By Sara ChapmanClose your eyes and imagine you are on an island getaway. Wide sandy beaches. Crashing waves. Warm air caressing your skin. Are you there yet? Now, what are you drinking?
Chances are you immediately imagined a rum-based cocktail, perhaps something with coconut or a just-picked mango. Or perhaps, if you are taking it easy, a light beer. Many people wouldn’t immediately think of wine - it’s too warm to grow wine grapes in the Caribbean or the Maldives, so wine has to be imported. Then too, think of the flavors of the cuisine (spicy and warm, in the Caribbean, full of lime and nutmeg or the rich coconut-curry flavors of the Maldives) which can be tough to pair and will often “fight” wines without sufficient character.
Today some of the finest chefs in the world are opening restaurants in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans, and their sommeliers have been carefully building cellars to match. We spoke to two: Victor Garrido, Interim Executive Chef at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos and Jean-Sebastian Azais, Chief Sommelier for The One &Only Reetha Rah Resort, Maldives, to get insider tips on which wines to sip. First, which wines? Both Azais and Garrido like rosÚs from Provence and Spain, especially for daytime. Lighter, crisper and less tannic than a full-bodied red, and they are traditionally served chilled which is refreshing in a warm climate and cools the palate after a bite of spicy cuisine.
Once the temperatures cool at night and the cuisine gets serious, Garrido loves the big reds. Hot and aromatic West Indian spices (such as the scotch bonnet and cinnamon in a jerk seasoning can make some wines taste ‘off,” but Garrido finds a Chianti Classico or an Italian Barberas more than stands up. Azais also likes pairing reds and finds that the wines he sources from Bordeaux actually open up and develop a better aroma in the Maldives than in their native France – perhaps due to the humidity. Whatever your preferences, don’t worry about finding a great selection. Azais was able to build one of the largest cellars in the world (30,000 bottles) for One&Only Reethi Rah, in the Maldives, as well as impressive cellars for properties in Mauritius and Dubai. He acts as his own importer, traveling the world to establish connections with suppliers. In Mauritius and Dubai, where alcohol import is restricted, having the right political connections can help. “There is a lot of money to be made,” Azais says, “so whoever is in charge can, and does, decide who is allowed to import.”
Azais’ final story reminds us that your wine experience in a tropical destination can be anything you like, from fun and flirty roses and champagne to some truly great wines that rival the world’s best offerings. “I had a guest who stayed in the Maldives for two weeks and drank very good wines over that time. On his last day, he called me over and said, ‘Sebastian, I’ve been eyeing that bottle of 1945 Chateau Margaux and I can’t leave the island without drinking it. Will you join me for lunch and share it with me?’ So there I am, sitting with this guest at lunch and drinking a $15,000 bottle of French red wine. “ To which we must simply say, cheers!