The Best Wines Are Shared With Friends

A simply delicious pinot noir with a sense of place and style

A simply delicious pinot noir with a sense of place and style

I was listening to a radio show the other day, and they were interviewing an artist, asking him who was the most influential on his music. I do sing on occasion, but I do not make any music.

I started thinking about the most influential people on my palate. I know that everyone’s palate is unique, but it is shaped by your experiences, the wines you are exposed to and by those who make them, import them and share them.

I have some friends who have been invaluable to my education and have enlightened my palate to some of the greatest wines in the world.

The person I credit or blame, depending on how you look at it, for my Burgundy and Champagne passion is Mitch Kysar. I remember the very first Burgundy that made me stand up and take notice was shared over a dinner with Mitch. It was a 1990 DRC Echezeaux. It was my epiphany — that WOW moment that I can still remember today.

The first time I ever went to France and visited Champagne and Burgundy was with Mitch, and several more times together as well. As you can imagine, we have shared more than a few bottles of wine, many of them good and a great many more were great! He exudes passion for Burgundy and Champagne, even more than I do at times, I must admit.

Other friends who have influenced my palate indelibly are Pete and Sylvia Thompson. I have traveled to Champagne and Burgundy several times with them, as well.

Once, on perhaps the most decadent trip of my life, we did 32 Michelin stars in 11 days, dining our way through the finest restaurants and drinking the best they had to offer. But with Pete and Sylvia, it was not strictly Champagne and Burgundy. They opened my palate to the joys of the finest from all over the world: Penfolds Grange, Gaja, Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Masseto, Sassicaia and so much more. They showed me the diversity of greatness for which I will be forever grateful. There are several more who would rather remain anonymous, but they are every bit as generous as Mitch and the Thompsons.

Fellow master sommelier and someone I jokingly call “Pops,” Chuck Furuya, also has been one of the most influential people on my palate. I can still remember, when I was a mere fledgling just learning how to taste wines, I would join a select group of sommeliers and wine buyers at his warehouse to taste through wines that he saw as exceptional examples of value, terroir and deliciousness. Did I mention he was one of the instructors for my very first wine class (the introductory course for the Court of Master Sommeliers)?

Now you know why I call him Pops. He was the first to introduce me to “grower Champagnes,” oyster shells in Chablis and slate in Mosel Riesling. He also introduced me to the wines of another huge influence on my palate: Kermit Lynch.

Kermit’s imports are legendary. His portfolio includes some of my favorites to this day and some of the greatest on earth. The likes of Raveneau, Coche-Dury and Vieux Telegraphe speak for themselves. His ability to find the finest growers and producers in each appellation is uncanny.

His palate is keenly aware of not only flavor but harmony and the expression of where the wines come from. And this applies to a wine from the Languedoc that may sell for about $10, such as Chateau des Deux Rocs, or any Grand Cru that he might import. And sometimes, it comes from a completely unknown area like the Arbois, and in more instances he is the pioneer in a region such as Corsica.

As a side note, I do want to mention that Halekulani hotel is presenting 14 of Kermit’s producers all at one tasting April 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. This is the very first time we have had so many French vignerons in Hawaii in one place, and they are all from Kermit Lynch’s hand-selected portfolio. It is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. For reservations, call

Halekulani at 923-2311. If you attend this tasting, you will see exactly what I mean about the wines from Kermit that have influenced my own palate throughout the years.

And what is it that I have learned from these wines and people who have shared so much with me?

The wines I appreciate most are the ones with, first and foremost, a sense of place. They must be delicious and have a connection to the land, history and its culture. I do not need bigness or weight. But I do need friends to share them with.

Recommendations: 2013 A&P de Villaine Bourgogne Rouge “La Fortune” ($35) This is for those who love Burgundy but don’t need to spend an arm and a leg for just simply delicious pinot noir with a sense of place and style. It is great with salmon and almost any fowl, especially duck. You can find it at Fujioka’s Wine Times.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher