Q&A With Joseph Fernandes of Cazabon Wine & Cocktail Bar

Christmas means fine wines and quality spirits, and today we’re lucky to have Joseph Fernandes, whose last name is synonymous with both, to talk about his new connoisseur’s wonderland.

You’re recognised as one of the top wine connoisseurs in Trinidad. How did you become such a lover of wine?

I have wonderful memories of my father taking me to Fernandes Distillery. The aroma emanating from rows of vats of aging rum was a thrilling experience; it left me with a lingering interest in the world of alcohol. I returned to England in the early 1980s, attending the Royal Agricultural College before working at a fine wine company in Oxford under two Masters of Wine, Patrick Grubb and David Stevens. I took the diplomas at the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust at Vintners Hall in London.

Cazabon owner Joseph Fernandes and his wife, Cynthia

Why did you start Fernandes Wines?

I returned to Port of Spain in 1988, and finding no wine worth drinking, imported my first shipment. Fernandes Fine Wines & Spirits opened in 1989 on Cummins Lane, behind Queen’s Park Hotel. My grandfather had a business at the turn of the last century, called Fernandes Wines and Spirits, so in a way I felt obliged.

The first fine dining restaurant in Port of Spain, Le Cocrico, was no longer in operation. The ‘colourful’ wines—Black Tower, Blue Nun and Green Label—were everywhere. Wine knowledge was virtually non-existent and larger companies pushed indifferent products on an unsuspecting public.  To a large extent, this still happens. Tourism and the discerning traveller have fostered a buoyant wine sector in other islands; this hasn’t occurred here.

Why did you decide to start Cazabon?

It was the indifferent selection of wines, offered at silly prices. Wines must have a sense of place in the glass, and I’m not drinking industrially made wines. Our focus at Cazabon is a selection of over 130 wines. We also sought a professional mixologist from London to produce exciting and popular cocktails—no Sex on the Beach with cherries and pretty umbrellas! We wanted to create a space that was elegant, professional, different. It should be—and has been—noisy and naughty, too!

What are some of the special wines you have at Cazabon?

France and Italy dominate the selection, with Portugal and South America right behind. The wines of Jurançon are intriguing; Sauska, a recent acquisition from Hungary using the Furmint and Tokaji grapes, is worth trying. I’ve also included some of our rare and older wines: Salon Champagne 1985 and 1988; Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 1989; Roederer Cristal 1986, 1990; and Dom Ruinart Brut and Brut Rosé 1988, 1990, 1993 are some of these. Pavillon Rouge 2005 from Château Margaux is wonderful, though a bit pricey, as is the Chateau d’Yquem 1998, available in half-bottles.

Most restaurants/wine bars only serve plonk by the glass. Will people be able to buy good wines by the glass at Cazabon?

It’s a shame, but they get away with it because of a general lack of knowledge. Many merchants don’t properly store wines, which with our ambient temperatures quickly fade. We bought Dutch-made professional wine dispensers that are very easy and fun to use, allowing the customer to select from 32 wines in three different pour measures. You can tour through the wines by yourself or with some knowledgeable guidance.

Who is the chef?

We brought a chef from Portugal for a few months to teach us some of the typical petiscos (tapas) not only of Portugal, but a Mediterranean style of cooking. We are now looking for a Spanish chef to supplement our offerings.

Rumour has it that you have a fine selection of cigars.

We rely on a cigar specialist to supply us, so the usual Cohibas, Montecristos, and Romeo Y Julieta are available.