A Thirst For Satisfaction

wine lei

Sommelier Liane Fu uncorks the secrets to enjoying wine and life, and shares her favorite spots to drink and dine in Honolulu.

Text by Brad Dell
Image by Doniree Walker

Liane Fu’s life was changed in 2001 by a 1997 Pine Ridge merlot and a foie gras-covered ahi steak cooked in a Bordeaux wine reduction. Fu was only an occasional wine drinker, but she was confident that the sommelier of the restaurant, David Paul’s Diamond Head Grill, was wrong about her wine pairing. Fu remembers saying, “Really? Pine Ridge, that’s a big merlot.” The sommelier replied, “Trust me.”

“When I tasted that wine with the food, I was like, ‘This is absolute heaven,’” Fu says. “I had never experienced a perfect pairing before and it just changed my world. I was like, ‘I wanna figure out how this can happen more.’”

Selling wine is all about building relationships with people.

This single moment sparked her decision to enter the wine industry after spending more than 20 years pursuing other career goals that never fully satisfied her. According to Fu, who is now a sommelier, perfect pairings are extremely rare and are only created by someone who has tasted thousands of flavor combinations.

“In the perfect pairing, the food makes the wine better, the wine makes the food better. They both come together and create this whole other dimension of flavor that doesn’t exist in each of those two things. It creates something else,” she explains.

Fu’s tips:

  • “The older the wine, the better” isn’t true. Ninety-five percent of all wine is made to be drunk within a year or two of production.
  • Some things will never pair—especially fermented items like kimchi.
  • If you ever come across something you can’t pair, try sparkling wine or champagne. It won’t necessarily enhance your food, but it won’t clash with it either.

After that fateful dinner in 2001, Fu left her position as a manager at Bank of Hawaii, opened up The Wine Stop on South King Street in 2003 with her then-partner Kim Karalovich, and became a certified sommelier in 2006. The Wine Stop sold a variety of alcohol, hosted wine dinners, and provided wine pairings for the surrounding restaurants.

“Selling wine is all about building relationships with people,” says Fu, who has since sold the shop, which is currently closed, but is still hosting wine events under its title. “It’s hard to walk away from [the shop] because the wine is tied in with all of these relationships that you have with the distributors, the sellers, the makers, the buyers. It becomes a community.”

In January 2015, Fu began a new business called Speakeasy Bar, Catering, and Gifts, which hosts wine tastings, caters events, and makes gift baskets. In this endeavor, Fu works with Chef Jason Kiyota of the Food Company Café in Kailua to celebrate the art of the perfect pairing.

“Red wine goes with red meat” is a good start, she says, but there’s more to it. The sommelier and chef spend numerous hours tasting their combinations and adjusting flavors, and have achieved a perfect pairing at every wine dinner they have held. The discovery of such a pairing isn’t based purely on luck.

A good sommelier makes educated guesses based on criteria such as acidity, the pH levels of the soil and weather of the area the grapes were grown in, as well as the year the wine was bottled, Fu says.

Get a list of Liane Fus top five places to wine and dine via Lei.

For Fu, wine is a job rather than something to be enjoyed. But that’s not to say that she doesn’t love this work, which she considers to be her favorite yet.

“When you think about it, people who are going to need bar catering are people who are doing big parties. It’s a wedding, a peak moment in their life, or a birthday party. They’re getting their best friends together and they want their friends to have the best possible time. So you always have the best food and best wine. It’s the best of everything. What’s there not to like about that?”

Fu says she has no regrets about switching her career aspirations after devoting years to other pursuits. “Life has so much to offer if we just have the courage to taste it,” Fu muses. “If I hadn’t had that one dinner and been willing to trust that sommelier, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

Upcoming wine education seminars with Fu and The Wine Stop at Hound & Quail in Honolulu’s Chinatown:

French Wine 101
Monday, September 21, 6 p.m. $30
Learn about and taste wines from iconic French regions. Light pupus will also be served.

Wine with Local Snacks and Grinds
Tuesday, September 29, 6 p.m. $35
Learn how to add panache to your local kine snacks and grinds. This event will pair wines with popcorn, Zippy’s, iso peanuts, and more.

To reserve your seat for either event, email houndandquail@gmail.com with the event you would like to attend as well as how many people will be attending. Learn more at houndandquail.com.