These days on Grand Cayman, there are many different ways to try some of the more than 1,000 different wines available on the island: Wine shops hold regular wine tastings; there are many wine dinners open to the public; the West Indies Wine Company offers the ability to purchase tastes of more than 70 different wines.
There’s also the Grand Old House Wine Club.
Launched in June 2013, the Wine Club provides members with a fun and educational way to try new wines.
Grand Old House Head of Operations/Wine Director Luciano De Riso said the idea for the wine club came from the fact that the restaurant had wines no one else on the island had.
“The concept was launched because this place always had exclusive products and we decided to give people access to those exclusive products,” he said. “If you’re a wine lover, why wouldn’t you want to have wines that you can’t get anywhere else? It gives people a chance to try things they wouldn’t have a chance to otherwise.”
Over the years, the Grand Old House has been known for its expansive wine list that has received 19 straight Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, including a “Best of Award of Excellence” in 2013.
“We always try to have a wine list that is diverse from other wine lists on the island,” De Riso said.
Like other wine clubs around the world, part of the benefits of the Grand Old House Wine Club include bottles of wine every month, but the club also offers much more than that.
The Wine Club offers two types of membership, plus some optional amenities. The basic membership is called the Grand Old House Level and costs $50 per month. For that, members get two bottles on a monthly basis, customized to their preferences. They also get a 10 percent discount on all Wine Club events and on any wines they purchase through the club, or while dining at Grand Old House.
The premium membership, called the Club Level, costs $125 per month and includes either two or four bottles of wine, customized to members’ preferences. Those who choose the two-bottle option get higher priced wines. Club Level members also get a 20 percent discount on Wine Club events and a 10 percent discount on wines bought through the club, either retail or with lunch or dinner at the restaurant.
All members can purchase any of the Wine Club wines at the discounted retail prices, which De Riso said are 60 percent to 80 percent less expensive than the restaurant’s wine list prices. Some of the wines available to Wine Club members, even at the basic level, aren’t available on a retail basis to the public. Club Level members also have access to rate and boutique wines that are not available to anyone else.
Both levels of membership give members the opportunity to rent wine lockers in the restaurant’s climate controlled wine room. These lockers, which have plates engraved with the name of the person renting it, hold 24 bottles of wine. Wines bought through the Wine Club or obtained elsewhere can be kept in the lockers. Those who wish to drink some of the wines during dinner at Grand Old House can call in advance and the wines will be decanted for a $25 corkage fee.
De Riso said the lockers have been so popular that a second bank was installed earlier this year, and only two remained by the end of May.
Most Wine Club members have to pick up their wine every month, but those with wine lockers have the wines delivered right into their lockers.
“I discover new wines in my locker every month and I enjoy the new adventure,” said club member Sebastien Guilbard. “I have tried many new wines that I would never have bought because I had no knowledge about it.”
Beyond being able to buy wines at discounted prices, the Grand Old House Wine Club also offers events that are intended to give members different ways of enjoying wine. De Riso says he tries to come up with different kinds of events to give members a variety.
“The way I see it, I’m the first one to enjoy the events,” he said. “It’s a chance for me to learn, too.”
Events this year have included gourmet wine lunches with Bordeaux blends from around the world or hard-to-get wines from boutique producers like Dunn Vineyards. There has also been a wine tasting of several vintages of Amarone, a complimentary members’ appreciation Happy Hour, and monthly blind tasting quizzes.
The monthly blind tasting quizzes have become known for being both fun and educational and attract novices as well as more experienced wine drinkers.
Typically, nine different wines – four white and five red – are put in bags with numbers on them and then poured into separate glasses for each participant. After tasting the wines, the participants are asked to match the number with the producer’s name, grape variety, country of origin and vintage listed on their answer sheet. Whoever gets the most points wins a bottle of fine wine.
De Riso said that blind tastings can be difficult, especially with so many wines.
“The most important thing with blind tastings is the nose, and then after that the taste,” he said. “Another thing that is very important is to determine if it’s an Old World or New World wine. Old World wine will have a slightly dirtier smell and New World wine is going to be more polished because it’s filtered.”
The May tasting included wines from Italy, Austria, France, Spain, the U.S. and Argentina, and included several blends as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Syrah and Malbec.
Four of the participants in the May blind tasting identified all nine wines correctly and De Riso had to employ a tie-breaker. Each of the four remaining participants had to guess the grape varietal, the country of origin and the vintage of a wine without knowing what it was. In the end, Brent Finster won the tie-breaker by correctly identifying what turned out to be a Joel Gott wine as being Cabernet Sauvignon from California.
Finster and his wife Vicki Nall have been regulars at the blind tasting events since they joined the wine club early in 2014.
“We love it; it’s fun,” said Nall.
Chef Vanessa Elmas, who became a Grand Old House Wine Club member earlier this year, said she has attended four or five of the blind tasting quizzes so far.
“The blind tastings help me learn more about wine by tasting, viewing and smelling the selections,” she said, adding that the blind tasting can be challenging. “When the varietals are revealed, you are either patting yourself on the back for the ones you answered correctly or recapping the details that will help you more the next time. For example, two blind tastings in a row I got Chablis confused with another white, and looking back at my notes, I wrote that both examples were chalky. Now I associate chalk with Chablis.”
The social element of blind tastings is something that appeals to Elmas.
“I enjoy meeting new people at the events and trying something new,” she said. “I always have a good time – it’s a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.”
Guilbard has attended a number of different Wine Club events, including the blind tastings, and said he enjoys them all.
“You meet new people who share the same passion,” he said. “You discuss your taste versus theirs and try new wines. The events are always small, informative and in a friendly atmosphere, which makes it easier to meet people. And the food along the wines events is always great.”