In the paradise of the Maldives, fine wine is no simple matter

This yr everybody appears to be doing what they meant to do in 2020. I had a particular birthday to have a good time and had deliberate to take the entire household — all 12 of us from three completely different generations — to a resort within the Maldives, the place I had been invited to host a few wine tastings. Everybody obtained extraordinarily excited. Then Covid-19 hit.

This yr, by which period our household group had grown to 13, the journey regarded extra possible. But it surely was not till everybody had landed in Malé — after a college outbreak of chickenpox, widespread flight cancellations, a failed PCR take a look at and one grandchild vomiting a number of occasions the night time earlier than — that we actually believed we had made it.

The eco-resort-island Soneva Fushi turned out to be paradise, and our son declared that I ought to regard with the ability to carry them on this journey my best achievement. I’m inclined to agree.

However in fact I needed to seek out out about wine in such an unique location and so quizzed the top sommelier Charles Brun mercilessly. As a result of the Maldives is just about on the equator, no wine is made there. Nor would there be as it’s a predominantly Muslim nation. Taxes on imported wine imply costs are steep. A buddy who had visited the Maldives earlier than tried to usher in some bottles for his and his spouse’s personal consumption, solely to have them confiscated on the airport.

The Maldives attracts well-heeled guests. Joyson Jose, Mumbai-born sommelier on the close by 4 Seasons Landaa Giraavaru resort, informed me {that a} Chinese language visitor ordered no fewer than eight bottles of Pétrus. He didn’t specify a classic however even the youngest one prices a median of greater than £4,000 a bottle retail earlier than Maldives mark-ups.

On our first night time on the resort, I studied the excellent wine checklist and located to my chagrin that solely a handful of wines have been lower than $200 a bottle. 4- and even five-digit costs per bottle have been widespread. My son and sons-in-law have been inspired to drink beer.

The breadth of the checklist was extraordinary, nevertheless, contemplating that sommeliers within the Maldives — who appear to vie with one another for who can have the perfect choice — are a minimum of 3,000km from the closest severe wine service provider, in both Dubai or Singapore, and excess of that from any severe wine producer. (In addition to all the nice classics and a common emphasis on natural and biodynamic wines, Brun had handpicked prime wines from Japan, China, Turkey and even Syria.)

Furthermore, even as soon as a valuable wine cargo arrives with an agent in Malé, it then needs to be shipped to its eventual island vacation spot. For Soneva Fushi this includes a nine- to 10-hour voyage on a dhoni, the small, conventional Maldivian boat, in a temperature-controlled container. As soon as it arrives, it has to go straight into storage because the ambient temperature within the Maldives is way too scorching for wine.

This presents severe issues for wine service too. As a result of wine warms up quickly within the tropics, Brun serves it in small however frequent pours, 3-4C decrease than the best temperature, and units his fridges at 4-5C for whites and 10-12C for reds. Being dedicated to recycling, Soneva Fushi has a glass studio the place Brun has designed a particular decanter with a cavity for ice cubes in it. (Any plastic introduced in needs to be taken away by friends themselves.)

The resort could also be predicated on sustainability, however Brun admitted that they airfreight in particular bottles if required. “We have crazy wine requests here sometimes,” he stated. For instance, by the point we obtained there in early April, Brun had bought out of his high-season (winter within the northern hemisphere) allocation of Pétrus and Krug’s two single-vineyard champagnes, in addition to wines from the fabulous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, having bought 10 bottles of DRC in February alone. “Once I sold a bottle of their La Tâche at 11.30pm to a couple,” Brun informed me. “The man asked me to be sure to bring a second glass and it turned out to be not for his wife but for me! It’s pretty rare for a somm to be invited to drink La Tâche. He was French.”

Brun is from Provence and his profession path winds by way of France, New Zealand, Los Angeles and, simply earlier than the Maldives, a luxurious icebreaker within the Antarctic, the place his drawback was getting wine heat sufficient. “The wine cellar is always in the centre of a ship to avoid shaking up the sediment in the bottles,” he defined as we sat underneath palm timber by the Indian Ocean.

On the icebreaker ship, presumably for house causes, he was restricted to 240 completely different wines, however in his 5 cellars on Fushi he has about 40,000 bottles of 1,100 completely different wines — although such is the thirst of his friends that he’s all the time operating out. “We also have very special wines that aren’t listed. We don’t want people to order rare wines just because they can afford them.”

Clearly I will need to have regarded awfully gauche poring over the element of the wine checklist searching for the (relative) bargains. Brun claims that he is aware of the tastes of his friends and the contents of his cellars so properly that 90 per cent of the time he doesn’t even present them the checklist however makes particular strategies. A number of the friends have been coming since 1995 when the resort opened (he arrived in 2013).

About half the friends are repeat bookings and lots of of them come a number of occasions a yr. He seems at which friends are anticipated and orders or units particular wines apart accordingly. “Then I might make up a little cellar for them and send it to their villa for aperitifs or lunch.”

I stated it sounded as if he wanted a pc program to work all of it out, however no. “It’s all here,” he stated with pleasure, tapping his head. “When I look every morning at what’s been sold the night before, I can tell you who drank what.” (Below $200? That cheapskate wine author presumably.)

With 30 completely different nationalities visiting, Brun has to remain on prime of various preferences and budgets. Based on him, “Russians spend nothing or everything, like the Chinese. Some Brits are now spending a fortune.” (A Maldivian-UK financial index?) Many households sat out lockdown on the resort apparently. And, “lots of Russians cancelled in April”.

Wines to serve with spicy meals

The Maldives is closest to Sri Lanka and India, and far of the meals served there may be generously spiced.

These are my suggestions, at completely different costs, for sommelier Charles Brun’s prompt wine types.

Massive reds, frivolously chilled

German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

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

  • Jülg 2018 Pfalz 12.5%
    £17 Streatham Wine Home

Off-dry Riesling

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

  • Pewsey Vale Riesling 2020 Eden Valley
    £13.99 NY Wines, Noble Grape


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

  • Yalumba, Samuel’s Assortment Viognier 2017 Eden Valley 13.5%
    £18.54 4 Partitions Wine

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com. Extra stockists from Wine-searcher.com

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