Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: 7-Eleven HawaiiRestaurant Insider
January 31, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with 7-Eleven Hawaii master sommelier PATRICK OKUBO
Patrick Okubo is one of two master sommeliers that help curate the wine selections for 7-Eleven Hawaii. Starting Feb. 1, the local stores will be introducing 10 new wines — excluding Waimanalo Beach, Pali and Campbell (though Campbell will start selling alcohol March 3).
This week, he shares what to expect from 7-Eleven Hawaii’s wine selections.
AL: Why did you want to become a sommelier?
PO: I was on Lanai and worked for Castle & Cooke. I knew the hotels were going to be rebranded to Four Seasons. With the transition, my role became the person in charge of the wines. I was kind of thrown into this role, so wanting to do my best, I wanted to learn more about wines. Once I started learning, I really enjoyed it. I was 23 at the time.
I majored in hotel and restaurant management at University of Hawaii at Manoa. I didn’t know it was going to lead exactly to this path, but hospitality was my passion since I was 18. I liked it so much I went to school for it. It also gave me the opportunity to have this position created for me, among other great things.
AL: Why did you want to take this project on with 7-Eleven Hawaii?
PO: Before this, finding good quality wines at good prices meant you had to go to the grocery store or big box stores which is kind of out of your way. The supermarkets might not have the best options or prices. There is always a 7-Eleven store close by, and it’s convenient, you will be in and out paying the best possible price. When I have to run in and get some good wines, I can run to the nearest 7-Eleven.
AL: How do you select wines for 7-Eleven Hawaii?
PO: I try to change the selections twice a year. With the pandemic, we were not able to change out the offerings in a timely manner. There are a lot of factors that go into the selection process. It’s not just about price point. It’s about selecting wines that are not readily available in other stores. We want to give these wines their own identity and uniqueness. We choose price points that are in the middle, $9-$22. My goal is to have people enjoy these wines on a daily basis, to make it a part of their meal, more of a way of life and not just drinking these on special occasions.
AL: What are the new selections that you wanted to feature today?
PO: The sparkling wine I chose is the Bouvet-Ladubay ($16.99). I have a lot of fond memories of this wine. After my wife and I got engaged, we went to France and took a bicycle trip to Loire Valley. They served this everywhere we went. It’s made just like champagne. This is a great aperitif after a long day of bike rides by itself, or pair it with seafood, poke and sushi.
The red wine that I chose is the Oberon Merlot ($22.99). You can get this in certain restaurants, but we are launching this for retail at 7-Eleven Hawaii. This is a crowd-pleasing fruity merlot and it has dark rich flavor. A lot of merlots in the lower price range don’t have this body and richness, whereas with this one, you can still pair it with a grilled steak as it’s hearty enough to go with that, or it pairs well with a hamburger or teri beef.
The white selection I have chosen is the Citra Pinot Grigio ($9.99). Pinot grigio traditionally comes from the northeastern part of Italy where it’s very cold, and they end up being neutral tasting — which can be good, if you don’t want a lot of flavor. This particular wine comes from the Italian region of Abruzzo which is further down south and a bit warmer. So you get more fruit out of this pinot grigio, with the same characteristics of the citrusy, clean refreshing palate with a little bit more fruit and flavor. Pair this with seafood and salads, or even ahi, salmon or poultry.
AL: Tell us about the other selections that will be available Feb. 1.
PO: In total, there will be 10 new wines. I have mixed it up with some approachable easy drinking wines and some unique options. For example, the Pacificana Chardonnay ($14.99) is a full-bodied crowd-pleasing semi-dry wine that has hits of tropical fruit, buttery oak, vanilla spices and a bit of sweetness.
For the unique profiles, I have selected the Montes Alpha Cabernet from Colchagua Chile ($22.99). This will have herbal smoky spices to it — not your normal California cabernet. This pairs great with red meats and Mexican food.
AL: What is your favorite wine?
PO: I tend to like French wines from Northern Rhône, Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas. They are really black, peppery savory, really rosemary herbal. These are about $50 a bottle.
AL: Does the price really determine the best wine?
PO: It’s really about the marketing of the wines and how rare allocated the wines are. There are a lot of things that go into the price. The rarity of the wine and if you make a certain amount. It’s the supply and demand, and it’s just not domestically.
In China, if they are willing to pay more, America will have to pay what’s determined by them. This happens sometimes. China spends a lot of money on wines. They have purchasing power. There’s even a movie about it called Red Obsession, and its about how China inflates the price of wines in America.
AL: What do you love about your job?
PO: I get to work with all different levels of the business. I get to do wine dinners and be around consumers, suppliers and wineries, and actually go to the vineyards. Working with the suppliers and vineyards directly, you get to know the history and their story.