Archive for Wine

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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A Quartet of Austrian Grüner Veltliner

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What is Grüner Veltliner? It is a top echelon grape variety that is capable of producing world-class white wine and most famously grown and produced in Austria.   We really don’t see too many on the local retail store shelves or on winelists of top restaurants here. Still, when one travels the world and big cities such as New York, top renditions are certainly included and often highlighted on their wine lists. As one top wine writer noted in her blog…

“Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example of this, Austria’s signature white wine grape. I would submit that this is only partly because of Grüner Veltliner’s undoubted inherent character and quality. Another reason Grüner Veltliner has impinged on the consciousness of the wine world recently is that the quality of all Austrian wines has become so excitingly and consistently high that no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”.

This is your chance to taste and experience what all of the hoop-la is all about first hand.

In general Grüner Veltliner produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character. The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike Chardonnays, see no new oak. They are generally fermented in stainless steel and aged either in tanks or very old, large casks”.

Having said all of 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 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Freiheit”“Weingut Nigl is tucked deep in the Krems Valley. Martin Nigl’s Freheit is sourced from 4 different vineyards in the hills above the city of Krems. The soils here are primarily löss and the temperature is moderated by its steep elevation. The name Freiheit means “freedom” and is believed to be some of the first privately owned vineyard land in the valley not controlled by the Church or a feudal estate. Fermentation and elevage occur in stainless steel and is bottled at night when the cellars of the coolest has Martin feels this helps preserve the freshness of the wines”.


2017 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner “Kamptal Terrassen”–One of the most revered wineries out of Austria. “Wine & Spirits Magazine–“the best Austrian winemaker of the last 25 years—says it all. ,” Willi Bründlmayer farms 75 hectares of an impressive collection of grand cru vineyards around Langenlois. Some of the most geologically diverse terroirs in Europe are here, in the heart of the Kamptal. The Danube and Kamp rivers and the wooded hills of the Waldviertel forest create a climate with large diurnal temperature swings, essential to a long growing season. These rocky, terraced vineyards are not the steep, jagged terraces of the Kremstal or the Wachau; these are larger wider terraces, each creating its own micro climate”.




2010 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Federspiel–Another of the most revered wine houses in Austria and actually one of the oldest wine estates in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2000 years to the Roman empire. Their wines epitomize the steep, rocky hillsides of the Wachau. Biodynamically farmed and obsessively fawned over to produce. “In some ways this gentle wonder is the essence of Nikolaihof”. – Terry Theise


2013 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner “Niederösterreich“Among my Kamptal producers, ‘Hannes Hirsch is the one with the least fixed identity. Or perhaps his identity is not to have an identity, his wine style is not to have a “style” and he doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed. He falls somewhere in the nexus among Bründlmayer’s and Gobelsburg’s glossy gleam and Hiedler’s juicy sensuality, but there’s no point you can affix him to. I suspect he likes it that way, as my friend is the best kind of lone wolf and contrarian.” writes Terry Theise”.


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An Interview with Emmanuel Kemiji MS

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Here is an interview we did with long time Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji for Wine Speak 2020.

Emmanuel Kemiji M.S. hits the trifecta when it comes to wine: master sommelier, winemaker and winery owner.

We are thrilled to welcome him to Wine Speak 2020, where he will co-host our panel discussion on “Crazy Red Blends.” You will also experience his wines at our Wines of The World and BYOB Dinner events.

Born in the United States and raised in Spain and England, Emmanuel is a graduate of the University of California at Davis. In addition to his Economics and Spanish Literature degrees, he studied Viticulture and Oenology, expanding his interest in wine and eventually leading to the formation of Miura Vineyards in 1995. Soon to follow were Almvs in 2000, Antiqv2s in 2001, and two projects in Spain – Arrels in 2003 and Clos Pissarra in 2005.

Emmanuel acted as The Ritz-Carlton Director of Wine & Spirits from 1988 to 1999, first at Laguna Niguel and then at the renowned The Dining Room in San Francisco. In 1989 Emmanuel became the twelfth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam in London, England and one of only 10 to date to pass on his first attempt.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Emmanuel to talk about his journey and about what wines have made their mark on him along the way:

 What made you get into the wine business?

It was my uncle in Madrid (who is like a second father) and a wine fan with a nice cellar who introduced me to wine during the summer of my sophomore year in college. When I got back to start junior year, by fortuitous coincidence, I happened to be going to U.C. Davis. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a fermentation science department previously!

How did life change for you after getting the MS pin?
It opened up a host of opportunities starting at the very place I worked—The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. I got a call from the corporate food & beverage director who wanted me to assist him in selecting the Ritz-Carlton house wines and embark on a host of other projects for the company. I became the go-to wine person for the Ritz-Carlton, which expanded into many other opportunities including starting up my own winery.

How are you able to find balance in managing everything?
Mostly because I have a lot of other interests that have nothing to do with wine: scuba diving, golf, stamp collecting, art, antique royal documents…

We are so excited and thankful that you will be sharing your wines and insights on your Clos Pissarra project in Spain.  What drove you to take that on, in addition to all that you do in California?
After I got Miura going in California, I wanted to do a project in Spain to honor my heritage and my uncle.

What is Priorat at its best?
A bold wine that speaks of a singular place.

What is Montsant at its best?
A more modern version of the above at a more reasonable price.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

Stony Hill Chardonnay for its incredible longevity. Louis Martini Cabernets from the 1960s for how well balanced they were.

Which Spanish wine and why?

Vega Sicilia for its complexity and uniqueness.

How about a few wines from throughout the world and why?

Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo because wines aren’t made like that anymore. The Burgundies of Henri Jayer for how beautiful and profound they are. The Pouilly Fumes of Didier Dagueneau for their sense of place.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?
Fred Dame for everything he has done for all master sommeliers. Rene Chazottes, because the old French guy taught me all about service.

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Here is an interview we did with Jordan Fiorentini for Wine Speak 2020.

Jordan Fiorentini is the winemaker extraordinaire for Epoch Estate Wines in Paso Robles —and she was also part of one of Wine Speak’s most defining moments, as you will see in the following interview.

Passionate, dedicated and not afraid to push the envelope, Jordan brings an enthusiastic and experienced spirit to Epoch Estate Wines. Her palate is the kind wine lovers dream of and one that speaks to Jordan through shapes—having an artistic side, Jordan now draws her tasting notes in addition to writing about each wine. Under her direction, Epoch Estate Wines has produced some of the most revered wines in Paso Robles.

Jordan holds an engineering degree from Dartmouth College and a masters degree in viticulture from UC Davis. Jordan earned her spurs working at her family’s winery in Georgia, Araujo Estate in Napa Valley, Antinori Winery in Italy, and as head winemaker at Chalk Hill in Sonoma.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Jordan to talk her experience at Wine Speak; her winemaking inspirations; and how she aims to keep it all in balance:

In 2019, Wine Speak featured a panel—“Wine from a different perspective”—featuring five top female wine professionals, and you were one of the panelists. Many, many participants have said it was so powerful and drew a lot of emotion out.  What made this happen?

It was a magical group of wine professionals – all with different panels. I think what made it so special was that Amanda, the moderator, started with a personal story about herself and her path in the wine industry, which made all the panelists feel like sharing about themselves. Amanda had asked us to share our stories. I also feel that the audience’s interested, smiling faces, and great engaged questions made the panel so meaningful. There was an energy that kept building with every question they had.

What was it like being a part of that?

I felt so humbled to be among a group of such accomplished, professional women in the wine industry. It showed me and hopefully everyone in the crowd that there’s not one recipe for success or becoming someone in the wine industry.

What will you take away from that experience?
I can still reflect on it now, and I am still wowed when I hear people mention the panel. I actually received several thank you notes from people in attendance who were moved by our stories. Now that doesn’t happen every day!

How do you keep it all managed/balanced—work, personal and family?

That’s a great question – do I keep a balance? It’s actually the eternal question, one I work on every day. Some days I feel I do and some days I feel I don’t. The key is having a great relationship with everyone at work so we all support each other and it’s the same at home.

Over the years who are some of the winemakers who have inspired you and why?

I gather inspiration from tasting people’s wines, hearing their stories and, most poignantly, from working or spending time with other winemakers. My first inspirations were the first winemakers I ever worked for, who continue to inspire me today: Michael Beaulac, Kim Nicholls and Franciose Pechon. They were the winemakers I worked for my first couple harvests I was in Napa. Then there is Steve Leveque from Hall (formerly Chalk Hill) who really taught me how to blend and make winemaking decisions in the vineyards and winery. More recently, I’ve traveled and been exposed to many Rhône winemakers, such as Ann Charlotte Bachas from Domaine della Font du Loup and Sara Perez from Mas Martinet, who are very different but leading the charge in their respective places.  Winemakers locally who help guide me through harvests, and who inspire and support me, are Vailia Esh of Desparada and Anthony Yount from Denner. There are others, too, but I talk to those two the most.

What were some “aha” moment wines for you and why?

In 2010, when visiting Paso to determine whether or not I wanted to move and work here, I tried L’Aventure’s 2007 Cote a Cote and thought it was so exciting with flavors I hadn’t experienced before. That wine helped me make the decision to move here. I have many other transcendent moments with wine, but the one described above actually helped me make a life decision!

What was an “aha” wine and food moment for you and why?

Randy Caparoso’s pairing of our 2017 Epoch White as the main course after several reds with an incredible duck pasta dish by Sean from the Range—this was at the last Wine Speak!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

That there isn’t one recipe to be successful in the wine industry. Now that I look back and see so many successful winemakers that came from different backgrounds, different approaches, I realize this industry is even more creative than I originally thought (and I got into it because I wanted a field that allowed creativity!).

What is it about Paso Robles that really intrigues you as a winemaker?

The community and sense that we’re in this together in winemaking and grape growing. Because you feel others have your back, you’re more willing to research, explore, take chances. And then you’ve got an audience to share those experiences with. It’s truly one of a kind.

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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon for Wine Speak 2020.

Madeline Triffon is a legend in the world of Master Sommeliers and an icon in the field of skilled wine service.


We are blessed to have Madeline join Wine Speak 2020 and helm our seminar titled “Dream Big—Wine from A Different Perspective.”

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 (and becoming only the second female Master Sommelier in the world).  She persevered through all of the challenges (especially in a then very male dominated fine dining industry) 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 & exemplary to the profession 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.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with her to talk about her journey—and what inspires her most:

What was it about wine that first attracted you?  It didn’t!  I was hired as a sommelier in a French dining room because I had a good French accent, and I did the best I could to educate myself with the resources available to me so I could do a credible job.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Zelma Long and Jean-Pierre Moueix. I heard both of them speak, Zelma to a small room of trade people and Mr. Moueix at an early Wine Experience, to hundreds. They both did an extraordinary thing:  they touched everyone in the room and covered their subject, using inclusive simple language. Wow.

Professionally what advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry so much! Do your very best, and let it go, sleep peacefully. Don’t be quite so hard on yourself.

What values are important in our industry that need to be discussed more?

The joy of hard work, and how fulfilling service is! A lot of people speak “service”, and yet how often do you experience active eye contact and a responsive (not reactive) culture in restaurants? I see it more in humble places.

What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

  • Ridge Monte Bello at a vertical blind tasting against/with Chateau Latour. The winemaker and Robert Parker couldn’t pick them out 100%
  • Ramey Chardonnay, and hearing David Ramey speak at length to the subject of making Chardonnay, in the early days of Ramey Cellars.
  • Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet, 1984, 85, 86, 87.  Stunning fruit.

What were a few wines from throughout the world and why?

  • Recently, Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Riserva – perfect balance. This wine hides in plain sight.
  • Mt. Etna Rosso and Bianco, various cuvees – thrilled at the prospect of watching Nerello Mascalese and Carricante flower in the years to come
  • Prager Riesling, more than one cuvee – the nose alone was a revelation of Austrian Riesling.
  • Dominique Lafon’s wine in the Maconnais – the mouthfeel is satin.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why? 

The colleagues I grew up with in the business – at the risk of forgetting someone, Claudia Tyagi, Evan Goldstein, Fran Kysela, Nunzio Alioto, Chuck Furuya, Tim Gaiser, Wayne Belding, Peter Granoff, Sally Mohr, Larry Stone, Brian Julyan – all master sommeliers today. What touches me deeply is how very different we all were and are, and how honest we were with each other in serving the same purposes. They taught me how ego can be parked in the interest of the greater good.

And, great servers have always inspired me! I learned service working alongside terrific career service professionals, wine was just my specific specialty in the dining room. I love recognizing a great server, just experienced one at a new Detroit restaurant. Her decisions and actions were based on the pure intent of exceeding my expectations and making me happy and comfortable. Bliss.

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An Interview with Nunzio Alioto MS

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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Nunzio Alioto for Wine Speak 2020.

Nunzio has been like an older brother to me & by far, my biggest, most influential mentor.  I am so fortunate to have a life long friend like him.

Indeed, as a boy he helped out at his family’s Alioto’s Restaurant, a San Francisco landmark on Fisherman’s Wharf specializing in fresh seafood and Sicilian family recipes. Nunzio attended cooking schools both in the U.S. & in Lausanne, Switzerland and did apprenticeship stages in the kitchens of several esteemed restaurants including the Iron Horse, Ernie’s (both formerly top, fine dining restaurants in San Francisco) & Jacques Pic (a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Valence, France).   He then became the fourth generation of the Alioto family, to run Alioto’s, one of San Francisco’s oldest family-owned restaurant, until his retirement a couple of years ago.

But Nunzio’s fascination with food and wine did not stop with  his schooling & the family business. At an early age he was already traveling to Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, Italy & Germany & was therefore quite versed in each.  Furthermore, living in San Francisco, Nunzio was also very well informed & thoroughly first hand knowledgeable from his continuous visits to the blossoming Sonoma & Napa wine country back in the 1960’s/70’s until even today.

His curiosity, fascination and talent with wine led him to become a Master Sommelier in 1987.

In addition, Nunzio is a former, long time Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers–worldwide & was so very instrumental in bringing the program to the prominence it has today.

Nunzio has been a key contributor to Wine Speak since day one. Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with him to talk about his journey—and about the wines and people who have inspired him along the way.

What was it about wine which first attracted you?

As I was born into the restaurant business, it was a natural attraction.

What drew you to the wines of the Rhône Valley, Italy, Germany and California in the old days, before it all was fashionable?

Our family restaurant is located in Northern California, and Napa and Sonoma were areas our family visited regularly. Also, Larry Romano, a San Francisco-based wine importer, was a major influence on me. We purchased many of his wine selections which were from around the world.  Because of Larry Romano I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Alexis Lichine, as Mr. Romano imported wine selections from him. It was these two gentlemen who drew me to these winegrowing regions. Larry Romano also distributed the Robert Mondavi wines in the very early years.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Mr. Lichine, owner of Chateaux Prieure-Lichine, Bordeaux France, and author of the iconic Encyclopedia of Wine)—his general knowledge of French wines, in particular Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Remi Krug, of Champagne Krug—Remi’s attention to quality.

Gunter Künstler, Owner of Franz Künstler wines of Germany—His thoughtfulness and his attention to his soils and how they translate into wine.

Dr. Becker of Geisenheim in the Rheingau—His research into clones and rootstock was unparalleled and invigorating.

Chuck Furuya—for his relentless pursuit of knowledge. Keeps the fire burning in me.

Professionally. what advice would you give your younger self?

To immerse myself in Old World wines. In my estimation, that is the basis of understanding wine.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

1951 BV PR Cabernet: beautiful bouquet and balance

1968 BV PR Cabernet: intense flavor and a long finish

1975 Ridge Montebello Cabernet: intensity and great balance

1972 Mayacamas Chardonnay: Burgundian in style, a wine that opened my eyes to how good Chardonnay can be from here

Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay: Balanced and excellent winemaking

ABC Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir: floral notes and great balance

What were a few memorable wines from throughout the world and why?

1978 Romanee-Conti: Perfume, silky, incredible balance, Breed and finesse

2000 Richebourg, DRC: outstanding finesse and balance incredible floral flavors

1990 Echezeaux, Henri Jayer: Explosive flavors of red fruits, perfume, balance of layers of complex flavors

1994 Domaine Tempier, “Cabassaou”: elegant, bouquet of flavors, balanced with a long finish, savory

1998 Hermitage, Chave “Cathelin”: power and explosive, spice, rustic, incredible bouquet and balanced

1989 Cote Rotie, Marius Gentaz-Dervieux “Cote Brune”: outstanding flavors of spice, earth, bouquet and balance, wow

1989 Montrachet, DRC: power and finesse, explosive

1968 Vega Sicilia UNICO: Tempranillo at its best, intense, rich, balanced with a great depth of complex flavors

1979 Brauneburger-Juffer Sonnenuhr, GK Auslese, Fritz Haag: bouquet, incredible spice, balance of fruit, sugar and acid

1983 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese, Egon Muller: an incredible mind-boggling wine with intensity of mature flavors and a crisp acid balance for such an intense wine

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?

Brian Julyan (England): His dedication to wine service

Serge Dubs (Alsace, France): the ultimate sommelier, panache, style

Fred Dame (USA): his willingness to mentor

Gerard Basset (England, now deceased): A true gentleman of our profession

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Here is an interview we did with longtime sommelier/wine journalist Randy Caparoso for Wine Speak 2020.

Randy Caparoso is a multi-award winning wine journalist.  He was also named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year.  Today, he is Wine Speak’s resident food-and-wine pairing expert.


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 Caparoso, a local chef, Cheyne Jackson of The Range in Santa Margarita & superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame color commentating.  This certainly featured some daring, “out of the box”, thought provoking pairings, which made participants think differently on what can be.  (for more information on that luncheon, please go to archives & browse through the Wine Speak 2019 posts).

To take the concept a step further we created this workshop, which will again 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.

Randy returns to Wine Speak 2020 with yet another extravaganza of wine-pairing insights, this time leading our “Wine & Food Workshop” featuring dishes by Chef Jeffery Scott paired with Paso Robles wines curated by Randy.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Randy to talk about the art of wine pairings and what you can expect to experience at his workshop:

What is it about the art of food and wine pairing that makes you so excited?

Basically, yes, a nicely done wine and food match turns me on. That’s because I have a hospitality and food service background, while also being a garden variety wine geek. In fact, I first got “into” wine (back in 1975) as a result of a restaurant manager telling me I had to learn every wine on a wine list in order to become a waiter, which I did — only, I didn’t stop, I went way beyond that wine list, and later transitioned to a sommelier position. Consequently, as much as I love every aspect of wine, my perspective is colored by the belief that the ultimate purpose of any wine is to enjoy at the table, with food. Therefore, unlike many (probably most) other wine professionals, I’m just not concerned with cellaring, collecting, reading about what wines are “best,” and certainly not about numerical ratings. All I’m concerned about is two things — 1) how well a wine expresses its sense of place or terroir, and 2) how good a wine is in the context of food and the social contexts in which it might be enjoyed.

What is your favorite or a tried-and-true pairing? Why is it special?

I guess if I had to choose one, I’d choose Picpoul de Pinet with oysters, although I do love a light, zesty Pinot Noir with oysters, too. The reason, of course, is that I love oysters, although it’s not something I eat at home or every day, so it’s something I always look forward to when I go out. But it’s a sensory thing. I love the lemony taste of whites made from Picpoul, and anything lemony is amazing with oysters. But when I’m enjoying my all-time favorite wine, Pinot Noir, with oysters, I’m enjoying the amazing taste of umami found in both oysters and a lighter, zestier, balanced style of Pinot (I don’t go for big, oaky Pinots).

In a world of “fast paced living,” how can pairings help accentuate a meal, a wine and an experience?

The concept of enjoying wine with food is simple, elemental and timeless. It simply enhances many foods, and enhances our lives. As a wine professional, of course, I am able to experience wine at an elevated level — I always have a huge variety of wines at my disposal, and so invariably, whatever I’m eating, I’m enjoying a pretty darned good “match.” Lucky me.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn more?

Like many things, the subject of wine can be different things to many different people. I think I certainly understand the average consumer because, like most of them, I actually don’t drink like a fish. I enjoy wine in extreme moderation. But I always say that if you want to learn more, do what you do with all things — start to pay attention to what you are enjoying, and how you enjoy it, and then make a concerted effort to try different things, the same way we learn about foods by enjoying the process of discovering new dishes. For burgeoning professionals, I recommend the same thing, but bolstered by reading the basics (starting with Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch). This is what I’ve always assigned to my staffs over the years. I also recommend learning the basic discipline of wine tasting and note taking, and, of course, taking wine courses and attending tastings (public tastings as well as your own private tastings) as much as possible.

You spoke at length about umami, can you explain what you mean?

Well, that short article on umami should summarize the basics. But if you want an even shorter explication, umami is a taste sensation, just like sweet, sour, tart, salty and bitter. Only, umami is the savory taste you get from components (basically glutamates) common to foods like a ripe tomato, parmesan, mushrooms, lots of seafoods, and even everyday stuff like ketchup and cheddar. When you understand or are conscious of umami, you have a better understanding of why we enjoy the taste of so many different foods, from a bag of corn chips to cheeseburgers, stews, oysters, ceviche or a nice, rich demiglace or sauce in a French restaurant. That’s why it also helps to understand how umami sensations are common to many wines (especially balanced red wines) and, even more importantly, how these wines taste great with foods or dishes with umami accents. The knowledge makes our life better simply because knowing about such things makes our culinary experiences, even in everyday situations, that much better.

In preparing for the upcoming Professional Development Day at Wine Speak, what do you think attendees will walk away learning?

I hope participants in the workshop will walk away with a better idea of how wines and foods go together by getting a better understanding the sensory reasons why things taste the way they do in combination with each other. Although wine and food matching may seem elusive to many people, even wine professionals, the concepts are really pretty simple once they’re pointed out. In other words, I hope people find an “aha” moment or two when they taste the wines and dishes we are putting together, which we’ll do to deliberately demonstrate different sensory interactions. Some of the interactions will be unsuspected or surprising (I hope), which is what an “aha” moment is all about.

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