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Pairings in Paradise: Selecting Wines, Infusing Cocktails and Satisfying Palates on Grand Bahama Island
- Wednesday, 08 April 2015 16:22 | Written by Rebecca Tibbitts
By Rebecca Tibbitts, Sommelier, Flying Fish
It was 2007 when I became a Sommelier: I wanted to deepen both my knowledge and enjoyment of fine dining, an industry in which I’ve worked much of my adult life. I’ve always found it a joy to explore and experiment with different wine styles and pairings, using aromatic infusions and uniquely tropical flavours to delight (and often surprise) our guests at Flying Fish.
For a restaurant on a small island, catering to guests with global palates does come with some challenges. With balmy-to-hot temperatures all year - although great for a Nova Scotian like me – it does require extra care for our wines. Shipping and cellaring at the optimal temperatures is, of course, critical. And using wine cooling gadgets like frozen sleeves are especially important in the peak summer months, where crisp, clean white wines are usually the preference du jour.
Because import duties can significantly raise the cost of wines we bring onto the island, I like to choose clever, “not found everyday” wines that our guests will see on the menu and think, “what a unique wine I hadn’t thought of!”
This also presents me with another challenge, as I don’t have the luxury of doing tastings before placing orders with négociants and wine suppliers. Thus, I’ll rely on my knowledge of the myriad wine regions, styles, wine makers and varietals before ordering. Thankfully, only a few of the wines have been a disappointment.
Deciding on pairings
When deciding on the pairings, my first priority is meal progression. Then I’ll I consider flavours, region and style. Once in a while, I’ll try to sneak in wines that surprise guests, especially diners who say they don’t like a particular type (e.g., “I don’t like Chardonnay”). I help them understand that grape varieties can vary a lot based on their terroir, and that it might actually be the barrel (steel, oak, or an oak barrel previously used to age Cognac) and not the grape – that created an earlier, less-than desirable impression. I really encourage our guests to keep an open mind about trying new wines.
I’ll often start off with a bottle of bubbly to introduce the Bahamian dining experience. Sparkling wine gets our digestion juices flowing and readies the palate for more. I prefer sparkling wines made in the traditional style, méthode champenoise, as the bubbles are a bit more robust compared to other effervescent styles. Cava, traditionally from Spain, is another favourite for flavour and price, but Rosé champagne tops my list!
Wine styles that suit the surroundings
When it comes to white wines, a trusty “go-to” is Viognier. Originally from the Condrieu region in the Rhône Valley, this full-bodied grape variety has been gaining popularity with both wine makers and drinkers in North America. Its low-acidity with limited oak ageing makes it perfect for rich seafood and shellfish dishes. Yet, because it’s not a widely known grape and style, I still have to persuade some of our guests to order it. Those who do almost always order another bottle!
Another white from Europe, the Austrian Grüner Veltliner is also a great wine for our Bahamian climate. It’s fresh and lively without the sometimes overbearing or overly perfumed citrus, grapefruit and melon notes of a Sauvignon Blanc. I’ll also recommend a cool-climate Pinot Noir from Oregon or Washington State to accompany some of our main course dishes.
For the World Gourmet Society Festival pairings, I chose wines that gradually progress from lighter to fuller bodied through the course of the meal. As Bahamian food typically involves lots of starches in one sitting, I wanted to ensure the wines would not “bog down” the courses by feeling too heavy or overpowering. The fried chicken dish, for example, features a light red that goes very well with the peas and rice more so than with the actual chicken. My favourite combination, however, was the incredible Bahamian stone crab, which I paired with a Viognier – it was vigorous to match the richness of the crab, and provided just the right amount of complexity to match the mustard’s spiciness and lushness of sauce’s egg yolk.
Infusing Bahamian flair
Grand Bahama Island, where our restaurant is located, has been the inspiration for a number of infused cocktails. As even the most basic spirit can take on deep flavours, I have focused on introducing local Caribbean flavours that will compliment the dishes we’re creating in the kitchen.
Mango is probably the most quintessential of Caribbean ingredients, and our cocktail list features a mango cilantro margarita – which is one of the most popular cocktails we serve. Another favourite is the “cool breeze” cocktail, a spicy and refreshing mix of coconut vodka, freshly muddled pineapple with coconut water, and jalapeno pepper. Are you thirsty yet?
We’re also lucky to have John Watlings, a Nassau distillery that produces artisan rums and vodka, in the Islands. We feature two of their products: the Red Turtle Vodka for our “dirty turtle martini” with blue cheese-stuffed olives, and the Watlings rum mixed with pineapple juice and another local liqueur, Nassau Royale, to create our “Bahamian Sunset.”
A truly unique experience in the Bahamas
The location of our Bahamian island provides our guests with fine dining (and drinking) opportunities that are unique and cannot be found elsewhere – not even in the Bahamas!
It’s always a thrill to create satisfying food and dining experiences in a place that feels like paradise, I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be doing this. Ultimately, my goal is to maximize our gorgeous setting and the local fare as the foundation of inspired – and inspiring - food and drink creations that will fulfill and enrich our guests’ palates time and again.
Flying Fish Co-Founder and Sommelier Rebecca Tibbitts is able to bring expert pairing advice to each table as the only female certified sommelier in the Bahamas. Since her sommelier certification in 2007, Rebecca – who originally hails from Canada -- continues to use her knowledge of wines and cocktails to create seasonal drink menus and unique infusions each designed to pair beautifully with dishes on the menu. Two of her absolute favourite wines are Albariño and Tempranillo from Spain. Her favourite winery is The Tawse Winery, in Niagara, Ontario.