Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Values on the vine
Anything goes with wine,even fried saimin, with drumstick.

It's wine for all and all
for wine -- no matter
what you're eating tonight

by Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor


IF you always have beer with pizza and save wine for meals served on real plates you may be cheating your palate.

Visitor traffic and a small but increasingly discerning population of wine lovers have made Hawaii a strategic outpost in the wine and food revolution sweeping the developed world. As a result, a larger variety of wines is more readily available in Hawaii now than ever before.

There are wines on local store shelves to complement everything from filet mignon to fried saimin.

We have recruited the skills of four of Hawaii's foremost wine experts to help you navigate the burgeoning wine aisle. They will make two recommendations each month, at least one of which will retail for about $10.

We chose our contributors for their expertise, their experience, and their commitment to educating the public about wine. And because they can speak with authority about the wines most available to our readers.

Three of them sell wine to the public and one sells wine to retailers. There are no impartial experts in this business; everybody is selling something to someone.

The experts

Bullet Richard Field started R. Field Wine Co. in 1977. His store recently moved into the Beretania location of Foodland Super Market Ltd. His goal from the beginning has been to build a staff capable of offering meaningful descriptions of wine that connoisseurs and novices can use as a guide.

Bullet Lyle Fujioka started building the wine selection at his family's Fujioka Super Market in Haleiwa in 1987. He opened Fujioka's Wine Merchants on Waialae Avenue just before Thanksgiving 1998. He views himself as the youngest of the four in terms of experience, but his commitment to searching out quality wines has won him a loyal following.

Bullet Chuck Furuya is president of Fine Wine Imports and Hawaii's only master sommelier, which means he is one of only about 100 people in the world to have passed the rigorous international wine exam. Anyone but Furuya will tell you he is one of the people most responsible for Hawaii's prominence in the food-wine revolution.

Bullet Allen Kam started Vintage Wine Cellar in 1968. He aims to offer the broadest selection of quality wines in the state. All three of our other participants described him as Hawaii's pioneer wine retailer. He is in the process of turning the business over to his son Jay, therefore Jay will be choosing the wines for our column.

Changing industry

When Allen Kam entered the wine business 31 years ago, he did so out of necessity. "I was a wine drinker and couldn't find wines in Hawaii. So I decided to go into the business," said Kam.

Wine in Hawaii has changed completely since he started his company. "When I started no one knew a red wine from a white wine."

No more.

People are traveling more and gaining exposure to more kinds of wines, said Kam, and there has been a lot written about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

As people have become more knowledgeable, two main camps have developed, according to Kam: People who like to drink wine on a regular basis and are looking for good, moderately priced wines; and wine collectors who look at wine as an investment.

Vintage Wine Cellar aims to please both, by carrying wines from every major wine-producing region, according to Jay Kam.

And how do they chose?

"We do a lot of traveling." said Allen Kam.

Diversity in a bottle

Lyle Fujioka also travels frequently to wine-growing regions in search of appealing products.

He recently returned from the Vin Italy trade show in Verona. "You taste those wines and you think, 'Wow, now I understand,' " said Fujioka, who has a penchant for Italian wines.

Like Kam, Fujioka's entry into the wine business was partly driven by his interest as a wine drinker, but there were also geographic and economic factors.

The late 1980s were a time of shifting demographics on the North Shore, home of Fujioka Super Market. East Oahu home owners were taking advantage of the Japanese buying spree to sell and move to the country, said Fujioka. And the Turtle Bay Hilton was in its heyday. People were looking for good wine. "We realized we had to tap into that."

Fujioka's strategy has been to avoid familiar labels. "We work the edge and the edge is off of the mainstream."

Higher education

Consumer education has made that strategy feasible, said Fujioka.

Richard Field credits Chuck Furuya with raising awareness among Hawaii residents of good wine and food. As a master sommelier, he was able to go to boutique wineries, which can easily sell all of their product in their home market, and convince them they wanted to be on the wine lists at Hawaii's hotels and restaurants, said Field.

But, he added, retailers were part of this effort as well. "We were actively going to those wineries and bugging them," said Field.

All this enthusiasm comes from a man who got into the business through "kind of a fluke," he said.

Field was working part-time in a liquor store to put himself through college. A co-worker from Waianae, the farthest person from the stereotypical connoisseur, according to Field, was into wine and would often share a bottle after work and talk about it.

Field listened only to be sociable -- "Honestly, I had absolutely no interest" -- but his friend's enthusiasm caught on.

Four years later, Field opened his first wine shop. Other wine shops in town were heavily committed to French wines, so Field went after California vineyards. And while other shops relied on customers to seek them out, he took out radio and newspaper ads.

The changes wrought by wine distributors and retailers have had an affect on local consumers.

"It's a cliche, but it's true: People are drinking less, but they are drinking better," said Field.

Demand is growing for expensive and rare wines, and consumers are becoming more adventurous.

But wine is still not seen as a casual beverage, like beer, said Field. "With wine there is the intimidation factor."

And consumers bring a lot of preconceptions to wine, he said.

"People are afraid to say they like sweet wine," said Field. However, he added, many sweeter wines are better food wines.

Nothing to be scared of

Chuck Furuya is committed to helping people abandon their preconceptions.

Furuya said his goal is to share what the master sommelier exam taught him. Beginning with the fact that there are about 10,000 grape varietals."So why limit yourself?"

You wouldn't just eat one kind of food, he said. Drinking just Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon is like just eating French food.

Lesson No. 2 from Furuya is that different styles of food require different kinds of wine.

And finally, no matter what style you are looking for or how much you want to spend, said Furuya, buy good wine.

For Furuya a good wine is well made (which most wines are now), distinctive (that is, reflects the region where it was made), and has soul.

Furuya passed the master sommelier's exam in the late 1980s and went to work for Fine Wine Imports, which was started by his sister-in-law in the mid-'80s.

His enthusiasm for wine is well-matched by his enthusiasm for food. "There's a revolution going on in Hawaii," said Furuya. "It started with the food."

Increasingly, we have home-grown talent in restaurant kitchens, managing hotels and restaurants, and running the wine stores.

Hawaii has always had a diverse palate because of its exposure to foods of different cultures, he said. But now ingredients from these different cultures are being combined into a whole new cuisine. And wine is a part of that.

"We are pioneering not only foods, but we are pioneering combining wines with these foods," he said. "It's an exciting time for lovers of fine wine and food."


Buy the bottle: This
month's wine values

Pictured in order of their listing below. Look for
recommendations from our wine experts
monthly in the Star-Bulletin.

Lyle Fujioka

Fujioka's Wine & Spirits

Bullet Falesco "Vitiano" (1/3 Sangiovese, 1/3 Merlot, 1/3 Cabernet) 1997 Italy ($8.95)

Winemaker/consultant Ricardo Cotarella is one of Italy's superstars. With Vitiano, he delivers a superb value-based wine sure to please all but the most jaded palates. Like the Three Tenors singing in perfect harmony, each varietal adds individual character but yields to the harmony of the whole. Succulent, ripe Cabernet cherry flavors delivered on a velvety Merlot, all wrapped with an Italian twist of Sangiovese. The tannins are silky smooth and the aftertaste lingers with nuances of sweet, toasty oak.

Bullet La Carraia Sangiovese 1997 Italy ($9.95)

Breaking away from its role as the primary varietal for blending Chianti, Sangiovese continues on its trendy course as a stand- alone varietal. Enticing aromas of dark red fruit and violets with back hints of peach, cinnamon and brown sugar. On the palate, black plum and cherry flavors laced with herbs are elegantly focused and deliciously saturating. The tannins are drying and balanced. The finish slips away on a graceful fruit note. Another stunning wine from Ricardo Cotarella. Your pizza and pasta may never find a better soul mate!

Richard Field

R. Field Wine Co.

Bullet REDS by Laurel Glen Vineyard ($9.99)

Patrick Campbell is one of America's best red-wine winemakers. He is well known by wine collectors for his difficult to find Laurel Glen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. His REDS wine is a blend of several grapes (Grenache, Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane and Malbec). Together they produce a rich, round, smoky, soft blend of plum and cassis flavors.

Bullet Pinot Blanc 1996 Domaine Schlumberger, Alsace ($12.99)

This is an uncharacteristically creamy and soft, easy to drink white wine. Uncharacteristic because it is without that piercing acidity associated with many Alsatian wines. This wine is so quaffable and will pair well with everything from pasta and shellfish to veal and salmon. Wonderfully balanced.

Chuck Furuya

Fine Wine Imports

Bullet Carchelo Monastrell ($13*)

Acclaimed as one "one of the world's greatest buys," this is a fascinating, "little" red wine from the mountains of southeast Spain. Dark, spiced and deliciously rustic, this medium bodied Mourvedre/ Merlot blend is fabulous with Mediterranean-inspired foods (pizza, spaghetti), Southwestern foods (burritos) as well as those grilled on the hibachi.

Bullet Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard ($17*)

Tasty and so completely refreshing, this is the way it should be! Only in France's Loire Valley, does Sauvignon Blanc get to be this interesting and complex and yet so light-footed. We love it with vegetable-oriented dishes, salads, freshly herbed foods, rich soups and most seafood recipes.

* Estimated retail price.

Jay Kam

Vintage Wine Cellar

Bullet 1996 Clos Pegase Merlot, Napa, California, ($25.99)

Jan Schrem, the owner of Clos Pegase, is excited about his new wines. They improve with each vintage as winemaker Steven Rogstad becomes more familiar with the characteristics of the vineyards. The wine is what you expect from a Merlot: soft, smooth and harmonious with pretty red fruit and a gentle, spicy finish. For novices, this is a good introduction to a quality red wine without breaking the bank. For more experienced wine drinkers, this medium-bodied wine nicely matches turkey, meatloaf or a simply prepared red meat.

Bullet 1997 Joseph Drouhin Macon Villages, Burgundy, France, ($9.99)

While the wines from the Cote d'Or of Burgundy, France, fetch the high prices and receive the wine critic's high praise, the Burgundy region of Maconnais produces quality wines that always offer great value. Macon Villages is one of the stars of Maconnais. Made from 100 percent Chardonnay, the wine is simple but fundamentally sound, with mild citrus qualities and soft vanilla oak flavor. It is a wine meant to be enjoyed with seafood and lighter chicken dishes. This lighter style Chardonnay is not something to sip and contemplate, but is great to wash down a meal among friends.

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