Originally published in the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival 2016 program.

Photo: Kris Labang/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2019

A call out of the blue to the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival turned out to be a big blessing. In March, the festival received a call from the wife of a late wine collector. Her husband had passed away recently and she had almost 300 bottles of wine that he had collected over 35 years. She realized that she could never drink all that wine in her lifetime. She wanted to donate them to the festival to support the non-profit’s mission to fund culinary training for aspiring chefs and edible education curriculum for elementary school students, programs in line with her late husband’s goals as an educator.

 And that is how a collection of Bordeaux wines primarily from the 1980s fell into the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival’s lap. The wines span a decade that master sommelier Roberto Viernes calls a golden age of Bordeaux—vintages that “still stand as standard bearers for the quality and pedigree for Bordeaux,” he says.

“That wine, to me, is the epitome of class.”

-Roberto Viernes, Master Sommelier

Master Sommelier Roberto Viernes pouring wines for guests at the HFWF19 launch event, No Borders, at The Kahala Hotel & Resort. Photo: Reid Shimabukuro/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2019

One of the standouts in the collection is the 1989 La Mission Haut-Brion: “That wine, to me, is the epitome of class,” Viernes says. He reflects on its notes of “beautiful plum, dry fruit, and a lovely, wet stony character which really speaks of the Graves subregion of Bordeaux it comes from.” The tendency with cabernet sauvignon, which the La Mission Haut-Brion is primarily made of, is to be thick and heavy, but this wine is the liquid embodiment of yin and yang, offering up a richness suffused with luminous elegance.

Just as every wine offers insight into the place where it was grown, every wine collection offers a glimpse into the wine collector’s personality. Upon assessing the donated collection, Viernes says the collector behind this particular donation wasn’t particularly interested in trophy wines, “the wine with the biggest rating, the wine that’s the most famous, the most widely known. This person obviously tasted the wines and found things he enjoyed and stuck to it. He liked wines that have a terroir, that encompass the earth as well as the grapes themselves. You can tell this person has a sense of place in mind when he chose that purchase. The wines are very pleasurable and very drinkable.”

The selection of unique wines for the HFWF16 Rarities Tasting featuring La Mission Hait-Brion and other wines from the 1980s and 1990s. Photo: Travis Okimoto/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2016

Viernes will pour a selection of the wines in the Rarities wine tasting event at the Halekulani, where 50 attendees will be able to experience how well the best of Bordeaux, as well as a few wines from the Rhone Valley, age. “To taste wines that are 30 years old is a tremendous occasion,” Viernes says. And to do so in Hawaii, in the company of other wine enthusiasts? A rarity indeed.