Finest wines fit for a Princess

The South African flag is flying high in Monaco!

The marriage of Ms Charlene Wittstock has created a unique opening for South African wines and Juliet Cullinan has not skipped a beat in seizing the opportunity to showcase some quality wines in the Principality. The success has been overwhelming – far greater than ever imagined. Sommeliers, trade and public love their flavour, diversity and value.

There is an elegance and beauty in Old World wines, where your search for its nuances are often rewarded with subtle, gentle flavours. By contrast, New World Wines have forthcoming flavours, which make them immediately appealing. The rewarding fruit symbolises the brilliant and constant sunshine of the wine growing regions. They show good structure, balance and weight on the palate without compromising on elegance or finesse.

These South African wines made their Monaco debut at the Wine Business Club at the Hôtel de Paris. While I have hosted events in special parts of the world, this will always rate as the most impressive, and profoundly elegant tasting I will ever host. The Hôtel de Paris, is indeed one of the most beautiful hotels in the world… the Baroque Belle Époque ornate façade, and tall, slender wooden French doors with marble steps leading down to the perfectly manicured gardens of the casino square. Tourists snap and pose between Ferraris and Maseratis, parked in strict formation around this exclusive square. Rich Casanovas with tall “Dolly Parton” blonds sit sipping expensive espresso, watching history unfold. Their vacant, sculptured looks, waiting to be noticed. On your right the Garnier Opera Hall is perched on a hill overlooking Port Hercule with 180-degree views towards the Roc with its Royal Castle on the right and Italy’s coastline on the left.

This gracious building is betwixt a fleet of magnificent boats, some complete with helicopters, on one side and the aspirational rows of cars at its main doors. The Hôtel de Paris cellars stretch for miles beneath the exclusive streets of this chic quartier, housing Grande Marque jewelers and designer boutiques. Built into the rock, one discovers underground avenues lined with wooden wine boxes from wine properties, vintages and labels of the most envious description. More Champagne is stored here than is bought in France in a year. Its buyers can be dining at any of the distinctive venues in the Principality owned by the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer.

These include two palaces and two deluxe Hôtels, five casinos, 60 conference and banqueting suites, 33 bars and restaurants, three spas, the Salle des Etoiles Opera, Jimmy’z night club, the Monte-Carlo Golf Club and the Monte-Carlo Country Club.

These cellars are home to the Wine Business Club monthly wine tastings. Esteemed tastings have included the legendary Chateaux d’Yquem. I was fortunate to have worked with Patrice Frank, Chef Sommelier à l’Hôtel de Paris and head of the Monaco Sommeliers, who is both passionate and compassionate in the way he guides and influences wine sales. I was invited to present six wines paired with a dinner created by Franck Cerutti, Executive Chef at the Louis XV – the Hôtel de Paris’ Michelin 3-star restaurant, under the guidance of Chef Alain Ducasse. Together we designed a menu to ensure that the nuances of the wines were not overpowered by acidic or strong food flavours. I also proposed a mini caves tour of 15 wines, tasted in varietal categories. Guests in their chic Monaco couture sniffed, spat and scribbled notes in the catalogue.

Each wine had a QR bar code to enable them to snap their favourite wines with their mobiles to capture all the additional information about those wines. I loved the contrasting worlds of modern technology and distinguished historical buildings.

At times, in an attempt to simply order a drink, sommeliers are considered wine waiters and their long hard road of theoretical and practical exams to achieve their professional status goes unnoticed. Selection of a wine by these talented palates opens grand doors to the finest venues in the world.

PHOTO: Rustenberg at the foot of Simonsberg © Juliet Cullinan 2011 At Le Meridien

Showcasing wines is always hard work, but it is eased in Monaco where the passion and knowledge of sommeliers ensures correct presentation, serving temperatures and decanting. A tasting at Le Meridien Beach Plaza attracted 150 public guests, 60 sommelier and trade and 60 people for the dinner. Their sommelier, Dominique Milardi showed his enthusiasm by stimulating press interest, and inspiring his team and chefs to engage directly with the guests, giving them credibility and a sense of achievement. Heike Cottray, Bailli Délégué de la Chaîne des Rotisseurs invited its members, whose gastronomic presence further elevated the tone of the evening. The day had begun with Heike, Dominique and I visiting the Royal Palace to deliver wine for the Prince and the Princess and ended with a telephone call from the Palace chef to thank me for the wine tasting. These tastings illustrate the warm welcome, high standards and commitment from sommeliers to the best of South African wines. They were fun and exciting and every moment was a pleasure with attention to detail and flawless professionalism. The 18 regional press reviews of these events are testament to their success. The Palace chef carries pictures of himself and Nelson Mandela on his iPhone, and Monaco restaurants are excited about serving South African wines. I have a fine distributor. The ultimate aim was to introduce SA wines and hope that they would be at the Royal Wedding. I was so close to achieving the selection on several occasions. While I didn’t get this order, I have been able to achieve real interest and hope to influence the wine served in the Palace in years to come.

View the catalogue here

Read the profile of Patrice Frank here