The Funderful World of Wine

Wine tastings are taking over the pau hana circuit — they’re fun, educational and a nice way to meet new friends and get past wine-snob intimidation

Katie Young
Friday - March 11, 2005
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Life is too short to drink bad wine. So how do you find the good ones? You must try every bottle, of course. This is not a job for the meek of tongue.

If you were to drink one different bottle of Chardonnay from California every day for a year, you still wouldn’t be able to cover all the various Chardonnays that are produced in the state.

Blaise Domino enjoys the artistic
appeal of wine as much as he
enjoys the taste

Walk into your local grocery store and you’re likely to find more than 500 unique single labels. Globally, we’re talking thousands and thousands of wines that are produced in Europe, America, Australia, South America and even South Africa.

“There’s over 2,000 wineries in the Napa Valley/Sonoma area alone,” says Emily Field, key account development manager with Southern Wine and Spirits. “Fifteen years ago, there was half that number.”

Winemaking is on the rise, and so is wine drinking. Many people, however, are still somewhat intimidated by fermented grape juice. They don’t know which ones are good, and rather than spend $30 on a bottle they pick randomly off the shelf at the market, some people just steer clear of wine altogether.

But local restaurants and specialty liquor stores are beginning to catch on, knowing that the best way to help their customers figure out what their personal wine palate craves is to let them have a little taste.

Wine tastings are popping up all over town. Most are reasonably priced between $15 and $35 and include a variety of six to eight wines as well as light pupus.

“If you were to go out and buy one bottle each of some of these wines, it would cost you well over $200,” explains Field, who was on hand at the Hanohano Room’s Wine View in February.

As a testament to the growing popularity of the events, most of them are sold out well before the day of the tasting.

The Hanohano Room at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel started its monthly Wine View event last May. The first Thursday of every month they invite a speaker to talk about the different varietals served and give some good wine drinking advice for beginners as well as connoisseurs.

“We originally started with only 12 people,” says general manager Keith Mallini. “The demand was so big I decided to add another table, and now we max out at 20.”

The Wine View tasting ($35 per person) is also a unique opportunity for guests to have a say in the second component of this event, a five-course wine pairing dinner with the wines you just learned about ($80 per person) on the third Thursday of the month.

At the tasting, guests are treated to a generous sampling of pupus created by Hanohano Room executive sous chef Ron Amasol. Amasol visits the table to explain how he paired his dishes with the wines and is open to suggestions concerning what would go best with these wines at the fivecourse dinner.

Amasol says pairing food and wine is the most natural thing of all. “A glass of wine will taste different while eating food because the food coats your tongue,” he explains. “It will taste different three times: when you take your first drink before you eat anything, when you drink while you eat, and then again after the meal. Wine brings out the flavors of food, and food brings out the flavors of wine.”

For many locals, the Hanohano Room’s wine tasting is their first trip to the 30th floor Waikiki restaurant with the spectacular view, even though they’ve lived in Hawaii their whole lives.

“This whole program is geared just for locals,” says Mallini. “It’s not even advertised in the hotel. I think Hawaii is fast becoming a wine town, and here we try to get away from all the formalities and get the guests to feel comfortable. A lot of wine tastings you go to are really stuffy. This is fun.”

Fun and wine go hand in hand. Before the drinking starts, you’ll notice many people are more reserved and quiet, sitting with people they may not know. But with every glass, people begin to open up a little bit more.

“Eat the food, drink the wine. By the end of it you’ll be one big happy family,” says Mallini.

Ruth Baldino loves the weekly wine tasting, “The Wrath of Grapes,” at Indigo so much she’s come every week for the last three years.

Baldino sometimes brings friends, but also likes to come alone and meet new friends. She has her regular seat at one of two long tables and brings her own glassware for tasting. She also brings along chocolate treats to share with the guests around her to enjoy with their last glass of red wine.

“I always liked wine, but didn’t know anything about it,” says Baldino. “I just drank what was popular. Then I came here and I learned a lot. Now I look up information about the wines on the computer and print it out each week before the tasting.”

Jason “Cass” Castle sniffs a glass of wine at
the Wrath of Grapes at Indigo

Indigo’s Wrath of Grapes is the longestrunning wine club event on Oahu. For more than three years, it has showcased some of the world’s great wines. It started with a small group of 10 people, but now is a weekly sellout with 28 people of all ages, who take over the restaurant’s dimly lit Opium Den room.

“The crowd is changing a lot,” explains Jason “Cass” Castle, wine steward and organizer of the event. “Maybe a year ago if you were to come in here, it would be mostly a 40-plus crowd. But now it’s been changing, and we have a good balance of people in their 20s and 30s as well as the older group.”

Leilani Ng, 33, is one of the “younger” crowd. Her friends were attending the event so she decided to try it out herself.

“This is great,” she said, between sips. “You get a great value for what you pay, only $20, and it’s a great venue. The room is undisturbed and you don’t have anyone walking in on you.”

Ng has been a wine lover for years. “My husband and I go through a bottle almost every other night.”

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