When the Cayman Islands, like the rest of the world, was in the throes of the global financial crisis, the good times might not have stopped rolling, but they certainly slowed to a crawl. The ostentatious extravagance of the booming late 1990s and early 2000s in Cayman was, for the most part, replaced with subdued restraint in terms of consumer behavior. That was just as true with fine dining and luxury wines as it was with automobiles and jewelry.

Now that the many countries of the world, including the United States and Cayman, have considerably rebounded from the financial crisis, fine dining with luxury wines has become fashionable again. Wine dinners and wine tastings, some of which involve outstanding or rare brands, happen often again on Grand Cayman, and not only during the annual Cayman Cookout food and wine festival held every January.

Perhaps the ultimate wine dinner took place on Feb. 24, 2016 at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s restaurant Seven in partnership with Jacques Scott Wines & Spirits.

The Opus One Wine Dinner offered one of the best and most iconic Napa Valley wines in a rare event that featured a vertical tasting of four different vintages. When someone suggested before dinner to Opus One Vice President of International Marketing Laurent Delassus, who was there to host the event, that everyone was in for a good evening, he remarked, “Oh, I think so,” with confidence. “If we don’t all have a good evening, then something is very wrong.”

From left: Jacques Scott’s Ross Chernin, Opus One Vice President of International Marketing Laurent Delassus, and Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Sommelier William Loyd.

Opus One

After a welcome glass of Louis Roederer Premier Brut Champagne and canapés, guest were asked to go outside near the pool, where Delassus talked about how Opus One came to be. He said it all started in the 1970s when the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the famous French aristocrat and owner of the world-famous Château Mouton Rothschild winery in Bordeaux, was visiting Hawaii.

“He started drinking Napa Valley wines and saw the great potential, so he started asking about Napa winemakers who he could possibly partner with and the name that kept coming up was Robert Mondavi,” Delassus said, explaining that Rothschild eventually invited Mondavi to Bordeaux, where the two struck a deal to “make one of the best wines in the world together”… in Napa.

Rothschild then sent his 55-year-old winemaker Lucien Sionneau to work with Mondavi’s son Timothy to come up with a red wine blend that would match the style of great Bordeaux wines.

“The two men had different visions,” Delassus said, noting that after the first day of blending wines, the two didn’t think it was possible to come to an agreement. The second day of blending didn’t go any better.

“But at the end of the third day, they put a bottle on that table and said, ‘this is going to be Opus One,’” said Delassus.

The result was a wine very similar in style to the wines coming from the north of Medoc in Bordeaux, he added.

“The soil is different, the weather is different, but the style is not so different.”

Opus One mimicked the château-style of winemaking for which Mouton Rothschild became famous; all of its wines would be produced from grapes grown on its own estate, in the winery on the estate, and then bottled on site.

With the release of its first vintage – 1979 – in 1984, Opus One became America’s first ultra-premium wine. In 1989, Opus One built a new winery just down the road in Napa Valley, and the first vintage from that winery was in 1991, released in 1994. Since then the mystique of Opus One has only grown.

Napa Valley

The Opus One Wine Dinner offered one of the best and most iconic Napa Valley wines in a rare event that featured a vertical tasting of four different vintages.

The Pairings

After the 14 guests took their seats at the long table placed between Seven’s two glass encased wine rooms, dinner began.

It’s an unwritten rule that wine dinners really need to start out with a white wine, and Seven did just that, serving Tablas Creek “Espirit de Tablas”, a wine from the Paso Robles region of California that also has close connections with France. It is made from a blend of grapes propagated from cuttings from three Rhône Valley varietals – Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc – and it tasted much like the typical white-blend from the Rhône Valley, though with more intense fruit flavors. It was paired beautifully with tender slices of poached octopus carpaccio with capers and confit baby tomatoes.

With the second course of house smoked duck breast, braised cabbage and orange sorrel glaze, the stars of the show started coming out – two vintages of Opus One, 2008 and 2009.

Almost immediately, the debate started among the guests about which vintage was better, because there were differences. The 2008 showed more fruit on the nose, like a classic Napa Cabernet-based blend. The 2009 on the other hand smelled more like Bordeaux and was more tannic on the palate, showing perhaps a greater propensity to improve as it gets older.

“It’s like brothers,” said Delassus. “They’re in the same family, but different.”

Unlike some Napa wineries, Opus One isn’t trying to create the same wine every year.

“We think you have to let nature – the vintage – express itself,” he said, noting that the weather plays a vital role in how a particular vintage tastes.

Two more vintages – 2010 and 2012 – were served with the main savory course of beef short rib “Bourguignon” and crispy confit potato, all topped with chipollini onions and braised mushrooms. Here again, the two vintages showed distinct differences. When pouring the wines, restaurant sommelier Will Loyd admitted to having an affinity for the 2010 vintage.

“It is probably my favorite of the recent vintages of every Napa Cab,” he said.

Delassus agreed, with caveats.

“2010 is a beauty,” he said, but added that contrary to the common belief that 2010 was great vintage in Napa, it was nonetheless a challenging vintage because of “up and down weather,” and only certain wineries guessed right as to when to harvest. Opus One was one of the wineries that picked early and was rewarded with a wine with a lot of freshness.

As much as he likes 2010, Delassus thinks 2012, the most current release on the market, is even better.

“There were perfect [weather] conditions from beginning to end,” he said, adding that Opus One purposely harvested earlier than some Napa wineries in order to maintain freshness and elegance.

Delassus acknowledged that there was a period in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when Opus One lost its focus of letting every vintage speak for itself.

“In 2004, the time came that we decided to focus on quality, quality, quality,” he said. “It is the only way to be successful.”

He said consumers have high expectations when it comes to Opus One.

“We have no room to disappoint people,” he said. “At the same time, we have to keep our soul, our DNA.”

The meal ended with a peanut butter soufflé served with crème anglais and paired with another iconic Napa wine, “Dolce,” made by the nearby Far Niente winery.

“It is, in my opinion, the by far the best dessert wine produced in North America,” Loyd said.

Dolce is made in the classic Sauternes style with the “noble rot” process – in which grapes are left on the vine until they form a mold on them that sucks out the moisture and leaves a syrupy sweet juice. Although the process is extremely costly and risky – entire crops can be lost if heavy rains come close to harvest – the result is what Far Niente calls “liquid gold,” partially because of its color, but also because of the luxuriousness of the wine. It served as an appropriate ending to an evening steeped in luxury.

More to Come

Michael Kennedy, the head sommelier of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said the Opus One dinner was a great way to showcase the changes made to the wine list at the Seven Restaurant.

“We recently transitioned our wine list to “American Wines and American Winemakers Around the World” to fit our steakhouse and this is really a great way to kick off this new program,” he said, adding that he and Loyd worked hard to procure some of the best American wines in the world, with back vintages and verticals of iconic and boutique wineries.

“One of the things we are most proud of is the in-depth selection of top Napa wines, including a vertical of Opus One. When the opportunity came to host Opus One and showcase this vertical, we were ecstatic.”

Kennedy said The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman restaurants have seen marked increases in wine sales, particularly luxury wines, over the past year.

“I began purchasing more and more from auction houses, private wine cellars of the best quality and direct from wineries all over the world,” he said. “We have added vintage depth and producer variety that is rarely found anywhere else. We have opened up options for our most discerning guests, providing the rarest of opportunities to taste wines only read about in text books, like the 1942 Domaine de La Romanee-Conti, La Tache.”

With all the additional selections and utilizing the “Coravin” system that can keep wines in bottles fresh after they’ve been opened, Kennedy said he started offering restaurant guests a chance to taste several of these luxury wines, offering rare vintage pairing options and rare wines by the glass to guests at Seven and Blue by Eric Ripert.

“By the stem currently in Blue by Eric Ripert, we have Screaming Eagle, Domaine de La Romanee-Conti Richebourg, Bryant Family Vineyard and others in the stratospheric category of wine offerings,” he said. “When you choose our rare vintage wine pairing, we will take you through our seven-course tasting menu pouring wines from Chateau Latour back to the 70’s, Grand Cru Burgundies, highly collectable Napa Cabs and other rare gems.”

Even though the rare pairings don’t come without significant cost, customers are loving the option.

“When a guest looks at these options and weighs both being on vacation along with an opportunity like this, very rarely do they do anything else,” said Kennedy. “We offer once-in-a lifetime wine experiences – too hard to pass up.”

Seeing the growing demand for luxury wine experiences, Kennedy doesn’t think events like the Opus One dinner will be isolated events.

“We are always looking to share the great wines of the world with Cayman,” he said. “I expect to see many more opportunities for events like this in our future.”

Let the good times roll… again.