These Are the Most Popping Wine Regions Right Now, According to Local Sommeliers

There’s more to wine than France and California. We asked some of the top wine pros in the city for their current favorite regions, and what they’re nerding out on lately.


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World of wine map

 ILLUSTRATIONS: SERGIO GARzon

 

If it seems that, every time you open a wine list, you see wines from a new region (Slovakia, anyone?) or a new grape (Rotgipfler?), you’re not alone—the world of wine is expanding at a rapid clip. But, armed with some insider information, you should be able to make an informed pick. One easy tip: Drink what the pros are excited about. We asked some of the top sommeliers in the city for their current favorite regions, and here’s what they’re nerding out on lately:

 

France

French wine

Burgandy wine
Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny
Photos: David Croxford and Aaron K. Yoshino

Burgundy, France

“At this moment, I’m most excited about Burgundy, France. I’m not the first to be bit by the ‘Burgundy bug,’ and I certainly won’t be the last. The more I learn about the region, the more I get lost in its complexity and grandeur. It’s fascinating! Only two types of grapes are grown in the whole region (pinot noir and chardonnay). To me, they’re the purest and greatest expressions of pinot noir and chardonnay. There are many subtle and many major differences in a vineyard’s wine that sometimes is a stone’s throw away from the next vineyard’s wine, producing the same grape. I could spend my entire life studying Burgundian wine and still not master it.”

—Stripsteak Waikīkī lead sommelier William Giampaolo

 

Loire, France

“It might be hard to think of the Loire Valley as an ‘exciting’ region. After all, it’s very well known, and the history of the vine in the castle-dotted valley runs deep—the valley was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. However, its diversity, commitment and quality-to-price ratio make it a region I’m happy to focus on at Senia. Our current by-the-glass selections include three different wines from the Loire. It comes down to freshness and diversity: The Loire’s northerly location provides a cool climate that helps the wines retain freshness and acidity, two elements that pair perfectly with our cuisine. You can find everything in the Loire, from crisp sparkling wine to luscious dessert wines and everything in between.”
 

French wines

Chateau thivin beaujolais villages rose (left) and champalou vouvray.


​—Senia wine director Chris Ramelb

 

SEE ALSO: Here’s How to Eat Girl Scout Cookies Like a Real Adult

 

Corsica, France

Corsica wine
domaine de marquiliani

“The tradition of farming [in Corsica] is as strong, if not stronger, than any place I have ever been. There is no sense of pretension, competitiveness or ego among farmers, and their love for the land is very apparent. Wines ranging from light and ethereal to medium body with character are what you can find here, and I believe that the cuisine one can find in Hawai‘i is a perfect match. In many cases, you can smell the briny sea shell and ocean along with fennel, rosemary, sage and lavender that touch a spot where your tongue meets your mind and complements the food to be enjoyed perfectly. With rosé, you can find a great match with tako. With the whites, light and fresh white fish will work. And with the reds, everything! From figatellu (sausage made from livers), bacon, charcuterie, roasted squab, lamb, hearty fish and poultry, to my favorite pairing, oxygen.”

—12th Ave Grill wine director Rick Lilley

 

Corsica, Italy, and the Mediterranean Basin

“There is something magical about this place. Where the land meets the sea, the islands that sit in the middle of it, the variations of soil and temperature that influence the grapes make for spectacular wines. The range of minerality, fruit, herbs, finesse and power are wide as any other place on Earth. If you’re looking for heavy, oaky, high-alcohol wines, this is not the place to choose from. But, if you desire fresh, soulful wines to be enjoyed with food, look no further. Each area has its own distinct character and varietals from which it works. To me, this is what separates the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Basin from the rest of the world. With thousands of years to experiment with vines, its no wonder they’ve found which varietal grows best and where.”

—12th Ave Grill wine director Rick Lilley

 

Germany

German wines

“As of late, my attention has gravitated back toward German riesling. This time, it’s rieslings with some bottle age, 10-plus years. Fruity rieslings with their sweet-and-sour pop are always perfect quaffable wines. With time, the natural sweetness that drives their youthful “tootie fruity” personalities morphs into silky textures and savory notes. The wines, not yet purged of all their sweetness, and still blessed with refreshing acidity, are ideal when paired with modern cuisines. Though I enjoyed these rieslings upon their release, I look forward to tasting them with more time in the bottle. For me, it’s like enjoying stew on the fifth day.”

—Alan Wong’s wine director Mark Shishido

 

Spain

Spanish wines

“At least 80 percent of the list at Fête is stuff I’ve loved for a long time, and 20 percent is stuff I’ve encountered in the past two to three years, or that my wife [managing partner Robynne Mai‘i] loves. It’s gotta be something that makes sense for us or that makes sense for food. There’s a core section with Lopez Heredia and Vega Sicilia. I love Riojas. I’m always looking all over Spain [for more wines]. Txakoli, when it gets warmer—can’t beat that.”

—Fête managing partner Chuck Bussler

 

Penedès, Spain

“I find myself using a lot of cava by the glass for Livestock Tavern’s rotating menu because it’s a great value. It’s produced in the same method as Champagne, but you can find some pretty good ones for a fraction of the price. With its acidity, effervescence and relatively low alcohol, it pairs well with a wide variety of food, [including] cured meats and cheeses, seafood, anything fried—and it can handle a bit of spice as well.”

—Livestock Tavern and Tchin Tchin! bar director Mike Nishikawa

 

Italy

Italian wines

“Italian [wine] has long been about Barolos, Chiantis and, more recently, Super Tuscans. My eye has been set on other corners. In the southwest, Sicilian wines have been cranking out beautiful, elegant, food-friendly wines. My go-to’s include Tenuta di Castellaro’s “Nero Ossidiana” and i Custodi’s “Aetneus” Etna Rosso. It’s as if Châteauneuf-du-Pape were relocated to Sicily. On the opposite side of the country, in the far northeast, Friuli is not only producing quaffable wines but also incredibly complex orange wines such as Gravner’s Ribolla, a white wine that has the skin left in contact for up to a year to impart every essence of the Ribolla grape. Friuli’s twin, Goriška Brda in Slovenia, produces a large variety of amazing wines. Edi Simčič’s pinot gris and Malvasia are woody whites with a nice balance of stone fruit flavors and are available in Hawai‘i.”

—Fête managing partner Chuck Bussler

 

Oregon

Oregon wines

“One of the areas I’m really excited about is Oregon, in terms of pinot gris and pinot noir. Pinot noir is my favorite variety. There is a major influx of investment by several influential California wine names, including Jackson Family. I would watch out for Chapter 24, a new project under the direction of Louis Michel Liger-Belair, a Burgundian producer. The wines are fabulous. There are also some tried and true producers, such as Lynn Penner-Ash. 2015 might be one of the best vintages in the past 20 years.”
 

Oregon wines

fil pinot noir willamette valley (left) and elks cove vineyards willamette valley pinot gris.
Photos: Gary Saito


—The Kāhala master sommelier in residence Roberto Viernes

 

SEE ALSO: Next in Wine: Meet Five Sommeliers Keeping the Craft Alive Here in Honolulu

 

READ MORE STORIES BY JENNIFER FIEDLER

 

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