On the Wine Trail


Currently showing posts tagged SwimVacation

  • Take Refuge

    Take Refuge

    The beginning of Day 4 started with an early call for departure from the Hale by 7:00am. These early starts to avoid the intensity of the sun serve as another consideration for wine selections, believe it or not. Alcohol sets in fast and hard when you're hot and dehydrated. It doesn't feel really good when you have to wake up at the crack of dawn to fuel and get geared up and land your feet in the van shortly after the sun rises. 

    Today the plan is to board a beautiful day board and cruise to the Captain Cook monument where the swimmers and their amazing swim guard, Ryan McGuckin, will be dropped in the water for an early morning three mile swim. After being picked up and fed lunch, the boat will move to the Place of Refuge at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park for a bit of a lolly gag swim and aqua portraits by one of the SwimVacation bosses whose photography is seen in nearly every publication dedicated to exploring natural beauty and adventure. The place of refuge was a home base of a sort, where natives who broke one of the ancient laws (kapu) of Hawaiian society could find safety from certain punishment by death. It's just that getting there was a bit of a challenge. 

    It was in this sacred place that I donned a snorkel and mask and dove into the refreshing waters to take a peak at the treasures down below. The sun was shining and the waters are crystal clear--you literally can see forever. Is it weird that it was in this moment that I affirmed my love of the land? Don't get me wrong, I had no fear. I'm not afraid of the water (just the sharks that potentially lurk below). I love splashing in it and being refreshed by its salty tingle. But what I love most about the ocean is how it interacts with the land. The crashing waves. The color shifting near rocky shores--the rockier the better. The way it shears off the soil to reveal what hides below. For many people, time spent in the deep, cool water is a refuge of its own. A place to feel comfortable and free from the outside world...to separate from the things that divide us and feel uniquely at one with something larger. For me, that's exactly how I feel standing in the middle of a vineyard pulling petioles or clicking secateurs. Refuge.

    So its no surprise that I was anxious to get back to the Hale and make preparations for dinner service. I had been looking forward to this meal for a long time. Clare & Dan planned a traditional Hawaiian Luau dinner for tonight: Kalua Pork and Cabbage, Lomi Lomi salmon, Kaui Poi, and curried purple sweet potatoes. The evening began with pupus of Marlin Poke and Ahi Tuna Tartare with Shrimp Chips on the Lanai with a zippy cocktail made with fresh honeydew agua fresca that Clare brought along. Dubbed the "Green Flash" after the sunset phenomenon I have yet to see here, the fluted drink featured vodka and a splash of freshly squeezed lime juice. 

    I was excuted about the wines for the night. I had hunted down a bottle of the Birichino Malvasia Bianca while in Manhattan a month before and lugged it home to taste it with dinner. I first saw the wine on Kona Wine Market's website but, let's face it, a domestic Malvasia? It had to be tasted before adding it to the short list. And it keeping with my desire to have a red on hand for each meal, I selected the Masi Passo Doble. Everyone is drinking malbec now (still) and I hadn't featured one yet. I liked the Masi because of their use of the ripasso method, utilizing corvina grapes for the second ferment. This should concentrate the fruit and add some depth while softening the tannins through a bit of polymeriation. 

    Since the Luau dinner ws served family-style, I served the two wines at the same time, side by side. That way everyone could play around with both as they enjoyed all the flavors of this truly Hawaiian meal. After a great introduction to Chef Dan's food by the ebullient Clare who teared up while explaning the significance of poi in Hawaiian culture, I did my little presentation on wines. the Birichino is exciting because firsts and foremost, it smells like Hawaii to me, filled with plumeria blossoms, ripe lychee and those amazing rambutan! It's also intriguing since it comes from own-rooted vines in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, cooled by fog that forms from the upswelling of frigid waters of the Blue Grand Canyon right off the coast. A place where land and sea meet to produce amazing wines! While the incredibly aromatic Malvasia Bianca doesn't necessary make a great sipping wine without the context of food, in the presence of the right textures and flavors it virtually soars. Enjoying this wine with the tender, slow-cooked pork was delicious. It happily stood toe-to-toe with the zing of the lomi lomi salmon. But when it met the rich texture of the purple sweet potatoes and the delicate coconut milk-based curry sauce enveloping each slice...well. It was palate utopia. Both bottles were emptied with the very defined personality of this wine being preferred to the tasty but more user-friendly profile of the Masi. Just goes to show you, when paired with the right food, people can definitely appreciate something outside the box.

    Dessert for the evening as well as an anniversary among the group provided the perfect time and place for the Hula o Maui Pineapple Sparkling. I felt it was important to showcase a local product particulary as it was produced in the traditional (champagne) method, right down to six months of lees contact. Wild. With just 12 grams of residual sugar, this wasn't even a sweet sparkler. I turned the traditional six twists of the metal cage and popped the cork with the required near-silent hisssssss. Pineapple. A delicate yet intense aromas of golden pineapple. The growers at Tedeschi Winery harvest these pineapples just before they are fully ripe, to maintain the acidity required to provide that sparkling balance a brut requires. I poured the wine itno each flute and smiled at the tiny and persistent bead that flowed from the bottom of each glass. A toast to the anniversary couple and that first sip. Pineapple flavor much less persistent than the aroma with flavors of white grapefruit pith and lime. A bite of the decadent Macadamia Nut & Caramel Tart and I sat back. This that home for me...that place of refuge. Inside the zen that can happen when land and sea provide the perfect conditions for producing something that can make people happy.

    Sleep well. Curried purple potatoes for breakfast.

  • Watch that First Step ...

    Watch that First Step ...

    Today began like any other day in black lava-strewn Hawai'i. 

    It's kinda fun saying that. By mid-week in any trip, you do tend to fall into a rhythm of a sort. You've successfully breathed a sign of relief and let your guard down just enough to let yourself feel the first signs of true relaxtion. SwimVacation's mantra is Swim. Relax. Repeat. so despite it being go-go in nature, relaxtion is definitely part of the program. But as I am a self-admitted control freak, its always with great trepidation that I allow true relaxtion settle in. Usually, its at just that moment that things start to go wrong. 

    Plans for an epic swim a Beach 69 were abandoned to the chagrine of some of the swimmers. I think the idea of traveling to a different part of the island for a swim appealed to some. It felt as though there was a bit of anxious expectation to explore somewhere new. After a return from Magic Sands just down the coast, our neighborhood beach if you will, all signs of the morning's choppy start were washed away by the appearance of a huge pod of dolphins during the group's lazy swim, providing plenty of photo ops and time up close and personal with the friendly bottlenosers. After a light lunch of Chopped Caesar Salads with chopped blackened chicken or shrimp, massages in the backyard were scheduled for all. The change in itinerary had provided a bit of extra lazy time in the afternoon and so I inserted a selection for WineWednesday into the mix. A quick text to culinary Clare in the morning landed me the addition of a goat cheese to a Platter snack that would be in the fridge for the late afternoon. I had stocked my wine larder with flexibility in mind and this seemed like the perfect time to pull out the Alianca Vinho Verde. Lower in alcohol (in case swimmers opted for a late afternoon swim), zesty and fresh this was my grown up lemonade for the afternoon. I loaded up trays of the slightly spritzy white and hit the hot tub first, the lanai next and open living room of the hale (HAH-leh) last. I whispered my recommendation, "Try it with the goat cheese" and whispered away while everyone did their own thing. If refills count as sign of approval, then this wine worked.

    Dinner was approaching and for whatever reason, I felt a deep sense of urgency over opening up the dinner wines ahead of time. I had, in fact, been a little relaxed about this standard practice to this point. There it is--relaxed. The menu was to begin with a hot house butter lettuce salad with tomatoes, blue cheese crummbles, toasted macadamia nuts and creamy garlic dressing. This was to be followed by garlic and dijon marinated Colorado rack of lamb with a cannellini beach, kale and squash ragout topped with a veal glace de viande. So in my mind the salad was...well..a salad. But blue cheese and garlic: both fairly potent. Some would suggest something red but with an Aussie shiraz on the books for the entree I felt the need to stay white. Again, these are athletes who have been working all day in the sun. Frankly, I had a hesitation about the shiraz as welll. I opened that one first. The wine had barely touched my tongue and I was concerned. I have this peculiar sensitivity to what I believe is acidified wines. Its this disjointed feeling that tingles unnaturally and this wine had it. I could hardly concentrate on anything else. I was concerned. It's not that these wines are bad but when you're pouring it--when you select and serve it to a guest...you have to believe in it. You've got to love it, regardless of whether or not the guest feels the ssame. I popped the cork on my second choice--a New Zealand Merlot-- sniffed, swirled and tasted it with a teaspoon of cold glace de viande and was satisfied. One down.

    The salad. For this I had selected Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Sec. I was hopinng that the sallt of the blue cheese would emphasize the fruit of the chenin blanc. If I was lucky a little honey note would shine through as well. I sliced through the foil of the first and stopped. That. Is one. Funky looking. Cork. The rhythmic voices of the Stroke Coaches reviewing viideos of each swimmer taken earlier in the day echoed to a dull hum in the background of my mind. I popped the cork, swirled, tasted. Uh-oh. WHERE'S THE FRUIT? Okay, this isn't funny. There is no back-up wine for this course. I have one bottle left of this wine and two extra guests tonight so...here goes. I opened the second bottle and was relieved. Tasted just as it should. I threw some sea salt in my mouth, tasted it one more time and was ready to go. 

    Time was a little short and one of the program's leaders was more than a little sleepy so I by-passed presentations tonight and got right down to the pouring. I was pleased with the little Vouvray--she hed her mighty ground with the flavors of the blue cheese and the strength of more than a llttle fresh garlic in the dressing. She iimpressed me. 

    The soft, deep black plum and delicate spice of the Oyster Bay Merlot was just the right ticket for the lamb. All soft and supple, the North Island fruit played along nicely with the perfectly cooked lamb. The delicate (read less lamby) flavors of the domestic lamb didn't need the heavy, alcoholic, mentholated fruit that the McLaren Vale shiraz would have brought--regardless of how classic the pairing might be. 

    Dessert tonight was a simple but delicious Mango & Strawberry crisp topped with whipped fresh cream. Clare told me that when she was cutting up the mangoes in her kitchen, her entire staff commented on their amazing aroma. I was excited to taste this amazing fruit.  To lighten the red wine load, I poured a small flute of Vietti Moscato d'Asti and it proved to be a refreshing and balanced accompaniment to the meal. 

    Plates were cleared, spent bottles stacked and empty glassware bussed. As I watched everyone happily push back from the table, I realized how fortunate I was that I took the time not to relax. And how glad. 

  • Black Sand vs White Sand

    Black Sand vs White Sand

    The first full day in Kona started with a yoga stretch in the morning and a cup of Kona coffee that I definitely brewed to about three times the stretch of a normal human. Was this an honest mistake or my subconscious plan to ensure that I was actually awake this morning? The group climbed aboard the van and made our way just down the coast to the Black Sand beach of Kahalu'u where the group was dropped off for their swim up the coast to Magics where they would be greeted by a contrasting white sand beach. My mind, of course, was on dinner and my next presentation. I had obsessed a little over this one. My wines choices were limited by the selection of one of two local wine markets recommended by Clare Bobo of Island Thyme. I cheated and had Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc and PINK rose shipped directly from the winery several weeks before my arrival. I knew whatever type of culinary curves I might be thrown due to necessary menu changes, these two wines would never let me down. I contemplated my presentation about the wines of Orvieto Classico while I munched on am amazing lunch of Gado Gado Salad with spiced tofu, blackened chicken, curried shrimp topped with a spicy peanut dressing. It was hard to concentrate--lunch was so tasty. We set off in the afternoon for bay in Kailua-Kona where an introductory Iron Man course swim and filming was going to take place, followed by a fun trip on an outrigger canoe. As I watched the swimmers take off for their shortened Iron Man course (the full course is scheduled for tomorrow), I couldn't help but think about the dedication required by a healthy athlete. It's a whole body state really, with attention to food, form and function. It struck me, in that moment, that the same can be said of the very best wine growers who produce the purest expressions of their grape and place. It's not an easy commitment but well worth the results. Thus the context of my evening discussion was born. And the lava...let's never forget the lava.

    Dinner started with Hawaiian pupus of Mushroom Crostini with the most amazing mushrooms I have had a long while and classic tomato bruschetta with those heavenly sweet tomatoes again. One of the SwimVacation bosses took to the bar and mixed up some delicately sweet Blue Hawaiian cocktails and things slowed down a bit. It was a nice change of pace. When the time was right and dinner was prepared, we all sat down with our amazing local lifeguard and two additional SwimVacation guides on island to scout for a new project, joining us for dinner. The salad course featured pomemgranate and molasses glazed cold beets stacked with one of the 200 types of avocadoes which grow on this island alone with lomi tomatoes and a truffle vinaigrette. In my imagination, the Frogs Leap Rose was going to be perfect and it did not disappoint. The beautiful, generous but dark fruit of valdiguie and zinfandel matched beautifully with the flavors and created a whole new experience in the mouth. I was pleased. Plates were cleared and here was the big one...the course I had obsessed over. Back home I found a bottle of the Orvieto sold by Kona Wine Market and enjoyed it at home with my own (though simpler) version of this meal. The Tenuta di Salviano 2012 Orvieto Classico Superiore worked well. But when I popped those green olives in my mouth...the whole thing changed into something else. Something better. So I was more than a little disappointed when the shop owner emailed me that he had sold out of the vintage. Bummer. I made another selection but Clare, sensing my disappointment over the loss of this wine, went out of her way to procure two bottles elsewhere. But the vintage was 2013. No matter...I was sold and appreciated her support. Truth be told, the 2013 didn't hold up quite as well. The body was not as weighty and that oily texture that made it work so well with the green olives was a bit lacking. But its only because I had that zen fusion inner mouth experience. It was solid but was outshined by the Frogs Leap Pink. 

    So I went to the back pocket. I hadn't planned on serving a wine with dessert but we needed a high note upon which to end. Dessert was green tea ice cream topped with Waimea Strawberries. I hesitated and then plunged forward with my gut: cru beaujolais. I was not disappointed. The fresh strawberry nose and dark, concentrated nose with silky tannins and not a touch of stemminess went perfectly with the dessert. Smiles everywhere. Warmth in the cheeks from a third wine choice. My job here is done. Goodnight.