Thoughts on Wine 04-08-14

It wasn’t that long ago when Hawaii’s best restaurants featured foods from Europe, especially France.   That was significantly changed when a group of 12 chefs, founded HRC (Hawaii Regional Cuisine).

From that day the concept of “fine” dining & high level foods changed.  For HRC chefs like Roy Yamaguchi & Alan Wong (& later on “new generation” chefs such as my partner DK Kodama) their foods often feature a real dynamic Asian flair.

In terms of wine, this created an incredible, new learning opportunity of pairing wines to foods.

From the classical French cream and butter sauces, we now had to, for example, consider what worked with shrimp served with a contemporary spin off of the pungent Chinese black bean sauce for one and a hoisin marinated duck for the other.

As one can see, this was a whole ‘nother ball game.

From all of this came three interesting revelations.

The first was the realization that different kinds of foods call for different kinds of wines.  The wine most apropos for a fish with a rich, classic French cream or butter sauce would not be, at least for me, as compatible with a salty, slightly sweet teriyaki glaze.

It became clearer as time went by & much experimentation that with salty, spicy and/or sweet

Asian inspired foods, off-dry to slightly sweet, fruit driven, lower alcohol wines, like German Riesling, seem to work well.  And on the red wine side, more elegant, really delicious, wonderfully textured, minimally oaked with no hard edges, especially from grapes such as Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir, were more advantageous.  These kinds of wines were less confrontational with the strong characteristics of Asian foods.

Then, when our restaurant group (for more info, go to opened VINO, with its contemporary Italian/Mediterranean foods, we again had to go back to rethinking pairing wines with the foods.  We learned that with rustic, heartier foods with so many earthy characteristics from tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted peppers & fennel, we needed more rustic, earthy, higher acidic wines more common to the Mediterranean basin.  For white wines, this included grape varieties such as Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Vermentino from Sardegna & Liguria, Moschofilero from Greece and Albarino from Spain.  On the red wine side, we sought out indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese from Tuscany, Tempranillo from Spain and Mourvedre, Syrah & Grenache from southern France.

From all of this came the (second) realization that there are thousands of different grape varieties available in the world.  Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Merlot are but four.  To truly enjoy myself why would I want to limit myself to just a few?  Just as with dining, why would I want to eat only Chinese food and miss the diversity and pleasure of what Italian or Korean and/or Mexican food has to offer.

Since taste is so subjective & personal, let me close with the third realization…..the real fun of it all is experimentation.  There are no wrongs or rights and there should be no judgments.  Enjoying food (and wine) should be just that….enjoying.

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