How about a rare 2009 Chardonnay from revered Burgundy producer Pierre-Yves Colin Morey? Or a one-of-a-kind 2011 Syrah from esteemed South African producer Eben Sadie? You can barely find these beauties in the UK. But finding a treasure trove of them in the Maldives at incredibly reasonable prices, poured by an expert sommelier team, elevates even the dreamiest of holidays to a truly transcendent experience.
There are over 132 resort islands in the Maldives – but there’s one clear choice for wine lovers and that’s the Constance Halaveli.
A 25-minute seaplane journey from the capital of Male, it has powder-white beaches, crystalline turquoise water and luxurious villas, like other idyllic resorts. But it’s the 27,000-bottle cellar at this tiny 300-metre-wide (985ft) island that sets it apart. If you want Montrachet with your manta rays, and bucket-list wines with your bucket and spade – then this is your wine paradise.
On my first morning, after a lavish breakfast and a litre of coffee to combat jet lag, I pad barefoot for a tour of the cellars located just metres from the beach. Outside there’s a bacchanal shrine of empty bottles – all the big names (Krug, Cristal, d’Yquem) but also trendy producers from the Jura, Switzerland and New Zealand. Intriguing. Head Sommelier Sree greets me with a welcoming smile. He opens a heavy door – and I’m in vino Narnia. Umpteen bottles are stacked across the walls, interspersed with old maps and wine memorabilia.
In the first chamber, there’s an impressive selection of big-hitter labels – vintage Champagnes, First Growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy and Super Tuscans. A reclaimed barrel table sits at the heart of the room – the hub for the team’s in-house training. Sree manages an unusually large team of five sommeliers all dedicated to Michelin-star-level wine service for guests of the 57 water villas and 29 beach villas.
Charlotte Kristensen check into Constance Halaveli (above) in the Maldives, which features a 27,000-bottle wine cellar
On the left is a floating lunch with house Champagne that Charlotte enjoys at her villa. The picture on the right shows Charlotte at her ‘lagoon tasting’ with head sommelier Sree – one of the many wine experiences that can be booked at Halaveli
Constance Halaveli’s cellar, which Charlotte describes as ‘vino Narnia’, complete with old maps and wine memorabilia
Charlotte writes: ‘There are over 132 resort islands in the Maldives – but there’s one clear choice for wine lovers and that’s the Constance Halaveli’
The sommelier team is young, affable, and extremely knowledgeable. ‘Did someone say “Riesling”?’ one of the team interjects with enthusiasm as he overhears our conversation about a famed Alsace producer. Close and trusting relationships lie at the heart of what they do. They tell me that some guests like to stick with the familiar – so quality Provence rosés, Sauvignon Blancs and Riojas are all on the list. Other guests have a penchant for classic, super-premium wines.
Sree tells me of one guest emailing to set aside €50,000 (£43,000/$53,000) of wine for a week-long holiday with friends. Another WhatsApped him from the airport seeking two bottles of Petrus – a rare wine averaging a whopping €4,000 (£3,500/$4,249) per bottle!
But it’s the small-production, family-owned producers that Sree and the team talk about with passion – Domaine Vacheron from the Loire Valley, David & Nadia from Swartland in South Africa, and Tenuta de Terre Nere from Sicily to name just a few. And you’ll be surprised to hear the prices of these boutique wines are remarkably fair.
Sommelier Sree tells Charlotte of one guest emailing to set aside €50,000 (£43,000/$53,000) of wine for a week-long holiday with friends
Charlotte stays in a beach villa (above) at the resort, which features 57 water villas and 29 beach villas
So how do they do it?
Wine culture runs from the top at this hotel group, which has several properties across the Indian Ocean. The wine operation has been overseen by respected and well-known sommelier Jerome Faure for almost 20 years, with his wine programmes winning numerous awards. His wine contacts across the world have enabled him to build noteworthy cellars with wines bought directly from the producers, cutting out intermediaries and passing the savings on to guests.
Each evening, after a slow day swimming, reading and relaxing in the spa, I’m taken on a different and enchanting wine journey with the sommelier team.
I dine at each of the three restaurants at Halaveli. The buffet-style restaurant Jahaz is right on the beach and has a different theme each evening, accompanied by a tasteful live guitar act. Maldivian night with spicy delicacies served with an aged, off-dry New Zealand Riesling is a hit.
The resort’s lavish presidential villa, which sits amid lush greenery and white sands
The beach villas are positioned along the resort’s impressive 854-metre (2,800ft) jetty
Constance Halaveli is a 25-minute seaplane journey from the capital of Male
‘Each evening, after a slow day swimming, reading and relaxing in the spa, I’m taken on a different and enchanting wine journey with the sommelier team,’ writes Charlotte
Next door, Meeru specialises in freshly caught fish and fine meats cooked on an open-fire grill. The local ‘tooth fish’ lightly charred with a herb-butter sauce paired with a white wine from the Arbois in Jura is sensational.
Ultra-fine-dining restaurant Jing is positioned halfway down the hotel’s impressive 854-metre (2,800ft) jetty. Here I relax into an unforgettable evening – a shimmering sunset, sharks and Saint-Aubin. Jing serves food to write home about (not just to post on Instagram) – impeccably seared plump scallops, immaculately crisp, yet juicy tempura tiger prawns and a rich and silky miso black cod main – all 10 out of 10.
Mid-week I head to a lagoon tasting – one of the many wine experiences that can be booked at Halaveli. With my dress tied up with a scrunchie, and water up to my knees, I taste through four wines while basking in that glorious 5pm sun. A rich and salty Chardonnay from the lesser-known region of Cotes d’Auxerre in Burgundy, then two South African whites – a honeyed Chenin from Hemel-en-Aarde and a spicy Viognier from Walker Bay. To finish, a fragrant but approachable Barolo-style red from the Langhe region in Italy.
Wine culture runs from the top at the hotel group that runs Constance Halaveli, reveals Charlotte, which has several properties across the Indian Ocean
5 GREAT WINES AT CONSTANCE HALAVELI
1. Sadie Family Skerpioen 2014: a top, aged South African Chenin Blanc that kicked off my stay.
2. Pegasus Bay Riesling Aria 2014: an off-dry and exotic New Zealand Riesling.
3. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint-Aubin Les Champlots 2017: a generous white Burgundy with racy acidity from a cult producer.
4. San Lorenzo Etna Rosso 2018: a smoky and berry-fruited red from the slopes of Mount Etna.
5. Maury Mas Amiel 1985: a sweet and heady fortified wine from Languedoc-Roussillon.
On a separate occasion, a bespoke seven-course dinner with soulfully paired wines in the candlelit wine cellar has the ultimate wow factor. I won’t be forgetting about the Maldivian Rock Lobster Roulade served with caviar, brioche, hollandaise and a bisque shot paired with a 2016 Puligny-Montrachet any time soon.
On my final evening, I’m thrilled by Sree’s pick – a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage from the late and highly admired Alain Graillot. I’d mentioned a few nights prior, as we were exchanging stories about past visits to the cellars of artisan Rhone winemakers, that I’m totally in love with Rhone Syrah. He’d remembered.
And this is what it’s all about. Such once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences are the result of a team that truly cares about sharing the stories of the wines and winemakers to create something highly personal for the guest. While so much of everyday life washes away in the swell, the best holidays – like a special bottle of wine – leave an indelible memory of a unique time and place.
Charlotte is YOU Magazine‘s weekly wine columnist. Read more here.
Charlotte was hosted by Constance Halaveli, where rooms start at £500 a night, at the time of writing. Visit www.constancehotels.com/en/hotels-resorts/maldives/halaveli.
PROS: World-class wine cellar and gastronomy offering with spacious beach and overwater villas.
Rating out of five: *****