Learn Everything You Need to Know About Wine From Vino’s Master Sommelier

Master sommelier Chuck Furuya’s new Sunday wine classes sell out quickly, so sign up soon.
Master sommelier Chuck Furuya leads a recent wine class at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar. His goal for 2016 is to provide more wine education to the public—and it’s proven very popular.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox


When I asked master sommelier Chuck Furuya what his New Year’s resolution was, he quickly replied, “Wine education.”


SEE ALSO: What New Year’s Resolutions Hawai‘i Chefs are Making


And he’s really put that into action.


In January, he started offering a series of wine classes at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar. The announcement was made via his weekly newsletter—and the first class, called Wine 101 and limited to 25 people, immediately sold out.


He offered a second one. That sold out.


Somehow, I got into the third Wine 101 class, along with 24 other oenophiles who had struggled, like me, to nab a seat in the first two.


The draw, it seems, is Furuya himself. In 1988, he became only the 10th person in the U.S. to pass the rigorous Master Sommelier exam. He created the wine pairings and wrote the wine introduction for the first Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine cookbook, The New Cuisine of Hawai‘i. And his fun-loving, kolohe behavior at Vino, a restaurant he co-owns with D.K. Kodama, makes him accessible and entertaining.


Who better to learn wine from?


“I don’t pretend to know everything, and there’s never just one answer,” Furuya says. “My whole intent is to just share.”


Wine 101 is a basic primer. The following classes—Wine 201 and Wine 301, which start in March—aren’t part of a progression; all of his classes are introductory, but the different numbers cover different wines and topics, so you can take them in any order.


The classes are held on Sunday night in one of the upstairs room at Vino’s new location at the Waterfront Plaza. You get to sample eight different wines that equal no more than 12 ounces total.


The first class was all about chardonnay. Furuya started by explaining the world of wines. There are about 10,000 grape varieties, of which fewer than 1,000 make suitable wine, he said. And big-box retailers only buy what sells, not concerned so much about quality or niche demand.


Furuya has specific values attached to wine: He prefers wines from families who run their own vineyards and who have invested in the product, he focuses on heirloom or heritage vines, and he likes to work with people who farm sustainably. He likes his wines to evoke a sense of place.


“All I can do is teach people what good wine is,” Furuya says. “Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive wine … This is my little way to give back to the industry.”


Here’s how it worked, at least in the first class: We sampled two wines, side by side. First, Furuya 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.


We all walked away with a better understanding of what we liked in a wine. Some preferred lighter-bodied, medium-dry chardonnay—me—and others liked more earthy wines with a higher acidity that pairs best with seafood. I felt a lot savvier and more competent about wine.


And the chardonnay we tasted was pretty awesome, too.


Wine 301 starts on March 6, with classes every Sunday during the month. For anyone interested in signing up for Furuya’s wine classes, get on Vino’s email list at vinohawaii.com or call 524-8466 for reservations. Cost is $25 per person and tasting participants who dine at Vino right after the class get 25 percent off regular menu items.