Top whites and top sparklers to help ring in the New Year

Grand Old House’s Sommelier, Christian Esser recently assembled a panel of eminent wine experts and a couple of enthusiastic amateurs to decide on their top value-for-money wines for the New Year. All wines were priced at under CI$18 (retail) and Champagne under CI$60 and all wines were blind tasted in a mammoth 60-wine tasting marathon. Here are the results for the whites and sparkling wines. Reds to follow next month.

Christian Esser, Sommelier with Grand Old House joined Martin Richter, Manager Grand Old House; Romana Piber, wine lover and wait staff at Grand Old House; Kyle Kennedy, Sommelier with The Brasserie; Tito Murgia, Wine Steward with Pappagallos; Martin Pilat, Sommelier with Bacchus; Lori McRae, self-confessed wine and good food lover and yours truly, to sample 60 wines from five wine distributors on-island (Tortuga, Jacques Scott, Cayman Distributors, Premier Wines and Tattersall), in a bid to establish the good from the bad in wines under CI$18. The plan was to only try New World wines however a few Old World wines crept into the mix, mainly for comparison purposes, although obviously all Champagnes were ‘real’ Champagne and therefore from France.

Tasters were required to mark wines out of 20 – a maximum of 3 for colour, 5 for nose and 12 for taste, thus with seven tasters (not including Christian) wines could score a maximum of 140 points.

First up was a selection of sparkling wines to get the tastebuds perked up for the task at hand. Fours sparkling wines were tasted, two from Chile and two from California. The first wine had an off-putting nose and tasters agreed that it was probably “cooked” and out of condition, while the second, a pleasant wine that Kyle thought perhaps had not quite reached its full potential yet was a Santa Carolina (Jacques Scott CI$16.20) which scored 92 points. The winner by a nose was the Cono Sur (Premier Wines CI$13.40) which scored 94 points and was interestingly the lowest price of the flight.

Next we ploughed straight into the heavyweights – four Champagnes all under CI$60. Winning quite comfortably with 103 points was Champagne Delamotte Non-Vintage Brut, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the only entry supplied by Tattersall Imports (CI$45). All of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes that go into Delamotte’s non-vintage Brut come from Grand Cru vineyards and are blended with a small proportion of Petit Meunier. Tasters enjoyed the Champagne’s well-balanced flavours and fruity nose.

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg from the Washington Post describe the Champagne thus:  “…Champagne Delamotte might be one of the Champagne region’s best-kept secrets. Its sister Champagne Salon, a rich, complex wine that costs hundreds of dollars a bottle — when you can even find it — has taken on cult status because of winemaker Didier Depond’s extreme selectivity when it comes to the matter of declaring a vintage year. In non-vintage years, the grapes are turned into the impressive NV Champagne Delamotte Brut and Brut Rosé, which many insiders consider to be steals…” 

Another favourite was the ever-popular Moet & Chandon Imperial (Cayman Distributors CI$55.95), which scored 101 points, with its unmistakable toasty nose and good finish.
Tasters were really put to the test with the next flight – a variety of “other” white wines, including Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris. The clear winner was Beringer’s Chenin Blanc (Jacques Scott CI$11.99) which scored 101 points. Tasters enjoyed its great balance and floral bouquet and Martin Richter called the wine “outstanding and beautiful”. Kyle also enjoyed the next wine, a Cono Sur Riesling (Premier Wines CIS10.25) which scored 97 points, which he said had a nice structure and an expressive nose. Cooper Hill, a Pinot Gris from California (Cayman Dististributors CI$12.10), also did well, scoring 97 points. This is an organic, biodynamic made wine which was fresh and lively.

Three Pinot Grigios then came under our scrutiny, two of which were from Italy and one from California, in a bid to see which was preferred. Interestingly the New World wine won, a Red Tree from Premier Wines (CI$10.17) which scored 100 points.

Martin Richter enjoyed the wine’s touch of honey and sweetness while Kyle thought it had a “promising nose but lacked flavour”. Jacques Scott’s Kris from Italy (CI$17.99) gave this wine a run for its money with 98 points with its crisp citrus flavour and acceptable finish, but didn’t quite make the winning placing in this flight.

Sauvignon Blanc was then put under the microscope and tasters gave wildly differing scores in this flight of nine wines, with one wine marked as low as 77 (the worst of the entire 60) appearing in this flight. The best of the bunch was a tie between Tortuga’s Kim Crawford (CI$18) and Cayman Distributor’s Benzinger (CI$13.50), both of which scored a respectable 101 points. Tasters liked the former for its gooseberry fruit (Martin Pilat) and the latter because it wasn’t too sweet (Lori). For my part, I actually enjoyed the third placing in this flight, the Cono Sur from Premier Wines (CI$9.40), noting the wine’s fruity, citrussy nose and nice balance.

The Chardonnay flight of seven wines which followed did not really excite tasters at all, with some bad examples of wood chips clearly added for “flavour”.

“It’s difficult to make good Chardonnay at such a low price point because it’s just harder to make than Sauvignon Blanc because of the aging process that’s required,” Christian explained.

However we did enjoy Premier Wines’ Maycas Lek Limari (CI$14.55) which pulled a total of 97 points overall and was the winner in this flight. “I think this is the only wine that went to the next step of Chardonnay,” Martin Pilat said. “It’s nicely oaky with vanilla notes and a good finish.”    
Don’t miss next month’s article in which we dissect reds.