Kevin Toyama of La Mer on cool climate wines for a warm climate - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Kevin Toyama of La Mer on cool climate wines for a warm climate

Kevin Toyama, a third-generation Okinawan, began working as a sommelier in Hawaii in 1992 and has continued to ply his trade on the islands ever since. He now directs the wine program at La Mer in the Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki.

On Vourvray by the glass
A lot of times, the sales of our wines by the glass are dictated by our tasting menu. The [2012 Huet Le Mont Sec] Vouvray is paired with a poached oyster course. We do Champalou and Huet. Huet being the more precise style, where the Champalou has that more voluptuous quality to it; that’s food-friendly and appealing to a lot of people. Chenin blanc from the Loire is lighter and brighter than some wines but not as bright as, say, a grüner veltliner from Austria. Not too bright, not too bold. Loire wines do pretty well with us.

On humble wine with hearty food
We’ve been pouring Marcel Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois with our spiced lamb dish. That funk and wild character works with the lamb, and the soft presence of the fruit, with not too much acidity or tannin, does a good job of clearing the way for the spices. People can takes in the flavor of the lamb, just accented by the gamay.

On white Port with cheese
It’s interesting how white Port will work with a lot of cheeses. I was talking with a gal who was pairing sake with cheese, and I thought: that makes sense. Higher alcohol, more weight matches the fat of the cheese.

On the resurgence of comfort chardonnay
Four or five years ago we would be selling things like Brewer-Clifton and other up-and-coming producers. It seems like people are falling back into a more comfortable place in terms of what [chardonnay] they order. We have Chanin on the list, we have Tyler on the list, Paul Lato and things like that. There are interesting things there. But I think people have for the most part fallen back on more comfortable producers and not so much the innovative producers. 

On new directions
This last year has been a year of development. We’re trying to slowly build the list with a depth of verticals, rather than trying to increase the cellar with newer diverse selections.

Five to six years ago it was important to build Bordeaux. Now it’s about building Burgundy stock and Champagne stock. Having the right producers and vintages, that’s sort of the focus. We talk about things, we read blogs, we see what seems to be going on in the market. Burgundy’s warming up, there’s less wine, there’s been a string of difficult vintages. If we start to get tapped for Burgundy and Champagne, we’re connected to the Chinese and Japanese markets, so we’ll start to feel it a lot sooner. 

On Canadian dessert
People have sort of caught onto the bug for Canadian ice wine. The whole reason [the 2012 Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine from the Niagara Peninsula] works is that we can offer it out of a 187 ml bottle by the glass and control the freshness and quality of the pour. It’s part to the whole hot-climate-of-Hawaii thing. I will personally drink lighter wines, like riesling, when I’m here. When I’m leaving the humidity of Hawaii, leaving those hotter temperatures, I want richer wines. I think here [after dinner] people crave something that’s bright and sweet, as opposed to somewhere colder, where the tendency is to gravitate toward things like spirits and Ports.

Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.