Le Meurice in Paris manages to combine understated elegance with quirkiness while at the same time enveloping you in a cocoon of luxury. That is the best way I can think of to describe this de luxe (in the truest sense of the word) luxury hotel.
The history of the hotel goes back to 1771 in Calais where the founder of the hotel, Charles-Augustin Meurice took it upon himself to set up a hostelry for tired British travellers on their way to Paris. Charles Augustine owned a coach service and from there the travellers would take his coaches to Paris where – surprise! he set up a second inn for them to check into after the long journey from the coast.
From these humble beginnings, Le Meurice was born. In 1835, the hotel moved to its present location, across from the Tuilieries. Due to it’s close proximity to the Louvre Palace, it soon became a favourite of visiting royalty and became known as the Hotel des Rois (Hotel of the Kings). Throughout the years the hotel also served as a refuge for royalty, as well, the Shah of Iran was actually staying at the hotel when he was deposed.
Probably one of the most famous guests of the hotel was Salvador Dali. He would stay at the hotel every year for at least a month and was noted for his, shall we say, unusual behaviour. On one occasion he requested a herd of live sheep be delivered to his room and once they arrived began shooting at them with blanks! Ah, artists. Another time he asked the staff to catch flies in the Tuilieries and paid them the equivalent of 1 euro per fly.
The legacy of Dali’s visit was the establishment of Prix Meurice for Contemporary Art. Launched in 2008, it’s aim is to support young French artists. As you enter the foyer of the hotel, you are greeted by a pair of almost entwined columns, one of the winners of the Meurice Prize. The hotel is building up a collection of all the prize winners which you can find scattered about the ground floor of the hotel.
Although I’m not royalty, I was invited to stay at Le Meurice to participate in their monthly wine and food matching event, Nocturnes. When I arrived, I was shown to my Junior Suite. Sweet! The suite was almost bigger then my flat in London, complete with it’s own sitting room and 2 long hallways. What I liked about the suite was that although the design is elegantly comfortable, furnished in 18th century style, there are always bits of whimsy, from the steel tree trunk used as a table to quirky artwork set amongst more classic paintings, Le Meurice surprises when you least expect it. Not to mention, the iPod home, hi def flat screen tv and wireless connections. I could have wallowed in my king sized bed for my entire visit but I was actually here for an event.
As the name implies, Nocturnes is in the evening and is led by Head Sommelier, Estelle Touzet. Estelle works closely with the Head Chef, 3 Michelin star holder, Yannick Alleno who creates canapes especially for each event. Estelle is from the Loire Valley and although she is only 30, she’s been the Chef Sommelier since 2010. Estelle has at her command a 30,000 bottle cellar with not only the traditional French wines but also wines from around the world, quite unusual for a French grand hotel.
Nocturnes is held in the hotel bar, Bar 228. I asked Estelle if she had any difficulty getting this project off the ground and she said that initially there was a bit of hesitation but ever since it’s beginnings, it has proven to be very popular both with hotels guests and non-guests.
The evening consisted of 4 wines, in this case it was Sauvignon blanc. Estelle, however, changes it monthly so you could be getting red wine one month and pink the next. What I found most intriguing about the evening and probably the biggest point of difference in this winetasting was that Estelle does not stick to the wines of France. As a matter of fact, Estelle usually only has one French wine amongst the four. She does this because most of the participants are French and she wants to educate them about other wines and wine regions. I asked her if she found any opposition to this tactic and she replied that guests were actually pleased to be introduced to wines that were other then French.
Once we were comfortably seated at our own little tables in the bar, the tasting began. Estelle comes around each table and chats while she is pouring the wine. You’re free to fire away with questions but I must admit I was too busy tasting the wine and eating the exquisite canapes that accompanied each dish.
Estelle doesn’t reveal the wine at first so we won’t be prejudiced as to what is in the glass. And a good thing that was, as the first wine was a South African s. blanc. Warwick Estate 2010 S. Blanc was first. I have had their wines before so I wasn’t so surprised when she revealed it. A juicy wine, full bodied with loads of tropical fruit on the nose and palate. This was certainly no Loire Valley s.blanc! Paired with Fine gelée japonaise aux coquillages ouverts à cru, beignets croquants à la prune salée et au Yuzu (Delicate Japanese jelly with shellfish, crunchy salted plum fritters with yuzu) it was a tropical mouthful, full and fruity but having a strong finish.
Next was a Chilean S. blanc. Estelle really was surprising me with her New World choices. Errazuriz is a big producer but their 2010 was well done if again very full and lush but having enough acidity to not be a flabby drink. This was not what I was expecting, but paired with Tourteau percuté et rôti au four avec du beurre demi sel, nage glacée et tuile aux algues (Crab meat roasted in the oven with salted butter, frozen stock and crisp nori leaf) was just the ticket. The crab had been cooked in butter but in such a way as it was bursting with flavour but not greasy or heavy.
Noix de St Jacques au poêlon, linguine crémées et truffées (Scallop, creamy linguine with truffle) were divinely complex, the salty sea mixing with the earthiness of the truffle. Estelle had chosen an Austrian s. blanc, the 2009 Weingut Grasssnitzberg. Now this was an altogether more complex wine with a heafty dose of minerality on the nose and palate. Very refreshing after the two New World lushes.
Estelle did her last lap around the tables with a rather ornate horn shaped decanter. Looking at the wine inside, it was a deep golden colour. It looked like a Sauternes to me. Would she serve a blend to us? This was a bit of a curve ball. I lifted the glass to my nose, hmmmm. orange blossom, honeyed notes, a bit of toast, gotta be a dessert wine. And then the taste. WRONG! It was bone dry! Estelle had fooled us with a 10 year old sauvignon blanc from Menetou Salon in the Loire, the Morogues 2002 Domaine de la Tour Saint Martin, Bertrand et Albane Minchin! Sneaky, she is…. But what a wine, complex flavours and aromas, a wine I found myself getting lost in, I almost forgot about the food, Agnelotti de noix de coquille St Jacques à l’encre de seiche, palourdes au vert, Scallop Agnolotti with squid ink, clams in green sauce. The food and wine were a great match, bites of intense scallop ensonced in the agnolotti and an earthy parsley sauce accompanying it.
A delightful way to end the evening. The tasting only lasts an hour but you are welcome to finish any wine you have left in the bar. A great wine and food experience. One could call it a wine and food safari as it was a definite adventure for my palate.
Nocturnes is held once a month at the hotelbar, Bar 228. For more information consult the Le Meurice website.
228 rue de Rivoli
Telephone +33 1 44 58 10 10
Have you ever been to an amazing wine and food matching event? Leave a comment and let me know.
*note – Official hotel photos of the exterior and interior, Dali and the Prix Meurice, all other pics taken by The Wine Sleuth with my iPhone.