Hot topics and perfect pairings

Famous winemakers, reps ‘talk turkey’ at Destinations Portfolio Tasting

Winemaker Robert Sinskey, -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Hawaii a prestige market for acclaimed producers

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I jumped at the chance to “talk turkey” about wine pairings with an elite group of vintners, proprietors and representatives who landed here for a few short hours last week.

The annual Destinations Portfolio Tasting by Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants was staged Wednesday in the Royal Lahaina Resort ballroom in Kaanapali.

The resort’s Director of Food & Beverage Braulio Andaluz was there, making sure that everything was running smoothly. His resort will also be the venue for the Maui Cannabis Conference Jan. 5 to 6 and stellar music events later next year. But I digress.

Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars in Napa Valley jokingly called the trade show a “death march” because of the grueling schedule of non-stop tastings.

Chambers & Chambers president Suzanne Chambers, and -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

The trade shows were also held Monday on Oahu, Tuesday on Kauai and Thursday on the Big Island. Hawaii is a prestigious market for these fine wines from around the world, says Chambers & Chambers Certified Sommelier James Maher. “Our wines fit the luxury, upscale market on Maui.”

In addition, some residents here have aquired a penchant for premier wines. Recent statistics show that 65 percent of Maui residents will be 65 and older by the year 2025 — and many in this bracket have taste buds that have evolved with age, much like a fine cabernet sauvignon in the barrel.

More than 30 winemakers and agents from California, Washington, Oregon, France, Italy, Spain and Germany came on the tour. All love Maui. There was also a sake maker from Japan, and we all know how much islanders adore it with sushi and sashimi.

“It’s our 39th anniversary, and we’re inspired to be coming up on our 40th in Hawaii,” says Suzanne Chambers, president of Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants that presented the industry tasting. “My father’s dream continues, and I’m so pleased.

“My dad and I started the company in 1973,” she adds. “He was an airline pilot for Western (which was acquired by Delta), and he flew to Hawaii all of the time and realized there was no good wine here. So in 1979, it was the impetus of opening a branch in Hawaii.”

Winemakers Larry Turley and -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Chambers & Chambers main office is in San Francisco and its satellite Hawaii office is in Kahului.

Last Wednesday, Maui’s restaurateurs and managers attended the show in full force and were buying up a storm to have wines in stock for the holidays.

There was a buzz about a new effervescent canned wine for the beach, talk about organic and biodynamic practices, and mentions by two Napa Valley winemakers concerning wildfires that are burning the state, apparently as hot a topic as the midterm elections.

“We’ve already finished harvesting and so we are OK this year,” says repeat Maui visitor and acclaimed Napa Valley winemaker Robert Sinskey. “It will be really depressing to go back to a smoke-filled area again.”

Last year, Sinskey reported that his winery was hit by the Atlas Peak Fire, and his home was evacuated because of the Partrick Fire as they merged. He also lost his coveted Stag’s Leap District vineyard.

Brian Talley suggest pairings for Thanksgiving. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“The flames came up on three sides of my winery’s walls. The horses chose to evacuate themselves from the pastures and were found down the road. The fires took out all of the cell phone towers and were racing 200 yards a minute in 50- to 90-mile-an hour winds. It was like a hurricane. Yet if you didn’t look at the mountain side and just at the valley floor, the rest of Napa was fine.”

This year, Napa Valley is just smoky — as the Camp Fire is located more than 120 miles east. So he relaxed and segued into talking about wines that pair with typical Thanksgiving meals.

“A lot of people say pinot noir goes with the Thanksgiving dinner,” says Sinskey. “But when you enjoy yams, cranberry sauce and sweet sides like corn, it’s too delicate, and the side dishes overwhelm it.”

Sinskey recommends his POV Los Carneros Napa Valley, a blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon grapes.

“It’s got earthiness with a nice jammy fruit,” he says. “It appeals to wine geeks and novice palates alike. It’s got enough complexity but it’s very friendly, too.”

Woodward Canyon Winery rep Selena Kristonis and Winemaker Sagar Small talk about their Washington State wines with Lahaina Grill sommelier Richard Olson III. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

White wine lovers will want to uncork and enjoy his Abraxas, Vin de Terroir, Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard featuring gewurztraminer, riesling, pinot blanc and pinot gris grapes. Sinskey’s wines are poured at restaurants such as The Mill House, Ka’ana Kitchen, Spago and Nick’s Fish Market.

In fact, for those who wish to make buys for home consumption, most of the wines written about here are available at Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors in Kahului and Lahaina as well as at Wailea Wine.

Next stop was to chat with former emergency room physician Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. A regular Maui visitor, he now makes 28 separate California wines from 35 different vineyards, some vines dating back to the late 1880s.

“My Bechthold Vineyard cinsault from Lodi comes from probably the oldest vines around,” he says. “And I brought three zinfandels with me on the tour.”

Just like Sinskey and many in Napa, Turley says that he harvested all of his grapes a couple of weeks ago.

Longhi’s Wailea General Manager Michael Rose (left) and Frog’s Leap owner-winemaker John Williams talk about favorite wine picks. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“But it’s terrible now in St. Helena” he says. “The fires are 120 miles east and blowing straight west.”

As for Turley zinfandel, his Kirschenmann Vineyard from Lodi is what he recommends for a Thanksgiving feast.

“It’s got good acidity, which pairs particularly well when you have gravy,” Turley says. “It’s very approachable. I’m an impatient man, so we do all of the macerations to move things along. It removes flabbiness from the wine. Our zinfandels also pair very well with grilled salmon and bison.”

Select Turley’ wines may be found at Four Seasons Resort Maui, Humble Market Kitchin, Hali’imaile General Store, The Mill House, Gannon’s, Ko and Longhi’s.

From Germany was owner winemaker Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster, who is noted for his rieslings.

“I’ve come here every year since 1995, and Chambers & Chambers has represented me since 1996,” says Selbach. “Hawaii has the perfect climate and food for the wines that we produce in Germany,”

He recommends a Weingut Selbach-Oster riesling spatlese from the Mosel River region for Thanksgiving.

“It’s fruity but not sugary,” he notes. “It goes great with turkey and all the condiments. It’s got low alcohol, too, 8.9 percent, because you don’t want to go to sleep with all of the festivities. Craft beer has the same alcohol content. And the acidity helps you to digest your food.”

A dry riesling?

“Yes, that’s what we make. It’s a big misconception that all rieslings are sweet.”

Grgich Hills Cellars national sales manager Carl Russo says, “Merlot is blowing up right now. It’s hot right now. It took a dip with the film, ‘Sideways,’ but it’s coming back. Grgrich has always made great merlot, and the price point is certainly good.”

Founder Mike “Miljenko” Grgich is 95 years young, and last December, he turned over the reins of his business to his daughter Violet Grgich.

“We have 366 acres in Napa Valley that are planted in certified organic and estate-grown vines,” Russo says. “Only seven percent of Napa is organically farmed. We use biodynamic practices as well.”

Heading to Ruth’s Chris Steak House for Thanksgiving? Badia a Coltibuono, an estate chianti classico from Tuscany, will pair with the holiday meal there. Proprietor Emanuella Stricci has visited Maui before. Her family has run the winery for more than 150 years, and it dates back to the 11th century as a monk’s abbey.

“I feel that the perfect wine pairing for a turkey meal is Cru Beaujolais,” concludes Maher, certified sommelier. “It’s made from the gamay grape from Burgundy, not to be confused with Nouveau Beaujolais that is a cheap knock off of Cru Beaujolais.”

Find “the good cru stuff” at Tamura’s. Cheers — and happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

* Carla Tracy can be reached at carlatracy@mauinews.com.

Yoshitaka Katoh (left) of Ohyama Sake and Maniko Ido Yamazaki of Japan Prestige Sake say their rice wine products are available at Spago and Morimoto Maui, both in Wailea. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

University of Hawaii Maui College Culinary Arts second-year student Jayven Jacain-Bonilla (left) and Marc Malone, who runs the front of the house at the Leis Family Class Act at the college, take a break at Famous Festival held on Thursday at the Kahului campus. For Class Act reservations, call 984-3280. -- MARC ANTOSCH photo