I know hardly anything about wine.
Except that it’s alcoholic, it comes from grapes, and I like it.
Like most wine novices, I’m stuck in a single category of wine. Right now, it’s anything sparkly. And I can’t seem to get out of it.
So when I found out about a new series of wine classes offered by Hawai‘i’s master sommelier Chuck Furuya at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, I quickly signed up for the first class in early January.
Except by the time the class was announced — via the restaurant’s newsletter — it was already filled.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
Luckily for me — and, apparently dozens of others — Furuya opened two more classes in January to accommodate the growing wait list of interested wine-o-philes eager to learn from the master. (Furuya, who co-owns Vino, became only the tenth person in the U.S. to pass the rigorous Master Sommelier exam back in 1988. He created the wine pairings and wrote the wine introduction for the first Hawai‘i regional cuisine cookbook, “The New Cuisine of Hawai‘i.” He’s kind of a big deal.)
The class was entitled, “Wine 101,” a basic primer to wine. (The next class is aptly labeled, “Wine 201,” but it doesn’t mean it’s a progressive series. All of his classes are introductory.)
It was held in one of the upstairs room at Vino’s new location at the Waterfront Plaza, basically across the breezeway of its previous spot. The class is limited to 25 people, each getting to sample eight different wines equally no more than 12 ounces total. (“That responsible,” Furuya said.)
This class was all about chardonnay — yay! — and it started with Furuya explaining the world of wines. I had no idea there are about 10,000 grape varieties, of which less than 1,000 make suitable wine. And I didn’t realize that big-box retailers like Safeway and Costco only buy what sells, not concerned so much about quality or niche demand.
Furuya shared with us his values when it comes to wines: These are wines from families who run their own vineyards and who have invested in this product, he focuses on heirloom or heritage vines, and he likes to work with people who farm sustainability. He likes his wines to evoke a sense of place.
Of course, this all went over my head. I drink wine because it tastes good — and I don’t know much more beyond that.
But that’s what was so interesting about this class. You walk out knowing a little more than you did coming in.
Here’s how it worked: We sampled two wines, side by side. First, he asked us to smell the wine. Does it smell fruity? Does it smell like the ocean? Next, we sipped and identified the body of the wine, the weight of the wine in our mouths. “It’s like comparing skim to whole milk,” Furuya said. Then, we noted the acidity of the wine. This is what allows it to be paired with certain foods. And finally, we tasted it. Was it dry? Was it full-bodied? Was it sweet or salty?
We did this four times, noting the subtle differences between each glass of chardonnay. Some had a more mineral taste, an indicator of where these vines grow. Others were big and bold and showy.
I couldn’t believe how much I had learned in just an hour! I figured out that I liked lighter-bodied, medium-dry chardonnay. Who knew!
For anyone interested in signing up for Furuya’s wine classes, get on Vino’s email list at vinohawaii.com or call (808) 524-8466 for reservations. Cost is $25 per person (not including tax or gratuity) and tasting participants who dine at Vino right after the class get 25 percent off regular menu items.