits-Blanches–Why Not

Though Au Bon Climat’s more ethereal, highly refined, higher acid, lower alcohol Chardonnays had quite a following with the wine professionals, the wines were only lukewarmly received by the major media.  BIG, oaky, lavish Chardonnays were in style & the emerging new age of wine drinkers readily jumped on the band wagon.  Where there was once a waiting list of customers, times were changing.  With the 1997 vintage, Clendenen decided to add another Chardonnay to his portfolio, one which tasters later would playfully say was more of a homage to the newer, IN style of wine.  The “White Knight” was also produced from Bien Nacido’s “K” Block, but was picked a week or 2 later AND aged in a considerable amount of new oak.  The bottle was more fancy & heavy in weight with a newly designed “look”, with the designation “Nuits-Blanches”…& his statement–“Why?”…front & center.  This wine, of course, was ABC’s highest scoring wine in quite some time.  Depressing?????  Maybe for an artist, but Clendenen followed that wave of success in 1998 with his third “Nuits-Blanches”, this time with his simple statement–“Why Not“.  Even though this Chardonnay comes from the same “K” Block, the resulting wine is so VERY different!  The wine is more stony than minerally, with marzipan, orange blossom, fennel, creamsicle, apricot pit nuances.  Dry, still quite oaky up front & quite youthful & resoundingly structured in its core with a long, grandiose finish.  (FYI–starting with the 2000 vintage, Clendenen again adjusted this bottling by blending in some earlier harvest K Block & later some Chardonnay from his own Le Bon Climat vineyard across the river….& renamed this wine Nuits Blanches au Bouge).0bb40bb

2006 Foxen Pinot Noir “Block 8-Bien Nacido Vineyard”

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “this is the “n” my only friend the “n””

The Foxen gang are really good people who helped bring Santa Barbara along wine wise.  Bill Wathen studied under the legendary Pinot maestro, Dick Graff, at Chalone & along with his partner Dick Dore founded Foxen in the 1980’s.  Their wine, unfortunately, did not show so well on this night.  We’re not sure if it was shipping, storage or what.  The 2006 Whitcraft was also in a dumb stage….but showed MUCH better than the Foxen & was so much more vinous, balanced  & complete.  As the night wore on, one could readily tell this wine has the stuffing & all the right fixings….just needs time.  Chris Whitcraft, for me, was one of the “larger than life”, REAL characters of the wine industry.  His wines were like him, in that one never knew what to expect, not only with each vintage, but when opening any of his wines at any given time.  In short, they were all idiosyncractic & I have found over the years, either people really liked them or they really hated them.  Chris was a protege/friend to the iconic Burt Williams, the namesake, founding winemaker of the old Williams & Selyem.   He defined his winemaking as artisan & done without electricity.  From early on, his 3 prized parcels were “Q” & “N” Blocks from the Bien Nacido Vineyard….as well as the Hirsch Vineyard of the true Sonoma Coast.  When he hit it, he hit a home run.  In 2006, Chris produced a terrific “N” Block Pinot Noir.  He felt, however, after tasting through the barrels with Burt, there was one barrel, which had to be singled out & bottled on its own.  This is that wine!!!  ONE barrel.  Sadly, either the 2006 or perhaps 2007 vintage , Whitcraft decided to say aloha to Bien Nacido.  It really was the end of an era.  On this night, the wine had a surinam cherry kind of pungency, with much earth, spice–rustic, totaly vinous, great core, mineral, showy….much more showy than his normal “N” Block bottlings (Martini selection–planted in 1973 & own rooted).  I remembered how proud Chris was of this wine, when I first tasted it with him.  I too agreed this was one of his finest, which is saying alot, considering all of the giants he made during his career.  I was sad to hear of Chris’ passing earlier this year.  He & his wines were like no other.  Aloha, my friend.  RIP.

0bb12001 Ojai Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Adam Tolmach is another one of Santa Barbara’s (if not all of California) REAL superstar winemakers!  His wines are THAT GOOD!  He was once co-founding winemaker at Au Bon Climat, but eventually packed up his bags to found his own winery, which he named Ojai.  His wines thankfully also have Old World sensibility.   Where his Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, & especially his Syrahs used to get HUGE scores from the major publications, especially Robert Parker, one could see over the years his decision to trim the oak usage appealed to the scorers less.  How crazy is that?  For me these same wines are better than ever.  In fact, let me just say, when touring Californian wine country, our last visit is typically Ojai.  It really is hard to follow his wines with any others.  His top Bien Nacido Pinot parcel is “N” Block (planted in 1973, on its own roots).  Unfortunately, on this night, the 2001’s nose was completely & utterly shutdown….despite us trying to agressively decant it back & forth for 25 minutes.  On the palate, the wine, however,  showed hard mineral, immense structure, HUGE vinosity, intensity with great texture & flow…..just so damned tight.  I think this will be quite a wine, though, once it comes out of hibernation.

IN REPLY (from Fabien Castel of Ojai Vineyard)–“Incidentally I read the note about your recent tasting of the 2001 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.The wine does need a lot more time and I can give some background as to why it tasted the way it did. It was my first year working with Adam. The 2001-2002 vintages ended being the densest and most angular for  Pinot Noir. Part was extraction levels (punch downs), inclusion of a new cooper, occasional saignee and other finer details in the cellar. Ultimately it prompted Adam to rethink the way he was dealing with those wines and not repeat that level of texture that was drawing praises but not satisfying his sense of what the varietal had to offer. The wines had been softer in prior years (1996 to 2000) and would return to gentler textures in 2005, 2006. By 2007 Bien Nacido was less extracted with grapes picked earlier, now showing on an ideal course, 7 years later. Today he is adding again some extraction since he moved in a different realm of physiological maturation of the grapes. He has found delicacy and is ready to reintroduce power“.

1991 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”0bb60bb10

1993 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Chris Whitcraft excelled at producing real provocative, HUGELY vinous, masculine, savory, rustic Pinot Noir from both the “Q” & “N” blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard.  He was lucky to be there in the early days & was therefore able to garner getting the Old Vine fruit from each, which came from the vines planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Sometime in the 90’s, since the rows between the vines were so wide, they went through & planted another row in between (referred to as interplantings).  In the case of “Q” Block, I believe it was clone 667.  & for “N” Block I believe they planted clone 115.  So, every now & then, when Chris felt some of the juice did not reflect a “Q” or “N” Block designation, he would produce a “Bien Nacido Vineyard” designated bottling.  AND, in some of the cases, he would also add some interplanting grapes in as well, just to add dimension.  In any case, the Bien Nacido designated wines were VERY different from either Q or N Block & spoke of the vineyard rather than either parcel.  On this night, the 1991 showed more of that pungent, rustic surinam cherry fruit, a peach tang in the middle with sandalwood, sap, funk/shoe polish/leather.  It definitely had more vinosity than the 1993 poured along side.  The 1993, on the other hand, seemed much more Californian.  It was lighter in color, much more perfumed–light funk, peach/apricot middle, roasted coffee grinds, a more ethereal middle with a more fruity finish.  We were all so surprised how youthful these 2 wines were.

0bb91993 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge Au-dessus”

What an intriguing contrast to the any of the other wines, that’s for sure!  Much more elegant, feminine, refined….so seamless, impeccably balanced & so wonderfully textured.  The fruit is sweet, ripe & surprisingly forward, but I believe that is part of the intention of this bottling.  I also loved the vinosity & surprising vigor of this 19 year old wine!!!

1996 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”  0bb50bb8

1997 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”

I have been an avid fan of Chris Whitcraft’s Pinot Noirs for many years.  I would be hard pressed to think of too many Pinots in the 90’s which had as much character & vinosity (old vine-ness) than his Q & N Block bottlings. ( Certainly nothing tooty fruity there!)  Where his Hirsch single vineyard designated Pinots (1994 being the first) were much more masculine, sultry, darker, intriguing & harder edged, his Q & N were so much more vinous, rounder & more open.  Chris worked with a Pommard selection in Q Block (planted in 1973 & own rooted).  The resulting wine was typically the most open upon release.  His N Block was Martini selection & was typically more earthy, reticent & shy upon release.    The 1996 had a strong roasted coffee grinds/cocoa quality, with a very earthy tone.  It was totally vinous on the palate, seamless, complete & long. The 1997, on the other hand, had a stemmy, spiced edge with a more ethereal middle & a long finish.  It was much more refined & elegant than the 1996.  Interestingly, I found this to be opposite when they were released.  Both are still surprisingly youthful.

0bb72000 Jomani Pinot Noir “Q Block”

In 2000, my best friend, Nunzio Alioto, & I bought some Q Block grapes at a charity auction. ( He & I in those days typically bought small amounts of grapes from some storybook vineyards like Pisoni, Savoy, Mt Carmel & Eaglepoint Ranch & asked some friends to make it for us.)  So, for the 2000, we asked Chris Whitcraft to make this wine.  I believe it was 1 barrel’s worth.  On this night, this seemed to be grandest of the night!  Or, maybe because it was biggest, a beast with lots of hutzpah, chocolate, coffee & oak nuances.  It also had, by far, the most vigor in the core.  I found it way more interesting than a 2000 Whitcraft Q Block & a 2000 Hirsch I recently had tasted.   Sorry, my last bottle.  Thank you Chris!!!!!

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