Cayman Cookout serves up excellent tastings of wine

In addition to great food and cooking demonstrations, the 2011 Cayman Cookout also featured a host of wine tastings with some of the top winemakers and wine experts in the business.

Good food requires good wine, according to celebrity Chef Eric Ripert.

There is no such thing as a good dinner without wine,” Chef Eric said before the start of the 2011 Cookout.

And there’s no such thing as a good culinary festival without wine either. So not only did all of the Cookout’s lunch and dinner events feature wine, there were six separate wine tastings offered.

The big tasting – with the big US$625 price tag – was the ‘Favourites with Heidi Peterson Barrett’ tasting that included the hard-to-find Napa Valley cult Cabernet Sauvignon, Screaming Eagle. With the highest profile of all the Cookout tastings, ‘Favourites’ was indeed the favourite of serious wine aficionados and sold out quickly.

But there were five other wine tastings, which added together cost just slightly more than ‘Favourites’ alone and offered some extraordinary wines.

South African All-Stars

Ray Isle, the Food & Wine magazine’s wine editor, began the tasting called “South Africa All-Stars” by pointing out that when it comes to New World wines, South African wines are as old as it gets.

“What people don’t realise is how old South African wine history is,” he said, noting that wine production started in that country in the 1600s.

“It has a wine history much longer than the US, much longer than Australia and much longer than other New World wine regions.”.

The “All-Stars” tasting featured three white wines, one rose and two reds. The first was the highly acidic 2009 “Beyond” Sauvignon Blanc.

“This says shellfish and oysters to me,” Isle said, thinking about possible food pairings. “It’s not as New World-juicy as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can be.”

Nor is it as expensive, something that rings true with most South African wines, which usually represent a great deal, Isle said.

The second white, 2009 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc was a golden-coloured, full-bodied wine that Isle thought would be perfect with white-fleshed fish.

South African has become known for its Chenin Blanc, the most widely planted grape variety, and Ken Forrester Vineyard makes some of the best Chenin Blanc coming out of South Africa. Its Chenin Blanc ‘FMC’, which was featured at the Cookout’s Gala dinner finale, is the wine of rock stars.

Robert Bradshaw of Cape Classics, the importer of the tasted wines, is a Chenin Blanc fan.

“It may be the most underrated grape on the planet,”he said.Next up was the 2010 Glenelly Chardonnay, made by noted former Chateau Pichon Bordeaux winemaker May-Eliane de Lencquesaing. Opened in 2007 in an ultra-modern facility in Stellenbosch, Glenelly produces a fresh, unoaked Chardonnay reminiscent of the French version.

Mulderbosch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rose had aromas of roses and berries and a touch of sweetness that Isle liked.

“If there is one wine here that is made for sitting around the pool in Cayman, it’s this wine,” he said, noting that it would go great with a lunchtime sandwich.

The first red tasted was 2006 Rustenberg John X Merriman, a classic Bordeaux blend.

“What’s actually interesting about South African Bordeaux blends, as opposed to Napa Bordeaux blends, is they actually recall Bordeaux,” he said. “That’s an Old World wine, despite being produced in South Africa.”

Since winemaking in Stellenbosch was heavily influenced by French Huguenots, it’s not all that surprising that the 2007 Rudi Schultz Syrah was more reminiscent of a Rhone-style Syrah as opposed to and Australian Shiraz. The dark ruby-coloured Rudi Schultz Syrah would go well grilled leg of lamb, Isle said.

“To me, [Syrahs] are going to be the really exciting wines in South Africa in a little while.”

La Sirena Wines

Those that couldn’t get in – or couldn’t afford – the ‘Favourites with Heidi Peterson Barrett’ tasting, had another chance to see and hear the “First Lady of Wine”.

The former winemaker at Screaming Eagle now makes wines for her own brand, La Sirena – the mermaid, so named partially because Barrett is an avid scuba diver.

The first wine was 2009 Moscato Azul, which comes in a pretty blue bottle. The wine is made from the Muscat grape, which is best known for creating sweetish, slightly sparkling wines like Moscato di Asti.

But Barrett makes a dry Moscato that has a beautiful fruity nose and balanced, refreshing taste.

The spicy and fruity 2005 Santa Ynez Syrah was next. Unlike some of the austere Australian Syrahs, which really require aging before they’re approachable, this was is a light, easy-drinking wine. The big and bold 2005 Napa Valley Syrah followed. This wine drinks a lot like a Cab because it’s structured very similarly, Barrett said.

A bit hot in wine content at 15.3 per cent, this is a wine to drink with a steak off the grill now, or to be cellared for a few more years.

Although she is more known for her Cabernet Sauvignon, Barrett likes making Syrah, evidenced by the fact she makes three different ones.

“Syrah is an inexpensive alternative to Cab,” she said, explaining that Syrah grapes are less expensive to grow.

The 2007 Pirate TreasuRed is a Cabernet blend of seven grapes that comes in a bottle shaped like an old rum bottle. This wine reflects the fun side of Barrett, who said the appropriate toast when drinking TreasuRed is “arrrrrrr”.

The 2006 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon is Barrett at her most serious as she strives to deliver “power and grace in the same glass”. It’s very difficult to do, but what I try to achieve,” she said.

The attributes of many typical big Cabs of Napa Valley lie mainly in their fruitiness and power. However, Barrett focuses on balance and finesse when making Cabernet Sauvignon and the result is a silky elegant wine with a long finish.

Big Reds

The tasting called Big Reds features six Cabernet-based wines and a Tempranillo-based Spanish Rioja. Writer and sommelier Anthony Giglio took attendees through the tasting, humorously educating them about wine, Champagne and even moonshine.

Two big reds from South Africa – 2007 Thelema Cab and 2007 Kanonkop Paul Sauer – a Cabernet blend, showed once again the kind of high quality reds coming out of Stellenbosch in particular. The award-winning Paul Sauer is generally regarded as one of the top Bordeaux blends made in South Africa, with the 2007 vintage earning 92 point ratings by both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

Also tasted was 2006 Chateau Pichon Reserve de la Comtesse Pauillac Bordeaux. Still young, but refined, this French wine was also notable because the 2006 vintage was the last produced under winemaker May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, who opened Glenelly in South Africa the next year.

A late addition to the tasting was 2004 Trasnocho Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza Rioja, which was made from 90 per cent Tempranillo grapes – the mainstay of Spanish wines – and 10 per cent Graciano grapes. Poured from magnum-sized bottles, this delicious wine with a wonderfully fruity aroma got a 97 point rating by Robert Parker.

But the highlights of the Big Red tasting were three entrees from the Morlet Family Vineyards in California. Winemaker Luc Morlet, who attended the tasting described himself as a French American and his wines reflected his French heritage. The three wines tasted – 2008 Morlet Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Passionnement

Oakville, 2007 Morlet Family Vineyards Mon Chevalier Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Morlet Family Vineyards Coeur de Vallee To-Kalon were all extremely young, but they were nonetheless very drinkable, even elegant. It takes considerable wine-making talent to coax the subtle differences of terroir out of wines, and Morlet has done just that.

The Royals of Champagne

Although 10am is early for most wine tastings, it is completely appropriate for Champagne – especially top-end Champagnes like those sampled at The Royals of Champagne tasting.

Ray Isle led this tasting of six Champagnes – Dom Pérignon 2000; Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 1999; Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame 1998; Krug Grand Cuvée; Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 1997; and

Armand de Brignac ‘Ace of Spades’ Brut Gold.

The Champagnes were tasted in white wine glasses instead of Champagne flutes.

“Champagnes of this quality perform much more like wine,” Isle said, noting that some of the complexity would be lost in Champagne flutes.

Although the packed room of attendees knew the Champagnes they would taste, they didn’t know the order in which they would be tasted.

The vintage Champagnes tasted were all over 10 years old, with the Salon the oldest at more than 13 years old. Isle said many people don’t realise how well good Champagne will age.

“Champagne at this level will age just like great wine, although it will eventually lose its effervescence,” he said. “I have a fair amount of Champagne in my cellar because I like the way it tastes after it ages.”

Isle educates as he leads a tasting, sharing tidbits of information like the fact that the ‘t’ in Perrier-Jouët is pronounced because of the dots over the preceding ‘e’.

Isle talked about the sweetness scale of Champagne, from driest to sweetest – extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi sec and doux – noting that all Champagne was sweet until the 1870s.

For the attendees, the Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame was the favourite of the day, followed closely by the Armand de Brignac ‘Ace of Spades’, results that surprised Isle. The critically acclaimed 1997 Salon, which received a perfect 100 point score from the Wine News and several other 95+ scores, was a distant third, despite what Isle called a “fierce acidity and complexity”.

Krug with what Isle called “an absurdity of wonderfulness” and Dom Pérignon with its “incredibly long finish” were in the four and fifth spot among attendees. 

Taste Cakebread Wines 

The tasting of Cakebread Cellars wines featured three vintages of the winery’s Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This ‘vertical’ tasting allowed attendees to get an idea of how the wines aged and, to a lesser extent, the differences attributable to vintage.

Senior Vice President Dennis Cakebread, son of the winery’s founder Jack Cakebread, led the tasting, telling about how, in the early 1970s, his father went from the car repair business to winery owner. The winery’s first vintage in 1973 produced 157 case of Chardonnay; now Cakebread produces a combined 175,000 cases of more than a dozen different wines.

The three vintages of Chardonnay tasted – 2009, 2007 and 2004 – all exhibited the limited butteriness and oakiness for which Cakebread Chardonnay is known. The 2009 and 2007 exhibited crisp acidity and notes of green apple, while the 2004 still had surprising bite and softened flavours.

The Merlots tasteincluded 2004, 2006 and 2007, with the youngest one showing the elegance and balance of a great vintage. Cakebread was asked if the 2004 movie “Sideways” had negatively impacted the sale of Merlot, and he admitted it did. He said that frustrating part of that was that the movie didn’t explain, as the book did, why the character Miles didn’t want to drink Merlot: It was his ex-wife’s favourite wine and he didn’t wante to be reminded of her.

Finishing up the tasting were Cabs from 2002, 2005 and 2007. Cakebread said the winery changed the method of making Cabernet Sauvignon since the 2002 vintage to make the wines more drinkable, and less tannic, at a younger age. Although the change in wine-making method means the more recent wines won’t age for as long, he noted that the vast majority of wine is consumed within days of purchase anyway.

“We’re trying to have bigger wines with balance now,” he said.

The 2002 vintage Cab was more structured and elegant, while the 2007 was bold, but not as complex.

Cakebread said the fun part of winemaking was not in the amount of money made in the endeavour.

“It’s in being passionate about making better wines each year.”

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Legendary Napa Valley winemaker Heidi Peterson–Barrett, pictured here with her daughter Remi, showed off her La Sirena wines and led a tasting of Screaming Eagle.

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