It was a capacity room at the Cracked Conch on Friday, 14 June, when Blackbeard’s Beers, Wines, Spirits hosted one of its legendary wine dinners, featuring Chief Marlborough Winemaker, George Geris, from the Villa Maria Estate in New Zealand.
It seemed that every Kiwi in the Cayman Islands had caught wind of the event and come out to celebrate one of their own in grand style.
Pre-dinner canapes and bubbles were appropriately served in the Bubble Lounge and then all made their way to the main open-air dining room for a five-course menu accompanied by a selection of Villa Maria’s many varieties of wine from the fruity Sauvignon Blanc to the vibrant Pinot Noir.
Geris began the evening with a brief talk about the wines being served, which was greeted with great enthusiasm by his countrymen and other guests. This was the winemaker’s first visit to the Cayman Islands and judging by the overwhelmingly positive response he received, it will not be his last.
Geris has worked for Villa Maria Estate for the last 16 years, and he particularly enjoys working for a company that has been family-owned for over 50 years. “The New Zealand [wine] industry has gone through change over the years and a number of companies sold to multi-nationals,” he said. “Having that family consistency makes a difference. The owner is still the managing director and very hands-on.”
Geris mainly travels to the US for business but acknowledges that the UK is the biggest export market for the estate with Australia coming in second.
He actually started his working life as an engineer but at the end of a backpacking trip through Europe, he discovered a love for wine and so he volunteered to work at a winery in southern Italy followed by a similar stint in Hungary. The rest, as they say, is history.
Geris won the ‘New Zealand Winemaker of the Year’ at the Winestate Awards 2007 and manages Villa Maria’s flagship Marlborough winery.
The first course of hamachi, local passion fruit and fennel was served with a glass of the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Anniversary vintage 2012. A light, fruity wine, it is very easy to drink and the perfect choice for any occasion, particularly in the hot summer months.
“It is the wine people always reach for; it’s their go-to wine,” said Lee Quessy, sommelier and Blackbeard’s representative at the dinner. Geris confirmed that the Sauvignon Blanc is the estate’s biggest export. “A significant rise in the awareness of New Zealand wines happened about 12 years ago,” he said, “due to the success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”
“It’s a unique wine and the world loves it.”
The second course of octopus, potato pancake, foamed hollandaise and caviar was accompanied by the Villa Maria Pinot Gris 2011. Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio probably is the best-known ‘white’ variant – clone of Pinot Noir. The grapes have a slightly darker colour than other white varietals, which in turn leads to a slightly deeper golden colour wine. There are subtle characteristics of ripe pears and melons, making the Pinot Gris an excellent choice to pair with this particular dish.
The third course was a revelation, not just because the bresaola, buffalo mozzarella, foie gras confit and tomato vinaigrette were excellent, but because the Villa Maria Riesling 2010 was a dryer wine than expected, revealing the green apples and citrus characteristics from the cooler Waipara region of New Zealand. A common misconception is that Riesling only produces sweet wine. Although sweet wines dominate this category, there are some amazingly dry and complex wines to be found. An attendee remarked that although they would not normally reach for a Riesling, the Villa Maria choice had changed their mind.
Of course the night couldn’t have a Kiwi theme without bringing lamb into it at some point. The fourth course was rack of lamb with Jerusalem artichokes, mange tout and pickled mushroom salad with summer truffle. What better to go with such a dish than the Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2010?
Pinot Noir is a red grape that has found in New Zealand a home away from home. Intense, elegant and fruit-driven in style, Pinot Noir is an extremely food friendly wine which may exhibit an array of vibrant flavours including red fruit, plum, cherry, currant, often with notes of clove and spice. Although Geris is clearly a fan of all the estate’s wines, he admits that he is particularly partial to the Pinot Noir. Quessy labelled it as a “time, tested and true” wine that has proven itself very popular with the public.
In fact, it was so popular at the dinner that it was also paired with the fifth course of blue cheese mousse, local mango, toasted nuts and bacon bread. It lent itself beautifully to both dishes.
Villa Maria in the Cayman Islands
This very popular and nicely priced selection of wines is available throughout the Cayman Islands at all Blackbeard’s stores as well as at the West Indies Wine Company in Camana Bay.
Villa Maria has made a name for itself throughout the world, exporting to 50 countries worldwide. It lays claim to the title of New Zealand’s most awarded winery for over 30 years, and has always followed founder Sir George Fistonich’s philosophy that “focusing on making superior quality wine that consumers can readily enjoy” is the path to success.
Geris himself is a fan of simply enjoying the wine they produce. “Wine should be fun; it’s there to be enjoyed,” he said.