Historically, as an important regional crossroads and commercial hub, the island of Saint Martin undoubtedly witnessed the arrival of wine with the first settlers in the late 15th century. Today, now known as the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean, the island has leveraged its French pedigree to the fullest, reflecting its heritage in its cuisine. Accordingly, St. Martin has become something of a wine destination within the region: the foremost place to taste some of the finest vintages in the world.
There is, of course, no local wine production on the island—the climate is far too hot for vines—but both inhabitants and visitors have come to expect a choice selection from the motherland. And, by the way, don’t even think of asking for a wine from elsewhere in the world: ‘Sacré bleu!’ Seriously, the French think they make the best wines in the world and who are we to disagree? While French wines are undoubtedly among the best (we're not being chauvinistic), a wide selection of wines from other regions of the world is also available – California, Italy, Chile, and Argentina – to let your taste buds travel without leaving the Friendly Island! For those who wish to take something new and different home, such as wines not generally available in North America, several of the island’s finest suppliers will be glad to assist you with selection and packaging. Which suppliers? Savour a glass of your own as we explore below.
Bacchus, photo courtesy of the St. Martin Tourism Office
The premier destination for wine lovers is the Bacchus restaurant in Hope Estate, where their outstanding wine cellars house offerings to gladden any connoisseur’s heart. They also have a nice boutique in Marigot. Explore their Cave des Grands Crus for top-tier wines you might not find elsewhere. Their cellar also includes an extensive catalogue of Champagnes, sparkling and rosé wines, wines from Alsace, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, the Rhone and the South of France. Their experts are on hand to help you with your selection. When dining in their restaurant, wines can be ordered by the glass from a large selection, as you enjoy wine pairings and a gourmet meal prepared by Executive Chef Arnaud Angeli and his team. They also offer a selection of outstanding Caribbean rums.
La Cave, Belmond La Samanna
Belmond La Samanna is a luxury resort with one of the finest restaurants on the island. Here you can enjoy wines from their Grand Cru cellar, while taking in breathtaking sea views in the breezy L’Oursin Restaurant, specializing in traditional French cuisine with a Caribbean touch. In the candlelit comfort of La Cave, guests can sample rare vintages.
At both Marigot and Hope Hill, for those who simply want to browse some of the best wines and rums on the island, lie the two locations of Le Goût du Vin. It was founded by French chef Daniel Passeri, who was determined to build the best cellar on the island. His operations as a wine merchant have grown to include shops on other Caribbean islands and in France itself. Here, he sources more than 1,200 wines, from all the wine regions of France, from Alsace to Bordeaux, from a base in Burgundy, focusing on quality for all tastes and all budgets.
In Grand Case, you will find the impressive wine selection and gourmet delicatessen offerings of the Grape Vine. With a reservation, one can enjoy a group tasting, pairing fine wines chosen by their team of connoisseurs with delicacies from the deli. Or visitors can shop at their own speed from the extensive range of French wines and imported foods.
Restaurant Le Pressoir, Grand Case; photo credit to Donovane Trémor
For as much as St. Martin honours its French heritage with its love of wine, it is still a Caribbean island. The Caribbean has a rich distilling tradition all its own, a delicious legacy that should be honoured through a taste test.
One curiosity that visitors should sample is the popular Caribbean soft drink called mauby. It’s made from the bark and leaves of an indigenous tree mixed with sugar cane syrup and spices. It has an unusual taste, initially sweet and similar to root beer, which changes to a somewhat bitter aftertaste. An acquired taste perhaps, but ultimately refreshing.
La Part des Anges, photo courtesy of St. Martin Tourism Office
No visit to St. Martin would be complete without sampling the Caribbean’s favourite spirit. For an ultimate rum drinking experience visit La Part des Anges in Grand Case, where a ‘rum tender’ is on hand to guide guests in sampling some exceptional vintage spirits. In the rum bar, shelved like a big bookcase, more than 150 exceptional rums can be experienced, not only from St. Martin but also from other top rum-producing countries such as Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique, Mexico and Venezuela. Housed in a traditional 1871 Creole house, the companion Le Pressoir restaurant offers gourmet delights with a Caribbean flavour. Last year, this well-known spot was honoured with the designation of the Best Restaurant in the Whole Caribbean, following a 2021 triumph as the First Restaurant in St. Martin.
Whether it’s wines and spirits for consumption during an island vacation or special souvenirs for visitors to take home, the good news is that the whole island is duty-free. Indulge in a bit of rum while lounging on the beach after lunch before opting for a glass of wine to accompany a fresh seafood dinner. The beauty is that, in St.Martin, you don’t have to choose: enjoy the signature fruity and refreshing taste of Caribbean spirits and the refined flavour profile of fine French wines.