The international influence on Hawaii’s cuisine makes wine and food pairings a joy for Big Island wine lovers.
Hawaiian dishes shine with the tropical flavors found in the island’s fresh fruits, but we also taste the flavors of Thailand, Japan, Portugal, The Philippines, Mexico and so much more, as various cultures settle on the island, making it their home. Each enhances local dishes, adding spice, heat, texture, and richness to sweet and savory dishes. To pair, wine options are diverse, plentiful, and delicious.
Super spicy Thai food begs to be paired with aromatic wines with a hint of sweetness.
Riesling shines as a darling of white wine, thanks to its pair-ability with everything from grilled fish and chicken, to spicy dishes, like the cuisine of Thailand. For pairing with spicy food, slightly off-dry Riesling is best, with a hint of residual sugar.
Sugar is often a necessary element of Riesling production as the natural acidity of the fruit is so high that the only way to tame it is with sugar. However, when this sugar is well integrated, acting more as an accent than the main attraction, balanced, refined wine is produced. Napa Valley’s Stony Hill White Riesling ($39) is crafted from vineyards planted initially on their Spring Mountain vineyard in 1948, the slightly off-dry Riesling shines with notes of white flowers, and stone fruit. For fans of a very dry Riesling, Napa’s Trefethen Vineyards Dry Riesling ($25) reveals crushed stone, pepper spice, white flowers, and ripe lemon-lime.
For a Chinese-style whole steamed fish with lots of ginger, garlic, and shallots, consider a dry Gewürztraminer from Alsace, or a New World version produced in an Alsatian style. One of the finest is from one of the oldest wineries in California, Gundlach-Bundschu Gewurztraminer ($25) reveals wild rose, lychee, and lilikoi, with touches of crushed-stone. If you prefer fermented black bean sauce with your steamed fish preparation, try a fruit-forward Zinfandel, like a blackberry, pepper spice, and toasted chocolate-filled Frank Family Zinfandel ($38) from Napa Valley or Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel ($35).
For pairing with seared ahi tuna or Alaskan salmon, pinot noir is perfect. From ultra-coastal vineyards in Edna Valley, within California’s San Louis Obispo Coastal Region, Tolosa Vineyards highlights their fruit’s natural ability to maintain freshness, thanks to cooling afternoon winds off the Pacific through pinot noir vineyards. Tolosa 1772 Pinot Noir ($68) reveals nuanced layers of raspberry, rhubarb, and dusty leather, perfect for grilled salmon.
Similarly, Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands enjoys early morning fog, and breezes off the Monterey Bay through vineyards, capturing acidity. This ensures slow fruit-ripening throughout the day as temperatures rise. Hahn SLH Pinot Noir ($35) highlights a perfect marriage of ripeness and acidity, with ripe strawberry, cherry, and lilac melding with pepper and spice, perfect for pairing with ahi.
For Japanese-style sushi and poke, pour a glass of Chenin Blanc, like a well-rounded Loire Valley Vouvray, like Champalou ($25), or a slightly aged South African or California selection, floral, fleshy, fruity Chenin Blanc is an ideal pairing.
Outside of France, South Africa made a name for Chenin with their take on the variety, calling it Steen. From Walker Bay, the Beaumont family has been producing wine less than five miles from the ocean since the 1700s. Their Beaumont Family Chenin Blanc ($45) shines with notes of golden apple, and honey, with a creamy finish thanks to 10 months of aging. Similarly, from California, Aperture Chenin Blanc ($30) enjoys six-months of aging, partially in oak, giving blanched almond notes to the stone-fruit-filled wine. Layering melon and orchard fruit, Dry Creek Chenin Blanc ($16) from Clarksburg, California, vineyards reveals a youthful take on the variety.
Adobo is at the heart of Filipino cuisine, melding onion, garlic, soy, and vinegar, with pork or chicken, and braising for hours, locking in mouth-watering flavors. To pair this timeless staple, try a slightly off-dry wine, like a Riesling or Chenin Blanc, especially with chicken adobo, or a fruity, red Australian Shiraz with pork adobo. Yalumba Y Series Shiraz ($19) is co-fermented with 5% Viognier, adding a perfumed note to the blueberry, violets, dark-chocolate, and spice-filled wine.
Similar to loco moco, the Portuguese fast-food favorite francesinha layers bread, meat, sausage, melted Edam cheese, topped with tomato-based gravy, and a fried egg, requiring a high acid or a high tannin wine to cut the richness of the dish. A beer would be an easy go-to, like a Kona Longboard. But also consider a slightly spritzy Vinho Verde, like Broadbent ($10) or Aveleda ($9), or a dry Portuguese red blending Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca, like Tons de Dourum Red ($11) or Prats &Symington Prazo de Roriz ($15).
Hayley Hamilton Cogill is a sommelier, wine writer, and educator. Together with her husband Gary Cogill, an Emmy award-winning film critic, they host “Cogill Wine And Film, A Perfect Pairing” podcast on reVolverPodcasts.com while living on Hawaii Island in Waimea while both writing for West Hawaii Today.