Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
OK, so I took a little creative license with George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” but if you visit many of Spain’s wine producing regions, they’re quite different from vineyards you’ll find in Napa or Sonoma. In Napa or Sonoma, you’ll see the traditional three- to four-foot tall grape “trunks” flanked on either side by equally thick side branches so that the plant is shaped like a “T.” Between each row of vines, you’ll often find trimmed green foliage sometimes placed to prevent critters from munching on the grape vines. But in Spain, you’ll often find gnarly, round trunks with spindly vines spreading in all directions surrounded by sand and stones that don’t look conducive to grape growing or any type of agriculture for that matter. And when discussing European wines, though French and Italian wines get the most notoriety, Spain recently overtook France in worldwide wine production and consistently lead the world in acreage planted to grape vines. From the Tempranillo-based Rioja up north to the sparkling cava and garnacha-based Priorat wine northeast, to the mineral driven white wines in Galicia down to the wide range of Palomino based sherries in Andalucía, Spain produces its fair share of distinctive wines.
Years ago, while I was studying for both the certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine exams, the wines of Spain fell somewhere between the new world (U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) and the old world (France, Italy and most of Europe). Though Spain is considered old world, they adopted techniques often associated with new world wines such as fermentation in smaller barrels and even using American oak. Therefore, Spanish wines tended to be almost as fruit forward as wines you would find in Napa and Sonoma. Back then, almost all new world wines tried pleasing the palate of noted wine critic Robert Parker – if he rated your wine 95 points or higher, the world’s oenophiles would be beating your winery’s doors for an allocation. The Europeans did take note of Robert Parker wine ratings and the consequences of pleasing his palate so even old world wines started vinifying wines in a new world style. However, even with this adaptation of winemaking, Spanish wines still are very food friendly – after all, the Spanish created my favorite dining style: tapas. Small bites that are meant to munch while sipping wine.
Hank’s Haute Dogs
Because he’s been selling gourmet hot dogs for over 15 years, I’m sure most people have sampled his tubed meats or at least are familiar with Hawai‘i’s hot dog king, Hank Adaniya. Originally gaining restaurant fame in the Windy City with Trio, he closed the restaurant that started the careers of many celebrity chefs then moved back to the island of his parent’s birth and started his gourmet hot dog stand. This completed the circle as his parents originally ran a hot dog stand in Waikīkī in the 1950s before moving stateside.
Over the past 15 years, Hank’s Haute Dogs served not just the finest meats in a bun but also served as a pop-up location for budding young chefs including the Le family of the Pig and the Lady. He also hosted fundraiser tables for the annual Lanakila Meals on Wheels, The Good Table. Then in late 2014, he started hosting his Diner (pronounced dee-neh or dinner in French) events after the lunch service was completed. They were multi-course dinners with specific themes — such as French, Italian, Spanish and Greek — that he and his staff prepared. We enjoyed these dinners so much that we attended the French-themed dinner on two separate occasions (the same meal). Over the past 15 years, the restaurant has weathered a half block move due to the redevelopment of Kaka‘ako, a potential sale and the pandemic. And just recently, Hank sent an email to previous Diner guests that in the spirit of his original Diner events, he was starting Hank’s Wine Party consisting of a wine tasting highlighting smaller wine labels as well as heavy appetizers. Of course, WE’RE IN!
Hank’s Wine Party
The first event highlighted the wines of Spain as well as several Spanish tapas:
Manchego Cheese, Baked Goat Cheese with Tomato Sauce, Baked Bacon Wrapped Dates, Cured Salmon Slider, Tortilla Espanola, Grilled Chorizo and Pepper Skewers, Spanish Pork and Bean Stew and an optional Vanilla Crème Brulee.
Cune Cava Brut non-vintage, Penedes (~$15)
Spain’s answer to France’s Champagne produced in the same manner – Methode Traditionale – but utilizing only white grapes (traditional Champagne uses two red grapes and one white grape), the Xarello for its aromatics, the Parellada for its acidity and freshness and the Macabeo for body. Very refreshing for a fraction of the cost of Champagne.
Vinos Atlantico “Granito” Albarino 2021, Rias Baixas (~$20)
A white wine with mineral and citrus flavors and a touch of stone fruit, it’s a very food friendly wine. This version also added richness to balance the rich flavor of the bacon wrapped dates.
Muga Rose 2022, Rioja (~$18)
Made from a red grape (Garnacha) and a white grape (Viura aka Macabeo), perfect with tapas. Muga’s version also carried more weight on the palate, which was perfect with the Manchego cheese and baked goat cheese.
Raul Perez Ultreia St Jacques 2018, Bierzo (~$24)
Created by superstar winemaker Raul Perez from the Mencia grape, which is a red grape that usually produces fragrant, light wines but Perez’s winemaking produces spicy aromas and flavors with dark fruit. However, not as cloying on the palate as say a California Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Vinos Atlantico “La Cartuja” 2018, Priorat (~$25)
Another red wine produced from Garnacha (Grenache) and Mazuelo (Carignane), the wines usually have spicy and smoky notes with loads of dark fruit. The smokiness was the perfect complement to the chorizo.
Barahonda Barrica 2018, Yecla (~$20)
A full-bodied red made from Monastrell (Mourvedre) and Syrah, this wine pairs with smoked red meats and hearty fare. This version was rich and concentrated enough to balance the fatty sausages.
As you can see, the estimated costs for these Spanish wines were between $15 and $25, which I consider very affordable especially during these inflationary times we live in. If you live near an R. Fields – located in Foodland – they stock several of these wines. And more importantly, they all are very good wines, which I would not hesitate to stock in my cellar … if there was any space left. And just as important, all the wines were very food friendly as wine should ALWAYS be paired with food … unless you’re uncorking a 2000 Noel Verset Cornas as that wine can be sipped alone.
Hank mentioned that he weathered the pandemic better than the current financial and economic conditions because most of his patrons were already doing takeout before the pandemic so he didn’t have to change his business model. However, with the current inflationary issues affecting most businesses and a reduction in Japanese tourists, he’s seen quite a reduction in business. Since he’s had a beer and wine license for several years, he thought he might as well experiment with Hank’s Wine Party. The big change from his original Diner events is there’s less stress serving no-host heavy appetizers than with a multi-course sit-down meal. Since we signed up for the inaugural May event, we received the reduced price of $40 per person. Future wine party events will be able to accommodate 24 guests at four tables though the price will rise to $60 per person and we intend on attending any new event with a new theme. Hank also stated that you can book the whole space for a private dinner. Hmm, perhaps a small private wine party for Ms. S once she retires?
Ryan Tatsumoto is a retired clinical pharmacist. However, he and his wife still 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.”