uncorked wine tasting series at montage kapalua bay

Uncorked_VanessaWho doesn’t enjoy sipping wine while being gently caressed by a late afternoon breeze and watching the sun slowly sink lower into the sky? When you combine a blissful interlude such as this with the opportunity to learn fascinating facts about the wine you’re imbibing, it’s highly likely you’re attending Uncorked at the Montage Kapalua Bay, a weekly tasting event hosted by Sommelier Vanessa Lampson on Sundays at 5pm.

Begun last November, Uncorked takes place in Cane & Canoe restaurant’s comfortable and stylish lounge. The brainchild of Vanessa and Montage Food & Beverage Manager James Proctor, Uncorked features three unusual varietals hand selected by Vanessa, along with a trio of “small bites” designed to pair exquisitely with each wine by Cane & Canoe’s expert culinary team, led by talented Executive Chef Riko Bartolome.

Vanessa’s enthusiasm for wine is contagious. “Uncorked is an opportunity for me to introduce more obscure wines and make them accessible,” she says. “I enjoy describing to my guests how each featured wine is produced, bringing in the aspects of persons, places, and time. Wine can represent an entire spectrum of life and human emotions. It’s all about food, mood, meals, and company.”

Vanessa hones in on smaller-scale wineries owned by winemakers who have a symbiotic relationship with their land. “It’s important to me to showcase wines that have been produced with minimal intervention,” she says. “I want to feature vintners who truly care for the health of their farm.”

For this afternoon’s tasting, cleverly dubbed by Vanessa “It’s All Greek to Me: Varietal Tongue Twisters,” we are tasting selections from Sicily, Italy; Provence, France; and Santa Barbara, California. Accompanying me is Allyson, and we sink into comfortable oversized wood-framed cane-back chairs with plump cream-colored cushions. Each place at the sturdy glass-topped table has been set with a paper placemat printed with tasting notes for each wine, and three sparkling wine glasses.

Vanessa pours the first wine—Valenti “Norma” Etna Rosso from Sicily, Italy, 2011. Our tasting notes state the aroma is a combination of briar fruit, red clay, and jasmine; while the flavor is of volcanic minerals and black cherry. The wine is clear and claret in color, and the taste is dry and medium-bodied with firm but pleasant tannins. Its complementary “small bite” is parmesan gnocchi with wild mushroom coulis and Hawaiian fiddlehead fern puree. The dish’s creaminess and earthiness marry well with the minerality of the wine. Vanessa tells us Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, is producing some of Italy’s most delicate and aromatic red wines from indigenous varietals. “Norma” is made from 50-year-old vines, and winemaker Giovanni Valenti is adamant about following organic practices in his vineyard. Amazingly, the grapes are hand harvested, with all tilling being done with the help of donkeys.

Our second pour is Clos Cibonne “Cuvee Speciale” Tibouren from Provence, France, 2013. Its aroma is black pepper, potpourri, and lavender with fresh herb, huckleberry, and sea salt flavors. It’s light red in color; fruity, light, and very aromatic. Vanessa tells us this is Clos Cibonne’s easy-drinking red, best served at a slight chill, and it will make you re-evaluate what you think you know about reds from Provence. It’s paired today with kobe steak tartare blended with shallots, cornichon, parsley, and Dijon mustard, and presented on a grilled crostini. Mais oui! Vanessa is right—I could easily drink this red every day, especially if provided with an unlimited supply of the tartare.

Our tasting experience closes with Palmina “Dolcetto” from Santa Barbara, California, 2012. Deep ruby in color, this wine’s nose is blackberry, violets, and sage. On the palate, you detect licorice, red raspberry, and plum preserve. Vanessa tells us this is a wine best served slightly chilled, it can be enjoyed all day long, and it’s perfect for Hawai‘i’s climate. It’s paired with rich, unctuous duck confit in red wine demi glace over creamy goat-cheese polenta. Allyson is completely taken with this combination of wine and small bite.

In addition to the weekly Uncorked event, Vanessa is also available for private tastings. She can even accommodate food allergies: one of the guests at this afternoon’s tasting is allergic to oak, so Vanessa assembled a customized selection of wines for her, all aged in stainless steel rather than oak, and prepared a special fact sheet for her. And, of course, all wine selections are available to accompany your meal at Cane & Canoe.

With our appetites properly whetted, Allyson and I are so comfortable we decide to stay and sample some of the items on the Cane & Canoe Lounge Menu. As her farewell to us before moving into the main restaurant for dinner service, Vanessa brings us each a glass of Chateau D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” Rosé from Provence, France, 2013, since Allyson has become a rosé fan since visiting France last year. Strikingly pale pink in color, the wine’s aromas are fresh and fruity, and the flavor improves noticeably as it breathes. C’est magnifique!

The Lounge Menu is compact, but contains a nice variety of items. Affable server Mitch comes by to take our order. We’ve chosen Crispy Spring Rolls ($13), Lettuce Wraps ($14), Lime Tuna Tartare ($21), and the Cheeseburger ($21).

The deep-fried spring rolls are filled with succulent pulled pork and served with an addictive guava bbq sauce. They’re crunchy, rich, savory, and sweet (from the bbq sauce) all at once.

The lettuce wraps, while admittedly a tad messy to consume, are bursting with a vibrant combination of fresh market vegetables and herbs, and dressed with a tasty citrus vinaigrette. A small dish of green olives stuffed with pimento provide a complementary salty bite.

Allyson and I can’t get enough of the lime tuna tartare. This swoon-worthy creation features morsels of sushi-grade tuna combined with avocado, onion, ginger, sesame, and soy. It’s accompanied by crusty on the outside, soft on the inside grilled toast points.

And then there’s the cheeseburger. I don’t know about you, but sometimes you’ve just gotta have a burger. Cane & Canoe’s version satisfies the burger craving, and then some. A local island beef patty is seared to a perfect medium rare, and served on a potato bun with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion. It sounds simple, and it is. But it’s oh, so satisfying. The burger is accompanied by french fries that burst with steamy, fluffy potato goodness.

As an added bonus, in the lounge area you can order from Cane & Canoe’s entire dinner menu from 5 to 9pm. Having previously dined there (See The Maui Concierge January 2015 issue), I can tell you menu standouts include Signature Hamachi Poke (with caviar, avocado, and fingerling potato chips—$23); Tempura ‘Ahi Tuna (with shimeji mushrooms, foie gras nage, asparagus, and smothered greens—$41); and Hawaiian Ranchers Beef Tenderloin (with port-onion soubise, bleu cheese pain perdu, and arugula—$47). Two side dishes are particular knock-outs: Brussels Sprouts with macadamia nuts and horseradish ($9) and Kula Corn with chili pepper and cotija cheese ($8). And, of course, Vanessa is standing by to assist with wine pairings. Makes me want to hurry back to Cane & Canoe on a Monday and Thursday nights for their 25% off all menu items kama‘aina night!

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Uncorked at Cane & Canoe, Montage Kapalua Bay. A weekly wine & pupu tasting event hosted by Sommelier Vanessa Lampson. Cost is $35 per person.

WHERE •

Montage Kapalua Bay located at One Bay Drive in Kapalua Resort.

WHEN •

Uncorked takes place every Sunday evening at 5pm.

HOW •

Reservations are highly recommended, please call Cane & Canoe at 662-6681.

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