Skies magazine: Oenophiles rejoice in the Cayman Islands

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(Published in Cayman Airway’s Skies magazine, May/June issue, 2018)

The Cayman Islands isn’t just known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean for its world-class food, diverse restaurants and excellent chefs; its drink scene is also cutting-edge. Indeed, wine connoisseurs will discover a host of rare vintages and exceptional wines at the Cayman Islands’ many restaurants and wine bars.

Grand Old House

Stunning waterfront views and a rich dining heritage accompany the most extensive wine list in Grand Cayman at Grand Old House, a consistent winner of the Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence.

Featuring more than 1,500 vintages and some 15,000 bottles of wines from across the globe, including many hard-to-find labels, Grand Old House’s extensive collection is the second biggest in the Caribbean and one of the 500 biggest wine collections in the world. The restaurant’s stunning location in an old plantation house nestled along the Caribbean seafront simply adds to the grandeur.

Wine Director Luciano De Riso and Head Sommelier Antonio Hafner head up the restaurant’s wine team. The duo is responsible for sourcing the restaurant’s rare vintages, hosting tasting events and assisting guests with wine pairings.

Guest Relations Manager Dunja Yeap says that the aim at Grand Old House is to provide a great wine experience for every individual palate and drinking expectation. “Our aim is simply to offer the most exciting wine experience to each of our guests, from beginners to the most dedicated wine connoisseurs,” Yeap explains.

Grand Old House firmly believes that knowing about wines makes them even more enjoyable, hence the restaurant’s dedicated wine club, which offers regular tasting events and the opportunity for members to purchase rare wines not available elsewhere on Island.

The club is comprised of different membership levels, which ranges from a selection of hand-selected boutique wines per month for entry-level members through to the prestige of owning your own personal wine locker to house your own collection.

At the cornerstone of the wine club are frequent wine tasting events, featuring rare varietals. Hosted by industry experts, a selection of up to five wines are typically tasted alongside paired canapés expertly prepared by the restaurant’s executive chef. Yeap urges guests to book in advance, as the tasting events frequently sell out.

Enoteca Wine Bar & Tasting Room

Wine enthusiasts are in for a treat at Enoteca Wine Bar & Tasting Room, a boutique one-stop shop and wine bar located in Caribbean Plaza along West Bay Road.

Guests are free to browse the shelves and take home a fine vintage to enjoy at home or indulge in their favourite vino in house, the ideal spot to enjoy a few leisurely hours indulging in some delicious sips.

For those looking for a truly unique experience, reserve a seat at the Tavola Ovale and dine at Enoteca’s centrepiece, a stunning oval table located in the heart of the wine bar and tasting room, whilst Enoteca’s chefs and wine experts create a personal tasting experience designed to tantalise your taste buds.

The expertly curated menu features a selection of light bites utilising the very finest ingredients sourced from around the world, all designed to be savoured alongside the wines. Delicacies include a selection of antipasto, bruschetta and charcuterie.

For those looking to learn more, reserve a spot at one of Enoteca’s regular wine tasting events or arrange a private tasting. The events are headed up by Christian Esser, a leading sommelier in the Caribbean.

Enoteca’s Motley Cru event is held the last Thursday of every month and offers a fun and social evening centred around a lively discussion about wine. The wine tasting event typically focuses on varietals from a specific wine region and includes a selection of nibbles, charcuterie, a glass of Champagne and a selection of tasting measures, all hosted by a certified wine professional.

West Indies Wine Company

Located in the heart of the town centre at Camana Bay, the West Indies Wine Company (WIWC) is a haven for wine connoisseurs, featuring 600 bottles in a sleek contemporary space.

An informal wine bar with a twist, one of the stand-out features of WIWC is that it features a curated selection of 80 wines available on tap as one-, three- or five-ounce pours, thanks to state-of-the-art, self-serve wine stations.

The wine stations feature Napa Technology, are temperature controlled and, thanks to argon gas, can keep an opened bottle good for up to four weeks, although Eric Schwandt of WIWC is quick to add that wines very rarely go off, as the store goes through the bottles “quite quickly.”

Guests are free to purchase a personal smart card from the in-house wine shop and then help themselves to their favourite tipple. So, whether you want to simply enjoy a one-ounce pour prior to purchasing a bottle or enjoy a full five-ounce pour on the WIWC’s breezy patio on the Paseo with friends and family, WIWC is a must-visit for oenophiles.

For those looking to expand their knowledge on wines, WIWC’s monthly Sommelier Series offers a wonderful and informal opportunity. Organised by WIWC in-house sommelier Martin Pilat, the tasting events are typically hosted by a notable winemaker and feature around five or six wines.

“The guests learn the history behind the wines, the winery and everything it takes to get the wine into the bottle,” Schwandt explains.

Blue by Eric Ripert, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Dine at Blue by Eric Ripert, the Caribbean’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant, and enjoy exquisite food paired with some of the finest wines in Cayman.

Overseen by famed chef Eric Ripert of the iconic Le Bernadin, New York, Blue by Eric Ripert specialises in tasting menus that highlight local seafood all expertly paired with a curated selection of more than 700 fine wines.

As the restaurant is predominantly a seafood restaurant, it comes as no surprise that the wine list features a strong selection of whites; however, there are still ample reds for wine lovers to choose from, ranging from heavy hitters to lesser-known and hard-to-find varietals.

“The relationship between the wine programme and the food is what really makes Blue by Eric Ripert special,” says Maria Pineda, marketing communications manager. “The list is designed to offer selections that will enhance the meal and uplift the entire experience.”

Head Sommelier William Loyd was raised in the Cayman Islands and spent the past 15 years honing his knowledge in restaurants and wineries across the U.S. and Europe.

Amongst some of the wine highlights at Blue is a drinkable piece of history, a 1942 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, from Burgundy, France.

“A pinot noir that is the very best in the business,” Loyd says. “This wine was made in France during the Nazi occupation and was hidden away in the cellars of Burgundy, lest the Germans confiscate it. It was unearthed after World War II.”

Tortuga Fine Wine & Spirits

For wines on the go, one of the most popular liquor stores in Cayman is Tortuga Fine Wine & Spirits, featuring a vast selection of wines from around the world at price points to suit every budget. Family owned and operated, Tortuga is the largest liquor retailer in Cayman, boasting 14 stores island-wide, meaning you’re never far away from your favourite tipple.

Whether you’re searching for a wine to enjoy around the pool or a fine vintage for a gourmet meal, Tortuga’s staff are always on hand to help, with many trained and certified through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

For those looking to sample before they buy, Tortuga’s weekly tasting events held every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. are a must. Held at the company’s two Seven Mile Beach locations, Governor’s Square and Seven Mile Shops, the weekly event features a variety of wines that guests are free to sample, with tasting guidance by Tortuga’s knowledgeable wine experts.

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