Stop Whining About Wine in Hawaii!

While we enjoy a cold beer and a Mai Tai from time to time…my husband and I love wine. In fact, we have taken many wine courses and visit the world’s great wine regions as part of our travels. When we moved back to Oahu we knew we would need to be more creative in finding great wines to enjoy in our daily lives. But they are available so stop your whining and get drinking!

Azure at the Royal Hawaiian


As discussed in a previous blog, there are a lot more upscale and fine dining restaurants in Honolulu than most people expect or know! And more are popping up weekly. Some have impressive wine lists, but most do not. To know which have the best, you need to first know that there are only three Master Sommeliers in all of Hawaii; Chuck Furuya, Patrick Okubo, and Roberto Viernes.

Chuck is the “godfather” of wine in Hawaii, being the first to earn the Master title way back in 1988 when he was at the long since closed Bagwell’s 2424 at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. He now co-owns and manages Vino near downtown. Vino is part of DK Restaurants (DK Kodama). Chuck actively works the tables, educating and telling jokes. In 2006, Food & Wine named Vino one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences.”

Patrick created the wine list at Le Bistro in Niu Valley and Roberto works at Taormina Sicilian Cuisine on Lewers Street. If you read my blog on fine dining restaurants, you will notice none of these three were mentioned. It’s not that I don’t think they are great restaurants…but I do feel the wine lists outshine the food so wanted to save them for this blog.

But you don’t have to be a Master Sommelier to create a great wine list. Sommeliers who haven’t yet achieved Master status, but who are still creating impressive lists include Kevin Toyama and Sean Isono at the Halekulani, Micah Suderman at Azure in the Royal Hawaiian, Mark Shisido at Alan Wong’s and Chris Ramelb at the relatively new Senia.

Award-Winning Wine Lists

Four restaurants on Oahu have earned “2018 Best of Award of Excellence” status with Wine Spectator magazine. This is equivalent to two stars out of three. Unfortunately, no restaurant in Hawaii has earned three, yet! The best restaurants are La Mer at Halekulani, Noe at the Four Seasons Ko Olina, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Waikiki, and Il Lupino in Waikiki. Il Lupino is the most approachable of the group, offering 75+ wines by the glass (generous 6oz and 9oz options) and 5 different wine flights.

Twelve additional Oahu restaurants earned an “Award of Excellence” (aka one star). These are Vino, Morton’s (love the “power hour”), Mariposa (inside Nieman Marcus at Ala Moana), Alan Wong’s, Chart House, Bali & Fresco (both at the Hilton Hawaiian Village), BLT Market, BLT Steak, Beachhouse at the Moana, Hoku’s, and Pa’akai (at Turtle Bay). There were only six just two years ago!

Hoku’s, at the Kahala Resort, has a high-end list by the glass, starting at $15 for a prosecco, up to $80 for an Italian Sassicaia. Or do an Opus One vertical flight for $165!

Other Wine Centered Restaurants

In addition to the restaurants above, there are a number of restaurants in Honolulu that let the wines shine! The mainland chain restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris, Strip Steak, and Nobu all have impressive lists. We particularly like the Tastemaker dinners at Ruth’s Chris. Arancino at the Kahala Resort offers a very user-friendly wine list with a focus on Italian and Pacific Rim. The wine list was put together by a Japanese Sommelier.

Amuse Wine Bar at INspirations

Wine Bars

Amuse Wine Bar above INspirations furniture store offers 80 wines by the glass through their preservation system. During their happy hour, you can buy a $50 card for just $30. Formaggio offers nearly 50 wines by the glass (2oz and 6oz), a happy hour, and live music. Tchin Tchin in Chinatown is a secret hideaway, but also offers a large number of wines by the glass (2oz and 6oz).

And the “king” of wine bars is Vintage Cave Club. If you really want to spend a LOT of money on great wines, this is the place. Their “Master” wine list has more than 80 wine bottles selling for more than $1000, with a bottle of 2009 Romanee-Conti Grand Crus Monopole listed at $29k.

Wine Events

A number of restaurants offer winemaker dinners throughout the year. We’ve attended a few at Ruth’s Chris, Wisp, Sansei, and dk Steak. All were fun with some good wines. We are still looking for a WOW wine event. Madre Chocolate does a monthly wine and chocolate pairing event. And we’re looking forward to the annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival in October, particularly the “Winederland” event by Hawaiian Airlines at the Convention Center.

A little off the beaten path, Naked Cow Dairy Farm in Waianae offers cheese making classes that include wine tasting/pairing. And Oeno Winery in Kailua offers tastings and the ability to create your own blend and personalize the label. Or simply buy one of their own blends like Bass Ackwards and 5 Frenchmen.

Wine Shopping on Island

There are not a lot of great places on island to buy great wines at relatively affordable prices. But it’s a small island so how many do you need? Our favorite, most people’s favorite, is Tamura’s Fine Wine on Waialae Avenue. They clearly have the largest variety of premium wines, of all varietals and from all countries. If you prefer to try your wines before you buy…stop by Whole Foods or Foodland Farms. They each have tasting bars and a decent selection of wines. But of all the major grocery store chains, I find Safeway has the best variety and pricing.

Naked Cow Dairy in Waianae

Wine Shopping Online

If you haven’t yet explored wine clubs, you should! Many will now ship to Hawaii. Check out the website for a LONG list. Or that claims 791 wineries will ship to Hawaii. We are hooked on Dry Creek Zinfandels and have found most will ship to Hawaii. So why not load up the wine fridge or cellar with what you know you love at a reasonable price?

Want to Know More About Hawaii Life?

The goal of this blog is to show that you can live in paradise and still drink great wines. You may have to dig a bit more than you would in San Francisco or NYC but hey, no one said you could have it all! If the above suggestions are too confusing, simply stop by Vino and talk story with Chuck Furuya. He will entertain and educate you…and convince you that Hawaii and wine are a pairing made in paradise.

And if you have any questions about moving to and living on Oahu, let me know. Cheers!

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LeAnn Auerbach

July 23, 2018

I love this blog! Thank you so much especially for the links to the wine clubs that ship to Hawai’i. Awesome!?

peter francis

July 26, 2018

Nice article about wine, i`d suggest you check out K&, we in the wine business think it`s a great store and a wonderful website for just about anything you`d like or want, thanks for listening, and if you see Chuck, say hi for me…

peter b.

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