FINE WINE AND THE PLEA­SURE PRIN­CI­PAL­ITY

MORE AUS­TRALIANS ARE PUTTING MONACO ON THEIR ITIN­ER­ARY AND ONE OF ITS GREAT­EST TREA­SURES IS IN THE HANDS OF MAS­TER SOM­ME­LIER PA­TRICE FRANK.

The Australian - The Deal - - Travel -

EACH YEAR one-time tee­to­taller Pa­trice Frank ac­quires more than 400,000 bot­tles of the world’s finest wine and cham­pagne. About 20 per cent of that haul makes its way to the Ho­tel de Paris Monte-Carlo, where as head som­me­lier Frank has for 13 years over­seen one of the world’s largest and most revered cel­lars.

Cut by­hand into the cool rock­un­derneath the 187-room prop­erty, the cel­lar was es­tab­lished in 1864 by the wife of the ho­tel’s founder, French en­tre­pre­neur Fran­cois Blanc, and ex­panded to its cur­rent ca­pac­ity in 1874. To­day, it hous­es­more than 550,000 bot­tles, cov­ers 1500 square me­tres and in­cludes 6000 dif­fer­ent wines, or­gan­ised by vin­tage and then re­gion. A tour costs 4000.

Ev­ery na­tion that pro­duces wine is rep­re­sented, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia and New Zealand. How­ever, 98 per cent of the bot­tles areFrench, and among the­mare such ex­pen­sive drops as the fa­mous 1945 Chateau Petrus, which sells for a mere 14,000 a bot­tle. A few are lit­er­ally price­less, such as the 1835Chateau Bel AirMar­quis d’Ali­gre (the cel­lar’s old­est) and the 1890Chateau d’Yquem. Oth­ers are leg­endary, in­clud­ing seven bot­tles of 1929 Chateau Mar­gaux clev­erly hid­den from Ger­man and Ital­ian troops dur­ingWorldWar II.

“The head of the cel­lar put the great­est wines we had from be­fore the war, along with the jewels of the 12 or so fam­i­lies who lived all year in the ho­tel, in a cor­ri­dor and closed it off by stack­ing lots of empty bot­tles in front of it,” Frank says. “The soldiers tried tak­ing the bot­tles down. They took down one layer and then two, but even­tu­ally they stopped.”

Sadly, the 1835 Chateau Bel Air Mar­quis d’Ali­gre is, to use Frank’s word, “in­drink­able”. But if you have a spare 9000, you can en­joy one of the 1929 Chateau Mar­gaux, so long as you drink it quickly. “If you give this wine too much oxy­gen, youwill kill it,” he ex­plains, while vis­it­ing toSyd­ney­with a trade del­e­ga­tion to brief travel lead­ers on tourism de­vel­op­ments in the prin­ci­pal­ity. “So I open the bot­tle and serve it di­rectly to a spe­cial big glass. The wine is per­fect dur­ing 40-45 min­utes, af­ter which it is fin­ished.”

Over the past three years, the num­ber of Aus­tralians and NewZealan­ders vis­it­ing Monaco has in­creased by­more than 50 per cent, which puts Aus­trala­sia within the prin­ci­pal­ity’s top 10 in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. As the head som­me­lier, Frank is al­ways on hand to of­fer Aus­tralians his ex­per­tise, but his pri­mary con­cern is en­sur­ing his cus­tomers “take plea­sure”.

“If they want to take a red bot­tle with the fish, then that is not a very good day for me in terms of tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion. But it is more im­por­tant to un­der­stand the plea­sures of the client than to im­pose my mind. The client is the king.”

Given the ho­tel’s pedi­gree and the stature of his role, it would be rea­son­able to as­sume Frank had been groomed for his po­si­tion from a very early age. How­ever, in his youth he was a ded­i­cated ath­lete­who­drank only fruit juice and­playedrugby for a French cham­pi­onship-win­ning team. It was only in 1990 that he fell in love with wine, when dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days he helped his brother and his mother-in-law in their one-Miche­lin-star restau­rant in Co­gnac.

At the time, he was study­ing law in Bordeaux, but he de­cided to quit and in­stead took the exam to be a wine waiter. Two years later, he qual­i­fied as a som­me­lier. Over the next decade, he worked in a va­ri­ety of top es­tab­lish­ments in France and Lux­em­bourg, as well run­ning his own restau­rant in Co­gnac for two years un­til in 2000 he was of­fered his cur­rent role at the Ho­tel de Paris Monte- Carlo by its owner, So­ci­ete des Bains de Mer (SBM).

Monaco’s largest em­ployer, SBM was es­tab­lished by Blanc in 1863 un­der the di­rec­tion of the then prince of Monaco, Charles III. It now boasts a port­fo­lio of tourism as­sets that in­cludes theMon­teCar­loCasino, the­Opera de­Monte-Carlo, four lux­ury ho­tels and a range of restau­rants, night clubs, spas and golf cour­ses. The com­pany is pub­licly listed, with its largest share­hold­ers in­clud­ing the Monaco govern­ment and the royal fam­ily, the Grimaldis. In ad­di­tion to be­ing his em­ployer, the cur­rent head of the House of Grimaldi pro­vided Frank with the high­light of his ca­reer in 2011. Work­ing with­mas­ter chef Alain Du­casse, whose three-Miche­lin-star restau­rant Louis XVis in the Ho­tel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Frank and his team were tasked with serv­ing the wine at the wed­ding re­cep­tion for Prince Al­bert II andCharleneWitt­stock.

Ho­tel de Paris Monte- Carlo head som­me­lier Pa­trice Frank with a bot­tle of Chateau Petrus.

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