Summer in the Cayman Islands isn’t usually the best time of the year to drink full-bodied red wines, but when JUSTIN wines were paired with food prepared by Chef Dylan Benoit and served inside the air-conditioned West Indies Wine Company on July 19, nobody complained it was too hot outside to drink the wines served.
The event was part of the popular West Indies Wine Company Somm Series, at which five or six wines are served with thoughtfully paired canapes created for the occasions by top Cayman Islands chefs. As is customary at Somm Series events, the wines tasted were presented by an expert associated with the wines, in this case Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman, the national accounts manager for JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery and its sibling winery, Landmark Vineyards.
Spellman started the tasting with a little history of JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, which was established in 1981 when Justin Baldwin — for whom the winery is named — purchased 160 acres of land in Paso Robles, an area in the Central Coast wine-growing region of California, located roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“JUSTIN is about eight miles from the Pacific Ocean, which has a moderating influence on an otherwise warm climate,” said Spellman.
Although the area experiences hot summer daytime temperatures, the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean brings cool evening and early morning temperatures that are often 40 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the mid-afternoon temperatures. This difference in temperatures, which is known as diurnal range, allows grapes to maintain balancing acidity that produces fruity, yet fresh-tasting wines.
Historically, the Central Coast was best known for producing wines from California’s signature grape, Zinfandel. However, because of cooling Pacific Ocean influences, Paso Robles is able to grow many different kinds of grapes, including those used to make Bordeaux and Rhone Valley blends.
The tasting started with something new from JUSTIN: its 2017 rosé.
“For the first time ever in 2017, we finally got around to making a rosé,” Spellman said.
The rosé is a blend dominated by two red grapes — Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon — in combination with two supporting white grapes — Pinot Gris and Viognier. The result is a salmon-coloured wine that offers more red-fruit flavours and complexity than typical Provence-style rosés.
“Cayman is the only place in the Caribbean where we’re launching this wine,” said Spellman. “We know where the wine drinkers are.”
Moving on to the only white wine served during the evening, guests got to taste a Sauvignon Blanc that was very different from typical expressions of the grape.
“It’s not so aggressive as New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs,” said Spellman. “It’s more aligned with Sancerre in France. You’ll taste more lemon and lime flavours instead of grapefruit.”
Moving on to the four red wines, Spellman said guests were going to taste wines in an order that was “good, better, better yet and best.”
First sampled was JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon. Although this could be called JUSTIN’s entry-level red since it’s the winery’s lowest price red wine, that moniker doesn’t really do justice to its quality. Made in a Bordeaux style, like all of JUSTIN’s red wines, this Cabernet Sauvignon is ready to drink on release, with soft, velvety tannins.
“It’s dry, but with a generosity of fruit,” said Spellman.
Next tried was a red wine called “Justification.” Made with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, a typical blend in the Right Bank of Bordeaux, and aged in French oak barrels, this was a friendly and aromatic full-bodied wine that would pair well with many different kinds of foods, ranging from poultry to lean cuts of beef.
JUSTIN’s flagship wine, Isoscoles, was tasted next. Modelled in the style of the Left Bank of Bordeaux, this Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine is rounded out with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It is also aged for almost two years in 100 per cent new French oak barrels, giving the wine a delicate elegance and tertiary flavours of vanilla, cinnamon and liquorice.
Winding up the tasting was JUSTIN’s premier wine, Isosceles Reserve. Similar in style and flavours to Isosceles, but with a silkier mouthfeel and a longer finish, this wine represents the “best of the best” of JUSTIN’s wine production.
Chef Benoit paired each of the wines with a small bite that was served in the order of each wine tasted. The creative pairings included salmon tataki with lemon cream and dill with the rosé;
and tomato and mango gazpacho with the Sauvignon Blanc.
With the Cabernet Sauvignon, Benoit served Prosciutto-wrapped truffle Manchego cheese with local pepper jelly. A braised chicken meatball with whole-grain mustard gravy was paired with the Justification.
Smoked salmon mousse with crispy pork meshed surprisingly well with the Isosceles wine, while the best pairing of the evening was saved for the best wine: Moroccan-spiced lamb with tomato and pearl couscous with Isosceles Reserve.
The food and wine made for an excellent mid-summer evening, with lively chatter among the guests, proving that red wine can easily pair with Grand Cayman’s heat if the inside conditions