The first glass I tried was Krug’s Grande Cuvée Champagne. I was in Blue, by Eric Ripert of New York’s acclaimed Le Bernardin, which has been the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman’s flagship restaurant since 2008. Ripert’s signature thinly pounded yellowfin tuna and foie gras was accompanied by Moët & Chandon 2015 Grand Vintage rosé, and a Ribera del Duero by Viña Sastre came in an immensely tall decanter that was less swan neck than giraffe. The cellar was carefully cooled — no Caribbean sunshine for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Tâche and the like — its shelves of mouthwatering bottles all individually labelled. Meanwhile Taikun, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, offered delicate Niigata saké from Aoki Shuzo, founded in 1717 (“keep the saké in a dark and cool place,” the label instructed) and the richer yamahai junmai ginjo saké Emperor’s Well, as well as sashimi seasoned with fresh wasabi grated using dried-out shark skin.
I wrenched myself away from the beautiful beach for a little research. Technology has made it faster to transport carefully cooled containers from Miami to the island, with an increasing number of wine-friendly places — such as Luca, a restaurant a few sandy steps from the Ritz-Carlton and which has more than 4,500 bottles — springing up.
At the top of the island I found Le Petit Bar, which launched last November. Run by the wine experts Christian Esser and Shalico Christian, it’s an informal hangout with rum barrels for stools and a by-the-glass list ranging from white burgundy to cabernet sauvignon made in Margaret River, Western Australia. At the other end of Seven Mile Beach, Lisa Ströhlein, a 27-year-old sommelier at the gorgeous Grand Old House Cayman, explained that they converted part of the restaurant to a wine bar in 2020 in response to the pandemic, and it was so popular that they have kept it.
She showed me around several small tasting rooms lined with amazing bottles: bordeaux from Château Smith Haut Lafitte, barolo by Gaja, champagnes from small producers and the “microcrus” of Vérité in Sonoma, California. In a room lined with Sassicaia bottles, the Super Tuscan’s distinctive circular logo covered a round tasting table; in another, I could hardly miss a Goliath of Château Montrose — 27 litres of second-growth bordeaux, priced at 20,000 Cayman dollars (£19,400). Past the hut lined with bottles of Castarède Armagnac where Papi, from Cuba, hand-rolled cigars, a spectacular sunlit terrace overlooked the ocean.
It will never be easy to import fine wine to a small island that’s more than 2,500 miles from California and nearly twice that distance from Bordeaux, but Cayman seems to be managing just fine. After all, bobbing in the Caribbean with a cup of rum punch is fun, but an exotic holiday should never mean depriving oneself of those more familiar luxuries — and even a spectacular tropical sunset can be improved by a glass of perfectly chilled Krug.
The clear turquoise waters, white beaches and laid-back atmosphere of the Caribbean have never needed wine to make them appeal. This is for the best: year-round temperatures averaging about 28C are great for many things but growing grapes isn’t one of them — hence the ubiquity of rum. However, places without vines have much to offer those not interested in hard liquor, and Grand Cayman — the largest of the three Cayman Islands — regularly tops lists of wine-friendly destinations in the region.
Graycliff, Nassau, Bahamas
With one of the world’s largest wine cellars (and the Caribbean’s largest) with over $20 million in 250,000 bottles, Graycliff is housed in an 18th-century mansion that is now a 16-room hotel and fine-dining restaurant.
Saba Rock, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Take a short ferry from the main island to this tiny islet, complete with a red telephone box, to eat the freshest fish and drink fine wine from Europe or America at the open-air restaurant, beside a sea so clear you can watch tomorrow’s dinner swim.
Cap Juluca, Anguilla
This idyllic hotel on one of the island’s best beaches (and there is stiff competition) has three restaurants all with excellent wine lists. Every evening, free to guests, there is a “sabering” experience, at which braver guests are shown how to use a giant sword to open a champagne bottle without popping the cork.
Océan 82, St Martin
A classic French restaurant — at least until you look up and see the Caribbean Sea beyond the terrace, or notice the mahi-mahi, mango and Cajun spices scattered across the menu. The wines, however, would do justice to any palace of haute cuisine in the old country.
Body Holiday, St Lucia
Stag’s Leap from California, Domaine Huet from the Loire . . . anyone who thought that St Lucia’s famous health resort required a stint of teetotalism should think again. Of six restaurants, one is fine dining and one specialises in wine pairings, so levels of purity are entirely up to the individual.
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