Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Of the approximately 1,500 grape varieties grown worldwide, it is generally acknow-
ledged that there are only six noble grape varieties. These six varieties produce outstanding wines on several continents. If you are a wine lover, you’ve probably sampled at least three, if not all six, of these noble grapes. All of the noble grapes originated in France, in either Bordeaux or Burgundy. All except for one — the one I call the sixth noble grape.
If you’ve sampled a red wine from Napa Valley, it was probably either pure Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon-based. Cabernet Sauvignon is considered the “king of red wines,” especially in Napa Valley. Its parentage is Cabernet Franc, a red grape, and a white grape, Sauvignon Blanc — hence the name Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s fame did not begin in Napa Valley, but rather on the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary in Bordeaux, where the Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet. Here, the First Growth houses of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Latour can rightfully claim first dibs on the king of the red grapes.
Merlot plummeted in popularity after the release of the 2004 movie, “Sideways,” in which actor Paul Giamatti played “Miles” and disparages Merlot-based wines. Some of its losses in sales may also have been due to the quality of Merlot produced in California 20 years ago. Most wineries focused on Cabernet Sauvignon as their highlighted wine while Merlot was bottled to be an “easy drinking” wine, almost like a red wine for white wine drinkers. It didn’t have much character or complexity — something you might use for sangria.
Thankfully, the new generation of Golden State wine makers are trying to create their own versions of Merlot-based wines in the classic style of the Right Bank. In fact, those Right Bank wines — Chateau Petrus and Le Pin — that are produced totally from Merlot command two to five times the price of their First Growth neighbors on the Left Bank.
The vineyards of Cote de Nuits in Burgundy, France, produce probably the most desired Pinot Noir-based wines in the world. The new world has made tremendous advances in the production of Pinot Noir. They aren’t the same as the revered wines of Romanee Conti, La Tache or Richebourg, but the Pinot Noir produced along the Sonoma Coast and in Mendocino, Santa Maria Highlands, Willamette Valley and even in New Zealand are delicious in their own right. The resurgence stateside may also have been inspired by the release of “Sideways” — after all, Miles disparaged Merlot, but glowed poetic about Pinot Noir.
Besides Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ve probably also sampled a glass of Chardonnay. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, its parentage is a red grape, Pinot Noir, and a white grape, Gouais Blanc. Chardonnay has found a permanent home on several continents, whether it’s those buttery rich versions from Napa Valley; the sharp, mineral-driven wines from Chablis; the complex and long-lived wines of the Cote de Beaune; or the refined versions from Washington state.
Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc has found a permanent home on several continents because it offers a wide range of flavor profiles — from the steely wines of the Loire, France, that pair perfectly with raw oysters; to the richer renditions when blended with Semillion in Bordeaux; to the grassy, herbal wines in New Zealand and Australia; to the perfect marriage of all of those qualities in Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, California had its own rendition found nowhere else when Robert Mondavi started aging his Sauvignon Blanc in toasted oak barrels and giving it a new name, Fume Blanc.
The Sixth Noble Grape
Like the misunderstood brother-in-law, Riesling has always remained in the shadows of its noble French siblings, although it is likely due to the predominance of cheap bottles on supermarket shelves 30 or 40 years ago. Remember those bottles of Zeller Schwarz Katz, Havemeyer Piesporter Goldtropfchen and Blue Nun Liebfraumilch? Simply sweet with a little bit of acid.
Riesling’s inherent acid, residual sugar and lower alcohol levels make it the perfect wine for spicier Southeast Asian cuisine. The acid cleanses the palate between bites and the sweetness pairs with tropical fruits and sweet peppers. The lower alcohol levels do not magnify the burn of Sriracha, kocho-jung or shichimi.
Today’s Rieslings are leagues above what was sold 30 to 40 years ago. So while Riesling still may not be the favored noble sibling in the U.S., it is the perfect partner for our local cuisine and should be in your refrigerator.
In mid-August, Vino hosted a dinner created specifically for Riesling.
KOJI CURED TAKO
mizuna salad, ginger sesame vinaigrette and house made tsukemono
wine: 2014 Dr F Weins Prum Kabinett Feinherb “Graacher Himmelreich”
MISO CHILEAN SEA BASS
smoked wilted tatsoi, choi sum, squid ink pasta, fukujinsuke & roasted garlic butter
wine: 2011 Dr F Weins Prum Kabinett “Urziger Wurzgarten”
SAKE BRAISED PORK BELLY NITSUKE
grilled bok choy, roasted Japanese taro, Chinese five spice demi and house-made kim chee daikon
wine: 2015 Dr F Weins Prum Spatlese
(his last vintage)
green matcha tiramisu, sweet azuki beans with shichimi & yuzu sorbet
Master sommelier Chuck Furuya paired the three savory courses with wines created by Bert Selbach of Weingut Dr F Weins Prum, who also created the Estate Riesling for Furuya’s own CF Wines label. However, after creating these Rieslings for the past 37 years, Selbach retired after the 2015 vintage, so Furuya decided to retire the CF Estate Riesling at the same time. All of the wines paired beautifully with the Asian-inspired menu and, thankfully, you can find the Weingut Dr Weins Prum label at specialty wine shops in the 50th.
If you missed the Riesling dinner at Vino, the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival is holding a Riesling tasting at the Halekulani on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 12:30 p.m., highlighting several vintages of Hans Wirshing, Weingut Gunderloch and Reinhold Haart Riesling paired with dishes created specifically for those wines by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”