My favorite haunt, Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar regularly hosts structured wine tastings led
either by the winemaker or winery owner, sometimes directly by resident Master Sommelier
Chuck Furuya. Sometimes participants bring their own wines to pair with a preset menu created
by Chef Keith Endo. Sometimes these BYOB tastings are done “blinded” so participants judge a
wine purely by its merits and not by its notoriety. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving the Vino
staff felt that most diners would have recovered from Thanksgiving’s excesses but it would be
early enough in the holiday season before things got crazy. This led to the Ultimate BYOB
tasting. The menu for evening read like this:
Oven Roasted New Zealand Langoustines
with fresh homemade linguine & cioppino butter sauce
(wine recommendations--aged Chardonnay, Vouvray or vanguard Mediterranean white)
Roasted Hawaiian Swordfish
with sun dried tomato gnocchi & Chardonnay jus
(wine recommendations--aged Chardonnay)
Hudson Valley Duck Sausage
with foie gras raviolis, Hiraoka Farms broccoli rabe & Bing cherry demi
(wine recommendations--aged Sangiovese or Pinot Noir)
Garlic Crusted Lamb Chops
with Nalo Farms Swiss Chard, homemade cavatelli pasta, gremolata & natural jus
(wine recommendations--aged Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Bandol or Syrah)
Apple Tarte with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce
The wine pairing selections suggested by Chuck Furuya follow each dish with the caveat that
since this was the “Ultimate BYOB”, wines should be those that participants (1 bottle per diner)
were saving for a special occasion, probably aged but most definitely something special. Since
my personal collection of wine consists mainly of red wines, I decided on an aged Sangiovese for
the duck and an aged Syrah for the lamb. And since we were at start of the holiday season, we
wisely chose to get a room at the Hawaii Prince Hotel and cabbed it to and fro… so I also
brought Champagne to start and a dessert wine to end the meal.
Tarlant NV Cuvee Louis Champagne (4/5)
Toasted hazelnuts, citrus and citrus curd on the nose with a lighter mouth feel and nice balance
with a long finish.
Tarlant is a grower-producer Champagne and the Cuvee Louis originates from 60 year old vines
from an equal mixture of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I procured my bottle from none other
than K & L Wines in San Francisco. Since I purchased my bottle several years ago, I assume that
the vintages used were from 1990, 1993 and 1995 since the Cuvee Louis is usually a blend of the
last 3 vintages.
1997 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino (4.5/5)
Rich earth, old leather and semi dried cherry on the nose with a touch of tobacco and licorice.
Also rich and concentrated on the palate though nicely balanced with a very long finish.
This Brunello comes from the vaunted 1997 vintage – Wine Spectator gave the vintage 99 points
and this specific wine garnered 95 points. Brunello di Montalcino is pure Sangiovese, specifically
the Brunelo clone so it shares the same earthy and cherry characteristics of its cousin, Chianti.
However with some bottle aging, you start getting earthier aromas and flavors while still
maintaining the red fruit quality. My only regret is that I now have 1 bottle less… though
sharing a bottle with other wine enthusiasts (fanatics) is priceless.
1988 Noel Verset Cornas (4.9/5)
A very complex nose with black olive, charred beef, old leather, underbrush, tar and dried red
fruit. A medium mouth feel with exceptional balance and seamless flow with a long finish.
Though Verset Cornas will never garnish huge scores by wine publications, it is one of my
favorite wines. As soulful as wine making gets though sadly, there is no more wine since 2006.
Noel Verset had no descendants to pass the trade on to and once he hit 80 years, the French
government started reducing his potential pension. Therefore his last official vintage was in
2001 and though he sold most of his grapes to other Cornas producers, he continued his own
label (albeit with miniscule production) until 2006. I never give a wine 5/5 but this is as close
as it gets.
1997 Dolce (4.25/5)
Glaceed apricot, honey, citrus curd and a touch of butter pastry on the nose with a
concentrated, viscous mouth feel and a very long finish.
Created in 1985 by the makers of Far Niente, Dolce combines late harvest, botrysized Semillon
and Sauvignon Blanc in the same manner as Sauterne production. When grape bunches are
exposed to frequent fog and very little breezes, Botrytis cinerea growth is encouraged on the
clusters. This mold causes grapes to shrivel and concentrate their flavors, acids and sugars. The
resulting wine is rich and sweet and when given ample aging time, produces a nectar of the Gods.
The Wine Pairings
While almost every wine was great on its own, there were standouts when wines were paired with
the various dishes. For instance aged white Burgundy is as good as white wine gets (other than
aged Champagne) but in most cases, while they were okay with the langoustines and swordfish,
the “fresher” wines complemented the seafood to a greater degree. The younger Champagne and
Burgundies as well as the Sancerre brought out the sweetness in the langoustines. Surprisingly,
an unknown varietal – the Vitovska – from northern Italy “sang” when paired with the
swordfish. I assumed that the richness of swordfish could hold its own against aged Burgundy –
and the swordfish did hold its own – but the Vitovska almost acted like a “sauce” for the
The red wines also seemed to follow the same pattern. While the many red Burgundies were
great wines on their own and while they all paired nicely with the duck sausage, the Brunello
brought out the duck flavor the most and highlighted the foie gras ravioli. With the lamb
chops there were several wines that paired quite nicely including Domaine Tempier La Tourtine,
Vieux Telegraphe La Crau, Chateau Haut Brion and my Verset Cornas but in the end, though
there were many “heavy hitters” in the mix, I had to go with my Verset Cornas.
Plan Your Own BYOB
I recommend planning your own BYOB to learn about the pleasures of food and wine – or more
specifically to learn about your own likes and dislikes with various food and wine. It doesn’t
have to be anywhere near extravagant as the Vino event, simply decide on a theme based on
certain grape varietals or certain wine regions or certain wines meant for certain foods. For
instance you could do a Pinot Noir comparison of California, Oregon and French wines. Or
maybe compare the wines of Spain with Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero. Or simply see which
wines complement Vietnamese or Chinese foods. For added complexity, you could place the
wine in brown bags so none of the tasters know which wine is which until the very end. That
way you can determine the most important wines for yourself – the wines that you like and the
wines that you don’t like, regardless what Wine Spectator and Robert Parker say. I personally am
looking forward to the next Ultimate BYOB at Vino which will take place on New Year’s Eve.
Until then, a voitre santé!
The Ultimate BYOB