Monaco’s culinary scene is legendary and a vintage bottle of wine is an essential component of all good meals in the Principality. Did you know that 40 outlets of the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) serve wines from one ultra-exclusive wine cellar? The Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo houses the world’s largest hotel wine cellar. This prime Monaco real estate is a subterranean sommelier’s paradise which shelters more than 350,000 bottles of the finest wine and champagne. The wine cellar is an open secret that is worth exploring.
The History of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo’s Wine Cellar
The wine cellar has a rich history spanning Monaco’s growth from its Belle Epoque era inception to its current role as a benchmark of the highest quality bottled opulence. The wine cellar was built 10 metres below the Hotel de Paris by a hundred construction workers and artisans over a period of eighteen months. Benefitting from an enviable position on the French border, the hotel had access to the finest wines in Provence, Bordeaux, and beyond. It was inaugurated in 1874 by Marie Blanc, wife of the SBM’s founder, to bottle and store vintage wines taken from barrels of Bordeaux.
The Second World War threatened the riches of Monaco, so the hotel’s workers had to find an inventive way of protecting the wine. The solution was to create a fake wall of empty bottles, seven rows deep. They then hid 20,000 bottles of wine and spirits, as well as the hotel’s silverware. The concealed riches eluded seizure. The cellar was reopened by Sir Winston Churchill in 1945 and a bottle of rum from 1811 was used to celebrate.
The cellars have grown and expanded during more peaceful times and now house bottles traced from estates. Sommeliers, maîtres d’hôtel and other staff members use the cellars for training, tasting and sharing their expertise. The Marie Blanc Museum has been established to store the most interesting collections.
Highlights of the Cellars
The maze of passages houses all manner of wines that have been kept for posterity or to commemorate important events. The cellar master and his team oversee the care of vintages from famous names such as Rothschild, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and Dom Pérignon. They are entrusted with not only protecting the bottles and their contents, but also safeguarding their heritage. One glass features the dusty bottles that were used to celebrate Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace’s 20th wedding anniversary. A locked cellar contains priceless wines that are so old that they are undrinkable today.
The majority of wines are French and 80% of the vintages are older than 20 years old. The wines are organised by region and then subdivided by year. The cellars also carry an exclusive selection of top-quality spirits, including a cask of cognac that is over 120 years old.
Bottles that carry the label “circulating” are currently offered in SBM’s hotels, restaurants and bars. The “Cellier” boasts the oldest drinkable vintages, as seen on the wine menus of SBM restaurants. Naturally, they don’t come cheap and a Château Petrus will cost you €12,000.
The stone vaults of the cellar provide the perfect conditions for conserving wine in a sunless environment. The temperature hovers between 12° and 14° celsius and the atmosphere stays at a consistent level of humidity (75%). If all the racks of bottles were connected, they would stretch for 1.5 kilometres.
Although the Hotel de Paris’ wine cellars are not open to the public, they are available for private hire. A master sommelier will explain the incredible history of this underground treasure trove and you can taste a selection of vintage wines from established vineyards. Visitors and those seeking property for sale in Monaco are also spoilt for choice when it comes to sampling wine in SBM’s high-end restaurants. So even if you don’t visit the Hotel de Paris’ cellar, you can still taste the best wines.