On Maui, the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival Sparkles
Aloha, and what wine would you pair with Hao Manama duck flatbread or crab and mango salad dressed with cilantro Thai vinaigrette? Arboleda's Syrah from Chile or Franklin Estate Riesling from Australia, perhaps. These and some other pretty good answers to those pesky Pac-Rim pairing questions bubbled out of Hawaii recently during a confab of the islands' finest chefs and a score of outstanding winemakers from around the world.
As participants in the 20th annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival learned in July, Pacific Rim cuisine is best paired with wines crafted in the Rhine and Rhône styles. Attendees (up to 1,000 at some events) had ample opportunity to test the marriage.
"The bold, fresh, forward flavors of Pacific Rim cuisine—Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian—have a natural affinity to wines that Americans gravitate toward, and which tend to be New World style—bold, fresh, fruit-expressive wines," said festival host and Master Sommelier Andrea Immer.
The three-day event, held at the luxurious Kapalua Resort on Maui (where guests stayed at the Kapalua Bay Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua), was hosted by Immer—author, wine consultant and the former director of beverage programs for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Immer, who wrote Great Wine Made Simple last year, is working on two new books and a television series on wine, food and travel. "The objective in Pacific Rim preparation, like any cooking, is to emphasize the ingredients in their best state," said Immer. "What's interesting about Pac-Rim cooking is that most of the time the ingredients are best in their freshest state, with minimal handling," she explained.
"That means using fish in the sashimi version, fresh fruits and the use of spark plugs like vinegar, fish sauce, soy and others to bring out the flavors associated with acidity and salt. So, inherently, Pacific Rim cuisine is a great wine food because it is already balanced," she continued.
"Sweetness tends to tone down spicy heat. That's what coconut milk does in a spicy Thai or Penang curry. The Rhône style has the plushness of fruit which you experience as a sweetness," the energetic Immer noted.
Sessions ranged from "Fit to Eat," morning yoga and hula classes, to a "First Families of California Cabernet" seminar. Grand tastings and winemaker dinners featured wines from more than three dozen producers, including Leonardo Frescobaldi from Tuscany, Olivier Lebret of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Dan Duckhorn of Duckhorn Vineyards and Craig Williams of Joseph Phelps, both from Napa.
One dining event was dubbed, "ABC—Anything But Chardonnay & Cabernet." Here coconut and mango shrimp, ahi loin and stir-fried pheasant were paired with wines from Casa Lapostolle, Hugel, Rosemount, Sokol Blosser, Williams Selyem and others.
Immer said that she'd "like to see people comfortable with some residual sugar in wine because it helps mute the intensity of spicy heat in food, so a white Zinfandel or Riesling might be just right. I would like to see people broaden their horizons on wine. To branch out gives you more choices and often better quality for the money."
The 21st annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival is scheduled for July 4-7, 2002. For more information, phone 800/Kapalua (527-2582) or e-mail email@example.com.
St. Supéry's Super Showing
It's not every day you get to taste Napa Valley's cult Cabernet Sauvignons and blends from the excellent 1997 vintage, but that's just what St. Supéry served up this August, when the Rutherford-based winery held a tasting of 36 of the appellation's top wines.
Granted, the event was in part a public-relations effort by St. Supéry, which was hoping its wines would perform well against more famous and prestigious bottlings. But the blind tasting, which was attended by a small group of California wine writers, winemakers and sommeliers, proved once again that just because a wine is rare and expensive doesn't mean it's the best in its class.
Since the labels are concealed, blind tasting prevents tasters from knowing which wine is which, in theory contributing to a more objective and fair outcome. Scores were tallied individually and for the group as a whole, which included such luminaries as sommelier Larry Stone (Rubicon), writers Dan Berger and Rod Smith, and winemakers Daryl Groom (Geyser Peak), Michael Scholz (St. Supéry) and Scott McLeod (Coppola).
I gave top honors to three wines: Dalla Valle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2,400 cases, $160, 97 points), La Jota 16th Anniversary Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (1,545 cases, $125, 96 points) and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon (3,688 cases, $100, 96 points).
Averaging the group's scores led to some interesting results. The top-ranked wine was St. Supéry Red Meritage (4,186 cases, $50), a placing that obviously delighted the winery's employees, including Aussie winemaker Michael Scholz. Following St. Supéry, the group's preferred wines included Staglin (6,500 cases, $125), Dalla Valle, Joseph Phelps Insignia (20,000 cases, $160) and Araujo Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2,710 cases, $175).
Among my biggest disappointments were Pahlmeyer, Caymus Special Selection, Del Dotto, Harlan Estate and Bryant Family. The group's bottom tier consisted of Dominus, Harlan, Dunn Howell Mountain, Chateau Montelena and Lokoya. The Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was corked and therefore not rated.
In general, the quality of the 1997 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and blends is excellent to classic, with most scores ranging between the high 80s and high 90s on the Wine Enthusiast 100-point scale. Despite differences based on terroir and winemaker styles, the wines across the board are ripe and fruity, soft in acids, with creamy and approachable tannins and a high degree of well-charred (usually French) oak. They are wines of early drinkability and charm, although the best will improve in the bottle for years to come.
Hoopla and Hula in Sonoma
Another record-breaking year for the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction
Sonoma Valley was smiling over Labor Day weekend, after its ninth annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction did something that even the Napa Valley Wine Auction couldn't: It topped last year's record and raised a show-stopping $639,000, nearly 15 percent more than in 2000.
The "Tropical Isles"-themed auction was held on the lawn of the posh Sonoma Valley Mission Inn, a pink stucco Spanish colonial spa. Nobody dared hope last year's total would be bested, especially in light of California's collapsing dot-com economy. "I never make predictions," sniffed San Francisco auctioneer Dave Reynolds. "If it's down a bit, who cares?"
But the Sonomans did care, and did their best to encourage the 675 attendees to part with their cash. Whenever the bidding lagged, comedian Tommy Smothers leaped onstage and did his famous yo-yo tricks. Then there were the Sonoma Valley winemakers, who pride themselves on being, shall we say, looser than their Napa counterparts. Bruce Cohn wiggled his midriff onstage in a grass skirt. Castle Vineyards owner/winemaker Vic McWiliams, vowing to do "whatever it takes to get that bidding going," did a bare-chested hula wearing a coconut-shell bra.
Take that, Robert Mondavi.
The invitations said "Bring sunscreen." Good advice. Temperatures were in the low 90s, and the sun was fierce. Under the auction tent, bidders sipped wine and sweated, but there weren't all that many winery people to be found. They were drinking beer in the Inn's bar. "Hot day, cold beer, self-explanatory," said Hanzell's Ben Sessions.
There was plenty of exposed flesh at the event, most of it well tanned, and plenty of food, too, all of it well prepared. During the auction, there were chicken-apple sausages with a bitter orange and apple marinade, and baked brie with apricot-rosemary chutney. Toni Robertson, the Inn's executive chef, grilled chicken and beef for the post-auction feast.
Wine Enthusiast publisher Adam Strum attended the event, and purchased a 9-vintage vertical selection of Sebastiani "Cherryblock" Cabernet Sauvignon, for $2,200 and a mixed case of wines from the famous Durell Vineyard, for $5,800. Strum donated an additional $200 to the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center.
The top bid was $49,000, for a "mystery trip" sponsored by Gundlach-Bundschu. The second-highest bid was made by local Sonoman Vance Sharp, who dropped $29,000 on film director John Lassiter's (Toy Story and Monsters Inc.) "Secret Monster," a huge bottle of Cabernet. "I have no idea why I did it. It's insane," said Sharp, who knew exactly why he did it. He's on the board of directors of several of the charities that receive proceeds from the auction.
Dynamic Pinot-fest in Oregon
Medicinal mixtures and planting according to the phases of the moon are key to rejuvenating the soil and creating exceptional wines. At least, that's the theory put forth by Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, who led the keynote discussion at the 15th annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), held in July in McMinnville, Oregon. The legendary grande dame of Burgundy delivered a passionate lecture on biodynamie, a sort of ultraorganic approach to viticulture.
While Bize-Leroy asserted that "wine made in this way is truly a child of Mother Earth," fellow panelist Pierre-Antoine Rovani pronounced the theory a "religion" and moderator Matt Kramer seemed more amused than convinced. But Bize-Leroy, who has applied her rigorous discipline to renovating the former Domaine Charles Noellat, which she acquired in 1988, held all the trump cards: three stunning 1999 grand cru Burgundies from Domaine Leroy.
The 1999 Corton Renardes, 1999 Clos de la Roche and 1999 Latricières Chambertin, poured for some 600 rapt celebrants, said more in their mute splendor about the majesty and allure of the Pinot Noir grape than all three days of tastings, seminars, workshops and blending trials put together.
Which is just as it should be. This laid-back extravaganza is admirable for its unique mix of high-class wines served with a low-key attitude. Dress is informal, most tastings are outdoors and the international blend of vintners—which this year included representatives from Tasmania, New Zealand, British Columbia, Germany, Switzerland and Italy in addition to a broad slice of Yamhill County, a dozen Californians and a sizeable contingent from Burgundy—maintains a focus on all things Pinot.
The putative theme this year was terroir, and well-known terroir-ist Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard led off the first day's sit-down tasting with some interesting observations on New World versus Old World winemaking. "We in the New World are making it up as we go along," he noted, adding that Old World wineries in favored appellations already know they have terroir—they are not in search of it, they are merely trying to express and sustain it.
It was no surprise to anyone that the dozens of Burgundies tasted over the course of three days seemed, as a whole, to best express terroir, while the wines of California led the way with expressive, juicy fruit and luscious oak. But Oregon's vintners, showcasing brand-new releases from the 1999 vintage, more than held their own. Not as flattering or immediately generous as the widely praised '98s, the new vintage revealed more traditional strengths: purity of fruit, depth of texture and a compelling blend of power and balance that seemed to promise a long, rich life ahead.
Standouts included new releases from Bethel Heights, Beaux Frères, Chehalem, Cooper Mountain, Cristom, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene and WillaKenzie Estate. These and a tongue-numbing array of bottles both new and old were featured at two open-air tastings and a succession of splendid meals, capped by Saturday evening's traditional Northwest salmon bake. Along with the woodfire-smoked salmon, beef short ribs, bison steak and a huge spread of breads and salads, tables were covered with wines, many brought by the attendees.
Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, a regular at IPNC, presided over the most astonishing table of all. Flanked by Martine Saunier (of Martine's Wines, Novato, California) and Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editor Jeff Morgan, Clendenen uncorked an amazing number of well-aged Chardonnays and Pinots, including more premier and grand cru Burgundies than most people will taste in a lifetime. As more and more people ringed the table, attracted by the clutter of half-empty bottles and the whoops of appreciation, it became a sort of Woodstock of Pinot Noir.
For Pinot lovers, the IPNC is a must-attend event, though every year it becomes more difficult to get in—attendance is limited to 600, and most of those spaces are allocated to the participating wineries and members of the wine industry. But the gorgeous campus, casual atmosphere, sensational food and oceans of fine wine make it worth striving for.
Next year's IPNC is scheduled for July 28-30, and admission is by lottery. Phone 503/472-8964 for details, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.