On Friday evening, I arrived at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival with no plan—other than to enjoy some wine. When I entered the Aloha Garden Pavilion at The Ritz-Carlton for “The Grand Tasting,” I quickly realized I would need a plan. I settled on pinot noir as the sun set behind Molokai across the open ocean channel.
A square stage set “in the round” centered the room. Worlds of wines circled the stage in regions--or serving tables. I headed straight for the Pacific Northwest and slipped my way between elbows to the tasting table. I started with a pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, by Methven Citizens for the simple reason that two mature women decked out in red hats and red lipstick sipped from their wine glasses, nodding their heads and making yum-yum noises.
Mind you, I am not a wine connoisseur. I don’t know the proper nomenclature. In my cabinet at home, there is one style of wine glass for all types of wine. And I am clueless when it comes to matching wine with food. So, on this night, I created my own wine tasting system. It incorporated culturally-significant flowers around Hawaii.
If Methven Citizens’ pinot noir was a flower, it would bloom yellow with the sunrise on a hau tree lining the Wailua River, and age to orange as the sun swept overhead, and drop to the ground a dull red by evening. This sampling of pinot noir was bright on the front of the tongue. And not for me.
Hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus): Sea hibiscus. Early Hawaiians used the lightweight, buoyant wood from the hau tree as booms for the outrigger canoes. This salt- and drought-tolerant shrub-like tree produces paper-thin flowers that were once used to aid digestion and leaves that were used in dyes.
I watched the server pour a sample of Berstrom Cumberland Reserve, also from Willamette Valley, for a man in front of me. The man nodded his head and smiled. “I’ll try the Bergstrom’s,” I said. And I am glad I did.
Here’s what gets me about wine: How can two different pinot noir wines from the same valley taste so different. I suppose for the same reason that the hau and puakenikeni can both grow in the same place.
Pua kenikeni (Fragraea berteriana): Ten-cent flower. Common in Hawaii, this tree is considered sacred in Tahiti. Its tubular flower starts out as white to light yellow and darkens to a light orange as the hours of the day wind down. In Hawaii, the highly-fragrant pua kenikeni flower is prized for lei making.
The Pacific Northwest started to get crowded and stuffy, so I moved across the room to the Southern Hemisphere. And settled in.
I asked the server to recommend a pinot noir. He poured Manu, from Marlborough, New Zealand.
Plumeria (Plumeria hybrids) Frangipani. Originating in Mexico and Central America, this tree has spread to all the tropical areas of the world. Its many hybrids produce blossoms in all shapes, sizes, colors and fragrances. In Hawaii, the plumeria is a popular flower for lei-making and its likeness inspires many incarnations of jewelry.
I liked the Manu so much I sought out my red-hatted women friends and suggested they try it. I went back to the same server and asked for another recommendation. He held up a bottle from New Zealand--a Merlot Cabernet Franc Malbec from Man O' War.
Pikake (Jasminium sambac): Jasmine. Native to southwestern and southern Asia, this shrubs flowers in abundance, opening at night and closing in the morning. The flower itself is made up of layers of whorls of three and, while small and delicate, produce a powerful scent.
And, then, a malbec from Luca in Argentina.
‘Awapuhi: ‘awapuhi kuahiwi. Wild ginger. Polynesians introduced this plant to Hawaii. It flowers in late summer, in damp forests in the wild. The flower’s sap was used as shampoo and its stems and leaves were used to scent tapa cloth. Wild ginger provided many medicinal uses in Old Hawaii, treating headaches, toothaches, ringworm and other skin conditions, sprains and stomachaches.
I tried two pinot noir wines from California and didn’t even bother attributing flowers to them. I never made it to the Sparkling Wines from Around the World or the Wines of Europe. My bouquet was complete.
The Grand Tasting is, indeed, quite grand. Hundreds of wines. Hundreds of people. It's an appropriate sampling for the weekend to come, if paired with the other seminars and workshops. Ordered up by itself, though, and it's a party and a nice one, at that, but pricey. The time to really learn about wines--and why the same grape grown in the same valley can produce two different tasting wines--is in the weekend workshops. Start saving now and save the dates for next year: June 9 - 12, 2011.
You can learn about these and more tropical flowers at various tropical gardens around Hawaii. Here are a few. If you know of additional gardens, please add them in the comments section.
Smith’s Tropical Paradise
Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Honolulu Botanical Gardens