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COA: A New Ritzy Wine Cellar in the Caribbean
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Indulge your imagination by just observing the bottles on top of the table. Right there, a stellar display of wine gems as Domaine de la Romanée Conti’s La Tâche, Vega Sicilia Único, Pétrus or Barolo Conterno Vino Monfortino stand like royalty that resembles a melodious quartet playing the quintessential musical notes of a wine cellar that aspires to become a perfect picture of excellence in the Caribbean.
Few places in the region stand out because of their cult wines and the really top level of their wine references and one of them is Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve where COA, its recently inaugurated signature restaurant, blends wine tradition and future with heritage and new producers, bringing wine to a real center stage in this ultra-luxury Caribbean property in Puerto Rico.
Little remains from that aquarium-like cellar which captured the attention of diners entering Mi Casa by José Andrés prior to Hurricane María, except for the statement that wine is a driving force for Dorado Beach. This is why the space was entirely re-structured to become a more classical enclave that resembles an underground winery’s cellar with a curvilinear silhouette that shelters wine barrels left to rest.
Not barrels, but meticulously chosen bottles, is what shines in COA’s new wine cellar, a space that changed transparency for opulence, and the mostly Old for a mostly New World of wine. In charge of the transformation Jonathan Morán, an experienced sommelier from Spain who prior to arriving in Puerto Rico last year as Wine Director for Dorado Beach’s Ritz, worked at Michelin-starred Spanish restaurants Mugaritz, Lasarte and Enoteca at The Ritz-Carlton Arts Barcelona, and also The Ritz-Carlton Abama in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
From this archipelago to the Antilles, Morán has bartered the comprehensive Spanish wine offer that was a highlight at Mi Casa de José Andrés for a global approach more in tune with the origin and references of the guests who visit the hotel, mainly from the Northeastern coast of the United States. An audience much more familiar with wines from California, other US states and those from France, main reason for which 60% of the cellar’s 670 wine references now are from these two country’s origins.
The remainder is formed by labels from other 14 wine producing countries, including icon names from Spain and featuring some fine Sherry wines, German Rieslings, Madeira and Port wines from Portugal, wines from Austria, South Africa, Australia and others. The cellar also boasts of a collection of 44 white and rosé Champagne labels that range from the most artisanal to prestige cuvées of some of Champagne’s best known maisons.
But perhaps more important than the cellar’s content itself is the complete transformation of this room from a mainly storage and display area into a living creature that invites guests to privately initiate a dialogue with many of the 3,600 bottles available to discover their nuances, enjoy their sips, learn and exchange views about their history and flavors while seating at an intimate table full of glasses where wines are poured.
To enjoy the art of wine while being pampered with privacy and the vast wine knowledge Morán has, Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve has developed a new series of private wine experiences that open the world of wine at COA’s cozy cellar five days a week in the afternoon for a maximum of eight guests at a time for private one-hour tasting experiences.
Each experience costs between USD $ 200 and $ 400 per person and features a selection of six to eight different wines that serve as introductory lessons or allow to delve into grapes and wine territories.
The most basic Sensory Evaluation will let oenophiles learn about taste, sensorial analysis and wine vocabulary to describe wine sensations through eight different wine styles and grape varietals. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay experiences will take participants onto individual global journeys of each grape varietal depicted in six wines that help ascertain nuances from these varieties depending on where they are grown. And The Cabernet Sauvignon Lover’s Experience is designed for cab passionates who want to explore this variety’s contrasts through eight different top wine labels from regions as Bordeaux, South Australia or Napa Valley.
A private rendezvous at the cellar offered a mini sample of this kind of experiences featuring four Chardonnays du monde through which the sommelier took tasters on tour though different varietal expressions based on climate, soil, and approaches to vinification and aging, but also their food pairing harmonious possibilities.
From Australia to California the sample experience made stops in South Australia where there are many old vines and one finds Penfolds Koonunga Hill from the eponymous winery reputed for its Shiraz. Koonunga Hill reflects Penfold’s multi-region and multi-vineyard assemblages philosophy to ensure yearly consistency. This label ages both in stainless steel and oak barrels, and also on its lees which ensures good texture, showing also balance and freshness. It was an unctuous and mineral wine with pear notes and a hint of smoke, a harmonious pinch of its barrel aging and a long-lasting finish on the palate.
Next stop on the tour was France and the upper Burgundian region of Chablis, home to Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, a Chardonnay with no barrel contact that highlights its floral, white fruit and light honey notes in the nose and a salty, mineral nuance on the palate, where it ends vibrant and long-lasting.
A little South of France and slightly to the west of the previous glass comes Spain, and its Conca de Barberà appellation in Catalonia, where stellar Milmanda is born. An haut-de-gamme Chardonnay from Familia Torres and one of the best references of this varietal in Spain, Milmanda is a Burgundian-style Chardonnay, barrel fermented and aged, saline and fresh, with notes of peach and hazelnut, volume and grand finesse.
Freemark Abbey, a surprising barrel aged Chardonnay from Napa Valley rounded up the quartet with its roundness and freshness, balance and elegance, and aromas of stone fruit and spices. This was a 2016 vintage label, while the three preceding references were from the 2015 vintage.
To enlighten this offer, there also are available bespoke wine experiences, tailormade to meet guests’ interests.
In addition to these private sessions, every Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30 pm COA welcomes guests and owners of residences on property for open wine tastings where they can travel through the world through a glass of wine.
Yet wine is not the only pleasure one can delight in at the restaurant, which transformed its cozy and casual welcome area into a rum and whisky-focused bar, in line with the classic direction it has chosen for its new path. From the futbolines and the creative and tropical cocktail side, COA now features a prime selection of top and limited-edition Puerto Rican rums and some of the most valued rums from the Caribbean Basin.
A highlight within this offer is a craft rum that will be available as of May 25th, a sort of vermouth-inspired rum that has infused anise, allspice, cinnamon and other spices onto white rum Don Q, letting it rest for a month in small barrels that will unveil their secret spirit to be blended with the cocktails served at this bar spot and the restaurant that, from its previous stage, keeps intact it stunning sunset and pool views.
The Wine Experiences at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve are available from Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM.
May 19, 2019. All rights reserved ©
Rosa Maria Gonzalez Lamas. Images: Viajes & Vinos and COA (C)