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A hidden wine treasure beneath Monte-Carlo

A hidden wine treasure beneath Monte-Carlo

The Principality of Monaco hosts the largest hotel wine cellar in the world, an invaluable heritage of 150 years that is constantly evolving to anticipate the tastes of the times.

The largest hotel cellar in the world represents the art of fine wine with a mix of  tradition and modernity, just underneath the flower gardens, in the heart of the iconic Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo.

Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Les Câves de l'Hôtel de Paris
Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

Carved out of the rock in January 1874, the cellars of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo house rare wines and renowned eaux-de-vie that share this unique universe in perfectly preserved conditions.

Initially used for bottling 10 meters underground, the cellars have since been dedicated to wine maturation, with an incredibly rich heritage dedicated to ageing and a section allocated to storage for the Resort’s sales outlets.

Hotel de Paris in 1890
Hotel de Paris in 1890 / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

The cellar has an extraordinary history; time just seems to stop within  its walls. It holds  vintage wines that are more than a hundred years old, some of which are extremely rare or historically important, such as the renowned 1961 Bordeaux.

Hotel de Paris in 1949
Hotel de Paris in 1949 / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

When the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo opened its doors in 1864, it  literally provided the best of everything that the world had to offer. However, it had a disappointingly small, simple room housing only a few barrels of wine.

Nowadays, this spectacular wine cellar of 320,000 bottles of over 6,300 varieties, extends over 1,500 m2 in size, hidden from the public eyes. The cellar also offers a private room rich in history and prestige, reserved for very special events and frequently used by the Princely family.

The impactful transformation started back in January 1874, when Marie Blanc, the wife of François Blanc, founder of the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, conceived and personally financed from her own fortune the cellar of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. She travelled throughout Europe to observe the best of what was being done and had cellars dug into the Monégasque rock on the model of the Bordeaux wine cellars.

Realising Marie Blanc’s dreams took 18 months for nearly 100 workers and the cellar has become one of the largest cellars in the world. Even Princess Grace loved to receive guests there, and celebrated her  20th wedding anniversary there. 

The cellar embedded deep in the rock provides the perfect conditions for conserving wine. It keeps an ideal temperature which varies very little between 11° and 13° Celsius and a consistent humidity of 75%. Moreover, the wine never sees the light of day until it is destined to be served.

In the 1990s, renovation work allowed the creation of the Marie Blanc Museum where rare vintages featured on the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer wine list were stored and the cellars were enlarged to include an ageing cellar and a tasting room.

The access to the cellars was given a new look during the metamorphosis of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo between 2014 and 2018, which opened a new chapter for the mythical heart of Monaco.

However, Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo preserved the fundamentals that forge the exceptional character of the cellars; not giving into fashion, but anticipating and building the richness of its heritage and rarity over time through direct access to privileged areas.

By living heritage, yet constantly evolving to meet the tastes of the times, the cellars use their history to evolve and are a driving force within the Resort for the search for new wines, new appellations, new winemakers, new regions of the world, and new colours. Especially for a clientele whose time is precious and who like to discover what few know yet, whether it is a sophisticated French clientele or a Russian or Chinese clientele curious to learn.

The cellar offers the very best of French wines, from Bordeaux’s best-known classics (Haut-Brion, Petrus, Yquem, Lafite, Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour) to the most sought-after Burgundies (Romanée-Conti, Corton-Charlemagne, Clos de Vougeot, Meursault, Gevrey-Chambertin).

Burgundy is developing, the Rhône region is expanding and there is also a nice evolution of white wine and Loire wines thanks to natural wines. New regions such as the Jura, Savoy, Eastern countries with Georgia, the Mediterranean (Greece, Sicily/Etna) now offer promising productions, as well as regions of the world such as Chile, California, New Zealand, or South Africa. These countries have less wine history, but know how to adapt quickly to consumer expectations and climate changes.

Being factual, as for the wines racked in the cellar, 90% of them are French wines and less than 20% of the stock is younger than 20 years old.

This unique wine cellar offers a magical setting for a rare and precious experience to celebrate the Great Art of Wine, carefully watched over by the head of the cellar, Gennaro Iorio and his team of 10 people.

Before discovering the cellar, you must pass between hundreds of boxes bearing the stamp of the greatest Bordeaux châteaux. These are the arrivals of primeur wines, destined to be aged in bottles. In the cellar, everything is well arranged and classified. You can see the references listed at the entrance of each aisle. Interestingly, the cellar is using the original system set in place when it was completed in 1874.

Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Les Câves de l'Hôtel de Paris
Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

The visit of the cellar  is limited, as not all parts can be shown to the public. The one-kilometre long wine racks are  where the bottles are arranged according to their year. Labels also indicate the wines that are currently “in rotation”, i.e. on offer for the public in the hotels and restaurants. Some bottles available in the cellar are not proposed on the cards, they are rare labels or vintages for which they prefer to wait for maturation. Currently, the most expensive bottle that the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo sells to guests is a Château Petrus with a price tag of €12,000.

Overseeing this library of libations comes with high responsibilities. The cellar also has a “house philosophy” that  every member has to adopt: to respect age-old expertise, never to lose sight of the link between the wine cellar and the restaurants, and  to remember that the heritage they protect is the legacy of previous generations and a foundation for those to come.

The cellar also includes a special 16,000 square foot space referred to as “the museum”, honouring the name of Marie Blanc, where the bottles remain under a thick layer of dust. This is a section where time stops and one can find the most exclusive vintage wines, cognacs, and champagnes of the world. If one can afford it, some of these rarities are such as the oldest vintage cognac in the cellar from the 18th century or extra-rare wines such as a bottle of Château Bel Air Marquis D’Aligre 1850, Château Gruad Larose 1865, or Margaux’s 1945. Yet, for example, the Yquem’s 1890 will never be offered for consumption.

Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Les Câves de l'Hôtel de Paris
Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

Bottles from the Marie Blanc Museum are more than just drinkables, they have a fascinating history. During the German occupation in World War II, the most important bottles were famously concealed behind seven layers of less important inventory and empty bottles. This camouflage protected 20,000 precious bottles, the hotel’s silverware, and the fortunes of some of the most important residents, from looters during  World War II.

When the cellar was reopened in 1945 by HSH Prince Rainier III and special guest Sir Winston Churchill, they  celebrated the successful protection of the Marie Blanc Museum by opening up an 1811 rum. Even today, this is the room where the rarest vintages are stored.

In April 1976, HSH Prince Rainier III and HSH Princesses Grace celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary inside the Marie Blanc Museum. Only a handful of lucky guests were invited to join the subterranean dinner celebration. Many of whom had endured World War II and were privy to rare wines. 

It is fascinating to observe for the curious minds, that a glass case held in the cellar’s private dining room holds dusty bottles that were drunk at this celebration of HSH Prince Rainier III and HSH Princess Grace.

Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Les Câves de l'Hôtel de Paris
Wine cellar of Hotel de Paris / Photo: Société des Bains de Mer

Some of the vintage treasures of the cellar are literally priceless and preserved only for the memories. Some are so old that they wouldn’t be drinkable today. Some of these bottles are not available even for the Sovereign Prince, HSH Prince Albert II. They are considered treasures for future generations.

There is no doubt that when you enter the cellars of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, you enter into another world: you enter history! But the Cellars of the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo are only open to a few owners of great wine estates or  great connoisseurs to have high-level events exclusively around wine.

Thanks to the attention to the finest details, the cellar men, chefs, and sommeliers can  create wine lists that seek to pair the dishes with wines reaching their peak in the cellars beneath.

For those who seek the unforgettable in the Principality of Monaco, this rare and private place can thus become the setting for a memorable experience and a shared moment of a lifetime. The hidden wine cellar of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo is simply the pinnacle and dream of wine connoisseurs.