Wine service with flair

It’s not just the great chefs, professional waiters and delicious and diverse foods served in the restaurants that help make Grand Cayman a hotspot for culinary delights in the Caribbean; it’s also the excellent beverage service standards.

Craft cocktails and beers are the latest rage, but during dinner, wine is still king and despite Grand Cayman’s small size, its restaurants offer surprisingly diverse and expansive wine lists paired with knowledgeable staff and high quality stemware.

Four of Grand Cayman’s restaurants – Blue by Eric Ripert, Grand Old House, Agua and LUCA – are great examples of the excellent wine service standards on the island.

 

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Fabio Sordinelli, sommelier at Agua Restaurant & Lounge

aguaA broad selection of varieties at a range of price points, combined with an unusually wide by-the-glass selection makes the award-winning Agua an irresistible proposition for wine enthusiasts

Located in the heart of the Seven Mile Beach corridor in the Galleria Shopping Plaza, Agua Restaurant & Lounge caters to a diverse clientele, attracting many tourists as well as a loyal local following.

Agua’s wine list has more than 500 labels, says the restaurant’s in-house sommelier, Fabio Sordinelli.

“We try to have a list with as many of the grape varieties as possible,” he says. “We have wines from $40 to very high end, $200 and up.”

At any given time, Agua has between 50 and 60 wines priced below $50 a bottle.

“We don’t want to have a wine list with just really expensive wines,” Fabio says. “We want to make everyone happy.”

Agua tries to source unique, Fabio says.

“We try to get those wines that are hard to find and from producers that have really low yields. It’s my job to find wines that we can sell for between $50 and $70 that are exceptional for the price.”

Agua has particularly strong wine selections from Italy and America, Fabio explains.

“Those are the ones that sell the most in our restaurant.”

One of the things in which Fabio takes pride is the excellent list of options for wines by the glass available at Agua. The restaurant offers 14 different wines by the glass ranging from Château Minuty, M de Minuty Rosé for $8.00, to Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon at $17.50. This fall, Agua will install a Le Verre de Vin wine preservation system that will allow it to serve even more wines by the glass and offer a different “Wine of the Day” selection by the glass.

In June 2016, Fabio took first place in a competition hosted by Agua that involved seven other top Cayman Islands’ sommeliers. The seven-event competition took place over the course of 11 months and featured two sommeliers pairing four different dinner courses with wines of their choosing within a certain budget. Dinner guests then voted on which wine paired best with the food.

“I think the series was so successful because people were participating in the experience,” Fabio says, adding that Agua will host the series again in the future. “The people dining with us were the judges, so it was very interactive from the guests’ perspective.”

In 2015, Agua earned for its wine service the prestigious Wine Spectator “Two-glasses” Best of Award of Excellence, an honor bestowed on fewer than 1,100 restaurants worldwide.

“It’s a great achievement,” says Fabio. “Not many restaurants here get that.”

 

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William Loyd, head sommelier at Blue by Eric Ripert

blueUndoubtably one of Cayman’s flagship restaurants, Blue emphasises the close relationship between chef and sommelier. “Immersion into Blue” is a gastronomic tour de force not to be missed

It should come as no surprise that Grand Cayman’s most famous restaurant bearing the name of a world-famous chef should have a wine service that is one of the best on the island.

Blue by Eric Ripert is first and foremost a seafood restaurant and as a result, its wine list is replete with white wines and lighter-bodied reds. However, it also carries some heavy-hitting reds too.

The restaurant’s exquisite tasting menus are offered with optional wine pairings, so getting those pairings right is something on which Blue spends a lot of time, says its head sommelier William Loyd.

“Probably the most important relationship in a restaurant like Blue is that between the chef and the sommelier,” he says. “We are always testing, tasting, and thinking of new ways to enhance the experience of our guests. We can see the influence of this relationship in the tasting menus, where the development of dishes and the progression in which they are presented is heavily influenced by the wines they are paired with.”

Blue is meticulous about the way their wines are handled, from vineyard to its cellar, William says.

“We are very particular about the provenance and shipping of any wine we buy,” he says. “We take a variety of steps to ensure the wine we serve is in its best possible condition. Refrigerated shipping and temperature sensitive stickers ensure that the wine we receive is not mishandled on route.”

There are a number of ways guests can experience Blue’s wine service beyond just dining at the restaurant.

“There is always something happening in Blue throughout the year,” says William. “Our Cayman Cookout event is a great way to rub shoulders with great winemakers from the U.S. and Europe.

We tend to do three wine dinners a year and each one has a unique feel because it is designed around a different producer.”

William says his favorite way to experience the food and wine pairings at the restaurant is an event called “Immersion into Blue.”

“This involves a private Champagne tasting, followed by a one-hour, hands-on culinary experience working in the famed kitchen of Blue by Eric Ripert,” he says. “Under the tutelage of some of the finest members of the culinary team, you will be prepping and cooking your own meal from our Blue menu options. Dinner that night is in the Blue dining room, where you will feast on the fruits of your labor as a part of a specialty five or seven-course tasting menu, selected based on your personal preference.”

 

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Luciano De Riso, head of operations and wine director at Grand Old House

grand-old-house-descBuilding on its long and distinguished history, South Sound’s Grand Old House is careful to ensure that their staff has a high level of wine expertise, ready to be passed along to their diners

The Grand Old House in South Sound is one of Grand Cayman’s oldest restaurants – it opened in 1969 – and has long been known for its excellent wine service.

“It is vital as we consider wines as an integral part of our dining experience,” says Luciano De Riso, the restaurant’s head of operations and wine director.

At the core of Grand Old House’s wine service is an expansive collection of more than 800 different selections and 15,000 bottles from wine regions around the world, including many hard-to-find labels.  Its expansive wine list is one of the reasons Grand Old House receives the Wine Spectator “Two Glasses” Best of Award of Excellence on a yearly basis.

Grand Old House uses a variety of ways to source its wines.

“We collaborate closely with all the local distributors,” Luciano says, adding the restaurant obtains some exclusive wines from those sources, but that they also acquire wines directly from some wineries and from trusted auction houses. As a result, its wine list not only features multiple vintages of certain wines, but also some unique selections that no one else on Grand Cayman carries.

Because of the importance Grand Old House puts on wine service as part of its overall dining experience, Luciano says the restaurant strives to make its staff as wine knowledgeable as possible.

“We hold weekly tastings for our staff and when possible, we send them to professional courses like the local [Wine & Spirit Education Trust] and the Court of Master Sommeliers in the U.S.,” he says, noting that the training helps the staff make informed wine suggestions for guests.

Luciano says that knowing about wines makes them more enjoyable to drink and restaurant patrons can learn about wines in a variety of ways. The Grand Old House Wine Club offers regular tasting events and different levels of membership to buy unique wines that aren’t available anywhere else on Grand Cayman.

Another important part of Grand Old House’s wine service is its glassware and storage.

“We offer different shapes of glassware for different wines,” he says. “Our large collection of decanters, from classic to more adventurous shapes made more for older wines, is impeccably kept. All our wines are stored at the constant temperature of 68 degrees in our wine room, which is available for dinners or luncheons and seats up to 10 people.

 

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Cheryl Pokoradi, wine director at LUCA

luca-descMuch of LUCA’s substantial and carefully curated selection of fine wines is on display, making a seductive counterpoint to their mouthwatering menu

Multiple vintages of iconic American and Italian wines, 15 different California wines rated a perfect 100 points by famed critic Robert Parker and a cellar with more than 1,100 different labels and 25,000 bottles is what makes LUCA Restaurant’s wine program special.

“It’s an important part of our restaurant,” says Cheryl Pokoradi, LUCA’s wine director. “We’ve put a lot of time, effort and financial resources into our wine program. Part of the vision of the owners is that they wanted to develop a really unique wine list that would be an attraction for wine buffs.”

Although it carries wines from many regions, LUCA’s strength is in its American and Italian selections. Anyone who knows anything about wines will have heard of the brands: Opus One, Harlan Estate, Bond, Peter Michael, Bryant Family, Shafer Hillside Select, Scarecrow, Screaming Eagle, Gaja, Solaia, Ornellaia and many more of the biggest names in the wine business, most of them available in vertical flights.

“I don’t think there is any other restaurant on Cayman that has the flights we have,” Cheryl says, adding that LUCA gets repeat customers specifically because of its wine list.

Acquiring its wines from a variety of sources that include local distributors, direct from wineries, auctions and private collections, LUCA’s wine list has a little of everything, earning it a Wine Spectator “Two Glasses” Best of Award of Excellence since 2010.

Backed with three on-staff sommeliers in addition to herself, Cheryl says LUCA strives for excellence in service as well, not only with knowledge of wines, but in serving its wine in lead-free crystal glasses and decanters and keeping its wines in two temperature-controlled state-of-the-art glass cellars that display many of its great selections.

LUCA works with several of Grand Cayman’s wine distributors to host three or four wine dinners each year, in addition to a Cayman Cookout food and wine festival lunch event every January. It is also a favorite venue for hosting industry tastings or lunches for visiting winery owners, winemakers and representatives.