The fabled wine cellar at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo is a glittering mecca for wine lovers but entry to its hallowed depths is granted to only a chosen few. I won’t lie, strings were pulled to get myself over the threshold.
The hype is not unfounded, it is the biggest hotel cellar in the world and covers a staggering 1500 square metres, employs 10 full time staff and is home to 350,000 carefully stored bottles of the world’s greatest wines. The hotel cellar supplies the hotels, restaurants and bars that come under the remit of the Société des Bains de Mer which includes 35 restaurants (comprising 7 Michelin stars), all within the 3 square km that makes up Monaco. If Aladdin were a wine geek, this would be his cave.
The cellar was built in 1876, and was the brain child of Marie Blanc, the enterprising wife of the hotel’s founder Francois Blanc. She envisaged building a cellar to store the fine wines that would appeal to the discerning clientele they intended to attract. The hotel itself had been built to cater for the well healed patrons who flocked to the Casino Montecarlo to try their luck at the tables. Incidentally the casino was also the result of an enterprising woman, Princess Caroline, wife to Prince Florestan who had the shrewd idea to build the casino, the revenue of which was intended to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy.
Corridor after corridor stretched out in front of me, each dedicated to a different wine region. Every name that has wine buffs and collectors tripping over themselves to get access to are humbly chalked up on the wall. When orders come through from the restaurants, the bottles are still put into the original ‘wine wheelbarrows’ and transferred over. Despite numerous overtures, the wines are sold exclusively through the restaurants, not to private customers for their own cellars or yachts, a point of principle in which the cellar prides themselves.
During World War 2, at the far end of the cellar is a further ‘wine cave’, which was used to hide the expensive jewels of the patrons and the most precious bottles of wine from the occupying forces. They hid the entrance to this part of the cellar with debris and empty and broken bottles and the secret stash was never discovered.
Finally we were shown to the ‘museum’ dedicated to Marie Blanc with some extraordinary old bottles of wine and cognac, the oldest we found was a cognac from 1805. They are never to be drunk but to remain there for posterity. This does seem a crying shame, some of the worlds greatest wines from the greatest vintages never to be drunk. I am sure the empty bottles would do just as well!
The vast majority of the wines in the cellars are from France with just the merest nod to the other great countries of the world. Nothing is ever purchased from auction, another point of principle to ensure the finest provenance. It was incredible to see the dream of Marie Blanc still very much alive and largely unchanged under the stewardship of todays guardians who are equally dedicated in their passionate commitment to her legacy. They do preside over one of the greatest wine cellars in the world after all.