In Maldives paradise, fine wine is not a simple matter

This year everyone seemed to be doing what they wanted to do in 2020. I had a special birthday to celebrate and had planned to bring the whole family – all 12 of us from three different generations. – to a resort in the Maldives, where I had been invited to host a couple of wine tastings. Everyone was extremely excited. Then Covid-19 hit.

This year, as our family group has grown to 13, the trip seems more likely. But it wasn’t until everyone landed in Malé – following a school outbreak of chickenpox, massive flight cancellations, a failed PCR test and a grandchild vomiting repeatedly the night before – we I really believe I can do it.

Eco-resort island Soneva Fushi It turned out to be paradise, and our son declared that I should consider being able to take them on this trip as my greatest accomplishment. I am inclined to agree.

But of course, I wanted to learn about wine in such an exotic location and so mercilessly quizzed head of wine Charles Brun. Since the Maldives is located mostly on the equator, no wine is produced there. Nor is it because it is a predominantly Muslim country. Taxes on imported wine mean higher prices. A friend who had previously visited the Maldives tried to bring back some bottles for his and his wife’s private consumption, but they were confiscated at the airport.

Maldives attracts connoisseurs of tourists. Joyson Jose, a Mumbai-born waitress at the nearby Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru resort, told me a Chinese guest ordered no less than eight bottles. Petrus. He didn’t specify the vintage but even the smallest one costs more than £4,000 a bottle retail on average before the Maldives markup.

On our first night at the resort, I pored over the comprehensive wine list and left me disappointed that there were only a handful of wines under $200 a bottle. Four and even five-digit prices per bottle are common. My son and son-in-law were encouraged to drink beer.

However, the breadth of this list is phenomenal, considering the sommeliers in the Maldives – who seem to compete with each other to see who can make the best selection – are at least 3,000 km from the dealer. nearest serious winery, in Dubai or Singapore, and more than any serious winemaker. (As with all the great classics and the general focus on organic and biodynamic wines, Brun has handpicked top wines from Japan, China, Turkey and even Syria. .)

Furthermore, even if a shipment of precious wine arrives at a dealer in Malé, it will have to be transported to its final destination, its island. For Soneva Fushi, this includes a 9 to 10 hour ride on a dhoni, traditional Maldivian small boat, in a temperature controlled container. Once it arrives, it must be sent straight to storage because the ambient temperature in the Maldives is too hot for wine.

This also causes serious problems for wine service. Because wine heats up quickly in the tropics, Brun serves it in small but frequent pourers, 3-4 degrees Celsius below the ideal temperature, and sets her refrigerator at 4-5 degrees Celsius for for whites and 10-12 degrees Celsius for reds. Committed to recycling, Soneva Fushi has a glass workshop where Brun has designed a special decanter with a compartment for ice cubes in it. (Any kind of plastic Bring in must be brought by the guest himself.)

The resort can be predictably sustainable, but Brun admits that it does air freight in special bottles if required. “We sometimes have crazy wine requests here,” he said. For example, by the time we got there in early April, Brun had sold out his high season (Northern Hemisphere winter) allotment of two single-vineyard Champagnes from Pétrus and Krug, as well as wines from the excellent Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which sold 10 bottles of DRC in February alone. “I once sold a bottle of their La Tâche at 11:30 p.m. to a couple,” Brun tells me. “The man asked me to be sure to bring a second drink and it turned out not for his wife but for me! It is quite rare to be invited to drink La Tâche. He is French. ”

Brun from Provence and his career path winds through France, New Zealand, Los Angeles and just before the Maldives, a luxury icebreaker in Antarctica, where his problem is warm enough wine. “The cellar is always in the center of a ship to avoid sedimentation in the bottles,” he explains.

On the icebreaker, perhaps for space reasons, he is limited to 240 different wines, but in his 5 cellars in Fushi, he has around 40,000 bottles of 1,100 different wines – though though the thirst of his guests is always exhausted. “We also have very special wines that are not on the list. We don’t want people to order rare wines just because they can afford it.”

Obviously, I must look horrible poring over wine list details in search of (relatively) bargains. Brun claims that he knows the preferences of his guests and the furnishings of his wine cellar so well that 90% of the time he doesn’t even show them the list but makes specific recommendations. Some guests have been coming since 1995 when the resort opened (he arrived in 2013).

About half of the guests make repeat bookings, and many of them come several times a year. He considers expected guests and orders or sets specific wines aside accordingly. “Then I can create a small cellar for them and send it to their villa for an aperitif or lunch.”

I said it looked like he needed a computer program to do it, but no. “It’s all here,” he said proudly, tapping his head. “Every morning, when I look at what sold the night before, I can tell you who drank what.” (Under $200? Probably that cheap wine writer.)

With 30 different nationalities visiting, Brun must always be aware of different tastes and budgets. According to him, “Russians don’t spend or everything, like the Chinese. Some Britons are spending a lot of money right now. ” (Maldivian-UK Economic Index?) Many families were locked in at the resort. And, “a lot of Russians canceled in April”.

Wine with spicy food

The Maldives is closest to Sri Lanka and India, and much of the food served there is richly spiced.

These are my recommendations, at different price points, for sommelier Charles Brun’s suggested wine styles.

Big red, lightly chilled

German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

  • Fürst, Bürgstadter Centgrafenberg GG 2014 Franken 13%
    £84.95 Stroud Wine Co

  • Jülg 2018 Pfalz 12.5%
    The £17 Streatham Winehouse

Dry Riesling

  • Domaine Weinbach, Schlossberg Riesling 2020 Alsace Grand Cru 13.5%
    £316.07 for six bottles of Justerini & Brooks

  • Pewsey Vale Riesling 2020 Eden Valley
    £13.99 NY Wine, Precious Grapes

Condrieu / Viognier

  • Georges Vernay, Coteau de Vernon 2018 Condrieu 14.5%
    £650 for six bottles, Millésima UK

  • Yalumba, Samuel’s Collection Viognier 2017 Eden Valley 13.5%
    £18.54 Four Walls Wine

Tasting notes on Purple Page of Other Reserves from

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