Personally I’ve always
loved the atmosphere of the place,
especially during the Formula One weekend, but during those busy months the exhibitionism of luxury can get a bit out of hand.
Casino square seems to be something of a marketplace during those times. No goods are being sold, but those who want to be seen in their (usually convertible) supercars happily oblige the crowds of camera-carrying tourists. In fact, for some it almost seems to become a day job to drive their yellow Lamborghini in tiny circles all day long. It’s quite fascinating and peculiar, but probably not something you want to observe for weeks on end.
However, I recently got to experience Monte-Carlo at a time of year when most people are doing real work. And it felt much more like a real place. And a nice place, too. Then again it would have to be, considering Grace Kelly found it good enough to call her home. Watching from our room’s balcony at the Hôtel de Paris, there was still a lot going on in front of the Casino — be assured there was still no shortage of expensive 4-wheelers — but it feels much more grown up.
The Hôtel de Paris celebrated its 150th anniversary this year, and to mark this exceptional occasion they created a special wine list of 150 Bordeaux Grand Cru wines available by the glass. One every day, for 150 days. 150 different Bordeaux wines may sound like a lot. You might suppose that it’s even impossible to find 150 really good ones, in one place. But if you know the wine cellar of the Hôtel, it starts to make sense. Because as far as wine cellars go, it might as well be called Mecca. Carved out of the famous rock, its history is rich and even spectacular — it was raided during the German invasion but a clever trick managed to save the rarest bottles from being discovered.
We had a unique opportunity to tour the cellar, and were left quite staggerred by what we found.
First of all there’s the sheer number of bottles. Around half a million, and almost entirely French. It’s no secret that wine is a very good investment, if you have a suitable space to store them in. And the legendary chambers beneath Monte-Carlo are the perfect place to store wines of exceptional years for a long long time. By the time these wines get served to a lucky diner, their increase in value is astronomical. But it’s important to point out that this doesn’t feel like a regular old business. Most wines you find in the cellar are not actually on the wine list at any given time. The list changes, with wines getting listed and de-listed regularly. When stock of a particular bottle runs low for example, it will dissappear from the menu while a few bottles remain available for regular clients. Yes, the sommelier is a very powerful man indeed. Better make sure to be on his good side.
Inside there is also a special section, protected by metal bars, storing some of the oldest and rarest bottles of wine in existence. It’s sort of like the Louvre for wines, really. Except that you can’t buy a ticket to get in. These wines will never be opened, and their value is beyond estimation.
Wine is something which is undoubtedly more than the sum of its parts. In essence, we’re talking about fermented grapes. But the entire process of creating it, from growing the grapes to making the wine, is art more than science. Of course a great wine is best appreciated together with great food, a combination which bears close ressemblance to a musical composition. And as an extra benefit of visiting outside of the busy season, you might possibly have a chance to dine at the Hôtel de Paris’ 3-star Louis XV — I hear Alain Ducasse is one heck of a composer.
Alain Ducasse's Louis XV restaurant in Hôtel de Paris
Details from Posta-Magazine: