Tag Archives: #Maui

Maui Wine: Not a complete oxymoron – a novel tasting experience

The idea of Hawaii as a wine producer may seem far-fetched. But Hawaii’s wealth of climatic zones means this tropical paradise has opportunities to create decent, even good wine. Maui Wine offers delicious wines made from Pineapple, as well as up and coming estate grape wines.

Faithful readers, please forgive me for my lack of posts of late. My job has offered great opportunities to travel and collect some very blog worthy food and wine adventures, but it leaves me virtually no time to write them. So here I am writing this post on a rare flight with no WiFi to distract workaholic me!

The drive along the lower slopes of Haleakala

On my recent (ok not so recent as I get around to posting this, and the trip itself was sadly quick!) trip to Hawaii, I needed to quickly learn the island of Maui to prepare for an upcoming event. Having found myself driving around the scenic island in a bright red Ford Mustang, I made a slight detour to the slopes of Haleakala, a cratered volcano, and on it, to Maui Wine’s winery and tasting room. The drive was absolutely stunning, offering views of nearly 2/3 of the island. After a flight from O’ahu and this drive, it also was time to stretch my legs and try some wine.

The tasting room is in a converted, whitewashed cottage surrounded by large deciduous and palm trees. The manicured grounds and picket fences of surrounding Rose Ranch are a reminder of Hawai’i’s colonial, sugar plantation-filled past. The tasting room itself offers a glimpse into the ranch’s past, as well as the lengthy history of winemaking in Maui. The ancestor of Maui Wines, which has changed ownership and branding several times, began winemaking in the late 19th century.

The wines: Pineapple

Pineapple wines are the winery’s most produced and most popular. It’s easy to understand why. Its dry, sparkling Hula O Hawai’i pineapple wine is made in the traditional (champenoise) method. It is a perfect aperitif for a home gathering. The semi-dry Maui Blanc still wine was my favorite. It was full of complex aromas and an almost floral fruitiness. The sweet pineapple Maui Splash wine was smooth and drinkable, not as heavy or sticky sweet as dessert wines.

The wines:  Grape

I tried the Lokelani sparkling rosé, which is part of its deceptively named Rose Ranch line – not made from estate-grown grapes but instead sourced from “all over”, primarily from California. The wine was crisp and tasty, but the disappointment in drinking a California wine that just happened to have been blended in Hawai’i, knocked it down a bit in my esteem.

I had to try one wine made from estate grown grapes, and with Maui’s restrictive liquor laws, I had only one more to sample (note: go with a group so you can try one another’s three samples!). So I chose the Chenin blanc, which is among their most popular (but low production) wines. I’ll just say that it was a good start; it was a crisp, drinkable wine. It lacked the complexity of a Vouvray, a South African chenin, or even my favorite Chenin Blanc blend from California (Pine Ridge).

I would have loved to try all of Maui Wines’ selections. Perhaps next time! While it is off the beaten path (road), make it a stop on the Road To Hana. It’s not every day one can see amazing tropical scenery and taste delicious pineapple wines.

Explore Hawai’i and its Cuisine!

Pineapples, pork, Poké, and Passionfruit – oh my! But there’s so much more to explore in Hawaiian cuisine. From Japanese fusion of Musubi and Poké, Kalua pork, the buttery macadamia nut, the mai tai, a unique form of shaved (“shave”) ice, to its seeming obsession with Spam, cookies and potato chips – at least to pawn off on tourists, we’ll examine some of the Hawaiian islands’ culinary traditions.

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it to the state of Hawai’i. Was it worth the hype? It depends what you’re looking for.

View of O’ahu from the air

View of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head

While the islands share many cultural similarities, not least of which involve their cuisine and the tough-to-pronounce 12-letter language (how are 12 letters so difficult?), each island has its own character. O’ahu is usually everyone’s first stop. Its southern shore features bustling harbors and the prominent joint US base, and Waikiki just east of downtown capital Honolulu. Waikiki is more urban beach town than resort area, with high rise hotels, endless shops, restaurants, and the islands’ only real nightlife. But amazingly enough, for a city, it has a stunning beach with a wide swath of sand and calm, shallow teal waters.

The “Big Island”, AKA Hawaii, lives up to its name in size and geography. It is the youngest island geologically and boasts 13 different microclimates – including the sole chance for snow activities near the peaks of volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The cities of Hilo and Kona bookend opposite sides of the island. The latter gives us the namesake for delicious, nutty Kona coffee.

View from Wailea

View of Maui’s north shore from Haleakala

Heading just west is Maui. Maui is ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean paradise. It is much bigger than it appears on a map and is roughly barbell-shaped (ok, a barbell that maybe got melted with liquid magma and squished a bit). The volcanic Haleakala lost its peak long ago, and its crater beckons visitors.

Nearby Maui are lesser islands Lana’i and Moloka’i (In case you’re wondering, all these apostrophes are there to guide your pronunciation. Each vowel gets its own syllable, so the “ai”, “ii” and so forth are not single-sound diphthongs.) These islands are barely habited, but Lana’i has a few resorts.

Hop over O’ahu to the west and you hit adventurer’s paradise, Kaua’i. You will hit the most chickens and roosters per capita, thanks to an unfortunate typhoon that allegedly freed chickens used for cockfighting, and so they procreated like…bunnies? Good thing it’s now the Year of the Rooster!

Ok, island intro over. On to the food!

Fresh fish displayed at Maui’s Morimoto isn’t just a staple at sushi restaurants

Fish, fish, and more:
Ok, so when you are a chain of volcanic islands rising tens of thousands of feet from the sea floor and nearby deep blue waters hosting some of the biggest and best deep sea fish, you know you’re going to have an abundance of the good stuff. Tuna, tuna, tuna. White fish, like mahi mahi. Shrimp. Simply grilled is more than enough, but the shrimp trucks that dot O’ahu’s north shore showcase many styles of preparation. Skewers with garlic butter or soy and pineapple served over a bed of rice is a cheap and delicious meal.

Pineapple heaven:
A Western cultural symbol of hospitality, pineapples and Hawaii are as synonymous as Germany and bratwurst, or Japan and Cherry blossoms. Pineapple plantations aren’t quite as prevalent as they once were, but they still are a huge export and source of Hawaiian pride. You can even find wine made from pineapples – and it’s pretty tasty.

This buttery, decadent nut finds its way into every tourist market, grocery store, gas station prebaked cookie, and almost every restaurant in Hawaii. Whether eaten alone as a snack, baked into Honolulu Cookie Company’s unexpectedly addictive shortbread cookies, worked into the crust on a pan-seated fish fillet, or the secret ingredient in a savory
dish, there’s just something about the macadamia nut that is always a treat.

Perhaps Hawaii’s signature dish, poké is Hawaii’s answer to ceviche. With a soy-laden, teriyaki-like marinade, fresh cubes of raw Ahi tuna and onions, along with optional specialty ingredients are coated with so much flavor. I could eat good Poké every day myself.
These nifty little sushi-like rolls filled with an array of flavors, most often as Spam, fried Spam, or edamame for you vegetarians, are sold at hole-in-the wall Japanese shops throughout O’ahu, particularly in the cities of Honolulu and Waikiki. Unrefrigerated, you’ll want to buy them in the morning to enjoy for an early lunch or mid-morning snack.

Sushi and Ramen:
Of course, if you’re looking for more pure Japanese cuisine, sushi spots and ramen bars abound. My friends raved about hotspot Marukame Udon in Waikiki that is never without a line snaking outdoors – even in a downpour, which was the case when we visited.

The menu at Matsumotos Shave Ice

Ichiban with guava

Shave ice:
Nope, it’s not a typo, in Hawaii, it’s always “shave ice” and not “shaved ice.” That bugs the grammar nut in me, but decorum flies out the window once I’ve had a few bites of the good stuff. Combining traditions from various Asian nations, this shaved ice is nothing like the sno cones or Italian ices that come to mind. The ice is so finely shaved it more resembles fluffy snow at low temperatures and has an oddly creamy texture. Add to it any one of a variety of fruit or even edamame purées, and it would be refreshing and delicious in its own right.

But in Hawaii, one shouldn’t try it without going all out. Sweetened condensed milk is a revelation. Adzuki (red bean) seems another odd topping for the Hawaiian shave ice sundae, but its subtle earthy flavor is a nice balance for the sweet ice. Many other versions bury delicious vanilla ice cream in the volcano-like summit of shaved ice. Overkill? No way! The ice and ice cream are like my sister and me – same components, different flavors. But we work well together (most of the time). For an over the top delicious Hawaiian treat, that, much like a banana split, should be shared among friends, try the Ichiban at Matsumoto’s Shave Ice along O’ahu’s charming north shore town of Haleiwa. It features everything I’ve mentioned, plus a few chewy, tapioca-like Mochi to dip in the toppings, whipped cream, and it is served in an edible tray (it tastes like a cake cone/wafer cone).

Mai tai:
If you’ve ever been to a tiki bar , a Trader Vic’s or other Hawaiian-themed restaurant, you’ve likely been assaulted with a server upselling a premium mai tai. The bad ones are sickly sweet and cheap; the good ones are strong and yet somehow delicate. The best I tried was at Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea on Maui. It was a perfect balance of dark rum and fruit, and its foamy passion fruit merengue topper was an outstanding addition.

All this talk of Hawai’i is making me crave a mai tai and Poké and an ocean-front beach chair in Maui. The lady can dream…and you can plan your next vacation, even if it’s just a trip to your nearest Hawaiian restaurant.