Some hotels are called “grand” for reasons of size, opulence or age. But these eight palaces also qualify by virtue of their wine programs.

There’s something enticing about standing inside a grand hotel. For most of us, palatial opulence—with Persian rugs, Murano (or Dale Chihuly) glass chandeliers and 24-karat gold-leaf detailing—evokes the fantasy of living like aristocracy. Even stepping into the monumental lobbies of these grand hotels is like coming face to face with the larger-than-life historic personalities who frequented them. It’s a privilege to sit in dining rooms where silky-smooth service, perfectly prepared food and an abundant selection of legendary wines are the norm. The fact that many of these hotels have world-class cellars makes it that much sweeter.

Whenever I’m in one of these hotels, I always appreciate that in previous eras, similar experiences were reserved for a noble few. But today, just about anyone is welcome within these prestigious walls; for the price of a glass of wine, we can sip from crystal stemware and be treated like royalty, if only for an hour.

Hôtel de Paris,
Monte Carlo
The caves of the Hôtel de Paris date to 1874 and contain 300,000 bottles, magnums and jeroboams. The Musée de Caves de l’Hôtel de Paris even contains prestigious representations from the Napoleonic era (1800, 1805, 1809, 1810 and 1811). Visitors to the Hôtel de Paris can tour the wine cellar upon request; it holds a kilometer’s worth of wine racks and enormous old oak casks. On the tour, you’ll also see a section that was walled off during World War II to protect the most rare and valuable wines.

The hotel’s opulent 50-seat Restaurant Le Louis XV, the most famous of Alain Ducasse’s dining venues, offers a 43-page Carte des Vins with 621 references, 37 “great and rare vintage wines” and 16 “fine and extremely rare bottles”—plus water from 18 different springs. Wines span the alphabet and the map of France: from Alsace to Vosne-Romanée.

The collection of Château d’Yquem includes 17 vintages between 1936 and 1989 (more recent vintages are “too young”). While there’s great depth to the wine list, don’t overlook the restaurant’s vintage eaux-de-vie, including 1948, 1953, 1957, 1960 and 1961. Rare for Europe are the five American wines on the list, including four by Robert Mondavi and one by Ridge. Louis XV’s reputation may be that it’s for masters of the universe, but anyone with $100 can enjoy their three-course prix-fixe lunch.

Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo, Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco.

Bellagio, Las Vegas
Despite the fame of Aureole’s 40,000-bottle four-story glass-and-steel wine tower at the Mandalay Bay Resort, the most impressive wine cellar in Las Vegas is at The Bellagio. Master Sommelier Jay James oversees 3,300 food and beverage employees, 14 sommeliers and a multimillion-dollar inventory of more than 115,000 bottles. The Bellagio wine vault contains 8,000 expensive and rare bottles—including 31 different selections from DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) and what James calls “some cool little treasures”: 1966 Chambolle-Musigny from Domaine Ponsot and 1955 Fonseca Vintage Port.

On the Master List—which offers between 1,000 and 1,100 selections—are the requisite California cult wines: Harlan, Araujo, Dunn and Spottswoode. The hotel’s partnership restaurants—Michael Mina’s Aqua, Julian Serrano’s Picasso, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Prime Steakhouse, Todd English’s Olives and the Maccioni family’s Le Cirque and Circo, plus Jasmine and Shintaro—account for another 24,000 bottles and another 600 selections. Circo’s wine cellar, with 1,250 bottles is itself a small showpiece in the center of the restaurant. At Circo and Le Cirque, high rollers can choose from ’61 Pétrus ($13,500), ’47 Cheval Blanc ($12,950) and ’85 Romanée-Conti ($13,380).

Bellagio, 3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 888/987-6667.

The Breakers, Palm Beach
The Wine Cellar at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida—with its hand-painted, 18th-century European leaded-glass doors—is as spectacular as the resort’s hand-stenciled ceilings and 18th-century Flemish tapestries. Located in the ornate Florentine Room adjacent to the Tapestry Bar and the award-winning L’Escalier restaurant, it faces stairs leading to a loft where, during Prohibition, the staff could see if police were heading toward the Circle Dining Room, where guests were drinking and gambling.

The 1,000-selection wine list spans both the globe and the purse: from a 1998 J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon for $30 to a 1928 Château Lafite-Rothschild for $5,000. Virginia Philip, a Master Sommelier candidate, offers more than 45 different Domaine de la Romanée-Conti bottlings along with her favorites: 1961 Château Latour and 1983 Vega Sicilia Unico.

One night, guests who paired wines with each menu selection chose a 1990 Château d’Yquem to drink with the foie gras. After they sipped small pours, they smiled and said: “It’s delicious. Go ahead and share the rest with the waitstaff.” Philip used the $900 bottle at a structured staff tasting during their daily preservice meeting. “It was a big deal to try that caliber of wine from that particular vintage.” Reinforcing the emphasis on appropriate wine service, Philip teaches a comprehensive 16-week wine course for the staff—complete with homework, exams and tastings.

The Breakers, 1 South County Road, Palm Beach, FL 33480. 888/273-2537. www.the

Hôtel de Crillon, Paris
The Hôtel de Crillon has the most extraordinary hotel wine cellar in Paris; it features 730 selections and an inventory of 100,000 bottles, with exceptional breadth and depth of classic French wines, mostly red clarets, white Burgundies and red wines from the Rhône Valley. Head Sommelier David Biraud of Les Ambassadeurs restaurant was named “Best Young Sommelier in France” in the 1998 Ruinart Trophy competition.

Some of Biraud’s current favorites from his list are the 1990 Bordeaux from Château Montrose and Château Malescot St.-Exupéry. Most of the wines sleep peacefully at the bottom of the hotel (which faces the historic Place de la Concorde, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette met their demise at the guillotine). Prize bottlings here include the 1893 Château d’Arches (Sauternes) and the 1895 Château Chalon (a vin jaune from the Jura). The great 1900 Bordeaux vintage is represented by Château d’Yquem, Château Latour and Château Ausone. One of the greatest Ports ever made, the 1963 Quinto do Noval Nacional, is a relative bargain at $3,000.

Hôtel de Crillon, 10, Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France. 33 (0)44 71 15 01. 800/ 888-4747.

St. Regis, New York
“Wine programs are not just about winning awards,” says Danielle Nally, sommelier at the St. Regis New York, “they’re about making a long-term investment in the cellar.” As a result, her million-dollar list includes about 25,000 bottles (some of which are stored off-premise) and 1,500 to 1,600 selections. These are available throughout the hotel and add luster to the cuisine at Christian Delouvrier’s Lespinasse, while smokers can order from the same list at King Cole Bar and privacy freaks can have any selection brought up by room service.

Among the crown jewels at the St. Regis are bottles of 1961 Château Palmer, 1961 Château L’Evangile and half-bottles of 1947 Château Cheval Blanc. Nally’s passion is hunting for old vintages of Bordeaux, and it shows. On top of that, she delights in providing personal service. “I’m always looking for great wines for particular guests—one for whom I keep a regular supply of 1982 half bottles in house.”

Nally adds, “We run 14 wines by the glass and have one of the largest half-bottle collections in the world.” For Nally, half bottles are “a great tool for me as a sommelier with tasting menus; they also allow guests the opportunity to try a larger variety of wines throughout their meal. Many people who travel alone also appreciate them in room service.”

St. Regis, 2 East 55th Street, New York, NY 10022. 212/753-4500.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Rudyard Kipling, who was once quoted as saying, “When in Singapore, feed at Raffles,” would be extraordinarily impressed with the hotel’s dedication to its wine program, as well as its $2.5-million wine list. A case in point is how the hotel prepared for the millennium celebration in 1999. To toast the special occasion, they bought nine Methuselahs (6-liter bottles) of Louis Roederer’s 1990 Cristal from a cache of only 2,000 bottles worldwide. In addition to rare vintages that go back 50 years, they also purchased century wines: 70 bottles of 1900 Château Margaux, Château d’Yquem and Sandeman Vintage Port.

One of the few remaining great 19th-century hotels in the world, it became a national monument upon its centenary in 1987 and a legendary symbol for all “the fables of the exotic East.” Leon Tan, the cellar master, is in charge of the hotel’s wine list, recommending wines as well as imparting wine lore to the hotel staff and guests. Despite this passion for wine, he reminds visitors not to forget to try a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar or the Bar & Billiard Room.

Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673. 65-337-1866.

The Savoy, London
At The Savoy, where the cellars used to be stables, Master Sommelier Werner Wissmann offers a list of 350 selections with a strong focus on classic French regions, particularly Burgundy and Bordeaux. In the 1930s, guests bought wine wholesale from a 15-page list and the hotel even provided a delivery service. Those days are gone, but the hotel aims “to have a good comprehensive list with a wide range of pricing to suit everyone, but most importantly to match the food.”

It was at the Savoy that Caesar Ritz hired Escoffier, and together the pair set standards for the hospitality and fine dining industries that are still followed around the world. The Savoy sells 30,000 bottles of Champagne annually, hosts free tastings for guests and does eight wine-pairing dinners each year. In 2001, one dinner paired wine with chocolate, while others featured different wine producers, such as the Burgundy firm of Chanson et Fils.

The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R OEU, England. 44 (0)20 7836 4343.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale
Arizona’s first-ever Master Sommelier, Greg Tresner, presides over a team of five sommeliers at Mary Elaine’s, the Phoenician’s fine-dining restaurant. All told, the resort has 17 certified sommeliers and a $3-million, 40,000-bottle inventory with 2,000 to 2,400 labels.

At Mary Elaine’s, where Chef de Cuisine/General Manager James Boyce holds court, 90 percent of guests order wine and 80 percent of his tasting menus are offered with wines paired to each dish. As befits an unabashedly American resort, the strength of the list is California Cabernets, with such cult wines as Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Bryant and Harlan Estate all represented.

For all that California glitz, Tresner hasn’t neglected traditional regions. Interest in wines from Germany, Austria and South Africa may be growing, but verticals of classics such as Château Petrus and Château Cheval Blanc, plus eight vintages or more of each of the Médoc first-growths, firmly anchor the list.

Wine tastings are an option for group receptions. The Phoenician offers wine seminars at Mary Elaine’s, The Terrace Dining Room and Windows on the Green. The Praying Monk features a working wine cellar, and is ideal for private wine tastings and/or wine dinners.

The Phoenician, 6000 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. 480/941-8200.

Published on December 1, 2001

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