Blue by Eric Ripert
Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
PO Box 32348 KY1-1209
Seven Mile Beach
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
“Party in Paradise”
Reviewed and Photographed by Senior Staff Writer: Les Noteworthy
On a recent visit to Grand Cayman, I was greeted by friends at the airport and whisked away to an “industry only” wine dinner. Featured guest would be the legendary California wine maker, Heidi Peterson Barrett, at the Ritz-Carlton on Seven Mile Beach. Fate has once again smiled on me!
Heidi Peterson Barrett is often referred to as the Queen of California Cabernets, and is the former wine maker of Screaming Eagle, a small Napa winery that is the Holy Grail of California Cabernets, holding the record for commanding the highest prices in California wine history. Heidi’s host of credits also include; Grace Family Vineyards, Della Valle and Paradigm, just to name a few, and is presently a consultant for Diamond Creek and Neibaum-Coppola. She also has her own label, La Sirena, featured at this dinner. Born into the wine industry, and a 1982 graduate of UC Davis, Heidi is married to Bo Barrett, wine maker at Chateau Montelena, another excellent label.
The massive Grand Cayman Ritz-Carlton property features a sprawling lobby, which silently pays homage to the grand hotels of days gone by. We were pleasantly directed to the lower level of the property, and “Blue” by Eric Ripert, hosting the event. Yes, he is the Chef at Le Bernardin in New York City. The room is a lovely open setting, with a warm, dark scheme, huge glass panels and exterior windows. We were ushered to the restaurant’s private dining space, where a long table was set for 18 guests.
Several attendees formed small clusters of conversation, and upon our arrival, we were greeted with flutes of Delamotte Champagne. The fifth oldest house in Champagne, it is more “feminine” in style, soft, delicious, creamy, toasty and certainly one of the world’s best (although not one of Heidi Barrett’s).
After a suitable “meet and greet” with guests and the wine maker, the hotel’s Head Sommelier called the group to order and introduced Heidi Peterson Barrett. She graciously thanked all for attending, inviting us to be seated. Wine was on the table, and Heidi began to explain the concept behind the first of many, her “Azul”, a dry Muscat. Widely known as a sweeter wine, all Muscat clones offer a beautiful floral and fruity nose. Heidi’s thoughts were to leave in the lush aromas but ferment out the sweetness, creating a beautifully perfumed dry white wine. A bold challenge, but upon tasting, we knew she had succeeded. The incredible floral, fruity nose was followed by a long, tingly mineral finish.
After our first taste, a parade of servers arrived, plates in hand. Standing behind our chairs, all simultaneously positioned their comestible gifts before each of the guests, then vanished.
The first offering was an Amuse Bouche, which not only made our mouths happy, but our eyes, as well. A medium sized shrimp was standing upright in a bath of ginger/mustard vinaigrette, and decorated with paper-thin shavings of radish, ginger and scallions. The “Azul” Muscat was a perfect pairing for the dish, containing subtle heat from the ginger and the mustard. Sadly, the morsel was gone almost as quickly as it had arrived, and so were the plates. Each position was re-set with cutlery for the next course, while our attending sommelier, Christian, poured two courses of Syrah into awaiting crystal stems.
Heidi spoke about the growing differences in California AVAs, which would be clearly evident in the next two wines.Both were 2005 Syrah, one from Napa, the other from Santa Ynez Valley, further to the south, with a cooler climate, different soils and growing environment. As she spoke, our servers were once again behind our chairs, and effortlessly positioned the next course before us.
An artistic display of thinly pounded layers of raw Tuna, served over a wafer-thin slice of toasted baguette, brushed with fois gras, dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice and shaved chives. This Tuna Carpaccio is molded to mirror the almond shaped white plate, it was beautiful! Cleverly, I had reserved a small amount of the “Azul” to try with this course. The dryness of the wine cut perfectly through the rich, creamy tuna, yet left the subtle flavors to stand on their own, providing another perfect pairing!
Then it was time for Syrah. I first tried the Santa Ynez, which was a bright, full of rich, dark fruit, yet somewhat light on the palate, but by no means a light wine. The tannins were silky, but substantial. It also paired perfectly with the tuna. The Napa Valley Syrah was completely different. It was big, rich, heavy, dark and jammy. The color was intense, and the density opaque. Its bountiful acidity filled the mouth with anything and everything one might expect from a big Napa Valley red, yet the tannins were milder than the Santa Ynez, which surprised me, as every other characteristic was bigger. The real surprise came when I tried the Napa Syrah with the delicate tuna. Initially expecting the dish to be overwhelmed by the wine, it was not! Although massive and full of mouth appeal, it gracefully supported the mildness of the tuna, and the delicate lemon juice drizzle. How could that happen? Ah, the magic and the mystery of great wine!
Our next course was swept into place in typical Ritz fashion. This was local red snapper, on a bed of mashed plantain, garnished with sweet potato, tiny avocado wedges and the house specialty Spicy Sanocho Sauce, poured onto the plate after the dish was served. One would automatically ponder, “Syrah with snapper?” Seems crazy, but this mild fish was perfectly supported by the complexity of both wines. Heidi again commented how the differences in environments affected the development of the grapes, and ultimately, the wine in the bottle.
Plates cleared, new glasses set and with the final course waiting in the wings, two of Heidi’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, 2006 and 2007 were poured. As we tasted, the numerous differences became apparent. While both vintages were big, bold and bountiful, the 2006 showed a bit lighter than the 2007, but magnificent in its own right. The food pairing was seared prime tenderloin of beef, boulangère potatoes with a red wine Provençal sauce, and perfectly paired it was. Although minimal in portion, the delicious flavors of the dish paired perfectly with both vintages of Cabernet, which were amazing and delicious.
Plates cleared, glasses topped off, and it appeared we were ready to start all over again. To our surprise, another glass was positioned before each of the guests. “This is part of the fun…” Heidi explained, as another dark, dense, opaque liquid filled the newly arrived stems, “…who can identify this wine?”
Glasses swirled, noses curled, palates rejoiced and shouts of “Cabernet…” “Syrah…” “Merlot…” filled the room from the mouths of knowing professionals! I refrained from shouting, it might be considered rude, but my guess was a blend, as it showed characteristics of Cabernet, Syrah and other varietals. Heidi laughed, and proclaimed it as a blend of those wines most had identified. Long fascinated by the folklore of pirates and
treasure, she combined her treasures into a special booty, the “Pirate Red”. It was delicious, and stood up solidly to the marvelous cheese tasting plate that had cleverly snuck its way to everyone’s position during the fun. Immediately following the cheese was a sampler of mini-desserts, tiny but full of delicious flavors.
Delicious foods enjoyed, wines finished and many eyes drooping slightly from the quantities we consumed, we said our fond farewells to the Queen of California Cabernets and began to make our way home….but first a stop at the fast food drive through, we were all still hungry!