In the world of happy marriages, few unions are more perfect than the combination of wine and cheese. Palm Beachers have been rediscovering that ideal combination this year at the series of wine tastings held at The French Wine Merchant.
The French Wine Merchant was created by Maurice Amiel, a native of Paris who operated successful wine stores in the New York area for several decades. After moving to Palm Beach with the intention of retiring, Amiel realized that no one on the island was selling the type of wine he liked: authentic, reasonably priced bottles from both famous and lesser-known regions of France. He established a comfortable, elegant shop in the Paramount Building, where customers can relax to the strains of classical music while browsing through a collection of gems.
“The only way for people to learn about wine is to taste,” he says with conviction. “Labels are attractive, but ultimately meaningless—they can fool you. By tasting regularly, you develop your own palate and determine your own preferences.”
Amiel sponsors two different types of tastings at The French Wine Merchant. Every Monday in season, he hosts small groups (up to 25 people) for a tasting of seven wines paired with selected cheeses and lively conversation. Sometimes the attendees are part of his loyal clientele, and often they are corporate functions or private groups celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. There is a modest charge of $15 for these events, which is refundable with a $40 purchase.
Every month, larger public tastings are held at the store, which frequently spill out into the courtyard of the Paramount. These events sometimes draw up to 80 people, and feature 10-15 wines at two or three tasting stations, paired with cheeses and tea sandwiches. Some are free of charge, and the best way to receive an invitation for these is to sign up for Maurice’s exclusive mailing list.
The wines featured at the tastings may hail from France, Italy, Argentina or California, but the cheeses are always French. On a recent evening, Maurice began with the traditional pairing of Sancerre with a creamy goat cheese. He combined Chardonnay with Saint D’Albray, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Aquitaine region. A pair of Pinot Noirs were accompanied by Saint-André, a triple cream cheese from Normandy, and a rich Brie complemented a classic Bordeaux blend. For the conclusion, he combined a sweet wine with a sharp Roquefort.
For Maurice, the interplay between wine and cheese is part of the voyage of discovery his clients travel while they are under his roof.
“We don’t try to influence customers,” he says, “but rather to guide them by offering a range of styles and choices. You can go to a wine class and pay a lot of money, but you’ll end up being lectured.
“Here, you not only develop your own palate, but also connect with a network of like-minded people who become friends over time.”
Maurice is currently developing a membership program which will reward loyal customers with a range of benefits, including discounts on purchases and free admission to tastings. In the meantime, you may sign up for his mailing list by contacting him at 561.833.7712, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, the most fun and rewarding way to experience what he has to offer is to pay a visit to the Paramount Building at 139 N. County Road.
(To Be Published in the Nov. 16 Palm Beach Society Magazine)