First of all, you should know that United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country, meaning that drinking wine or liquor is not something too often permitted. Of course, for us non-Muslim people it is okay, but you definitely can’t drink just anywhere or find wine that easily. To be served a glass of wine in the United Arab Emirates, you must go to a 5-star hotel. And to buy yourself some, you will need to find a liquor store (not the most common type of shop here) and have a liquor licence as well.
This being said, you will understand just how little the average person here actually cares about wine. Restaurants have it for tourists in order to make revenue, as they charge 4 or 5 times the price of the bottle, just like the supplier, who will list and de-list wines from their portfolio – just like that! And, what’s even better, they give you a different vintage than the one you ordered, without letting you know or themselves even being aware of it!
When I arrived here, I had a look at many a wine list and quickly noticed that no one was putting vintages on their menu. As a Sommelier, I try to be careful of what I am buying, always making sure I know the vintages that I order. So when I started to create my wine list and I asked my suppliers to give me the vintages of each wine, it took them 2 weeks to do so, and even then I didn’t receive the correct ones. Now I laugh at these memories – but at the time, trust me, it wasn’t funny.
Wine is so uncommon here that even a few weeks ago, after work, I went to a hotel and ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – no need to have a P.h.D. to know that it is, a white wine, right? When the waitress arrived with my order, she served me a red (Shiraz). My friend looked at me knowingly and said to me, “Welcome to Middle East”.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying everything is bad here, I’m just trying to give the wine lover in you a realistic idea of what to expect if you ever visit Abu Dhabi. In fact, the market here has recently started to develop. Bigger selections of wine are coming soon, fantastic winemakers are coming to visit us (Pio Cesare, Roda, Lynch-Bages…), and now all the major hotels are looking for Sommeliers to hire. I arrived 6 months ago and we were 3 Sommelier in the city in total; now we are 8, and the count goes higher every day. I think it is about time for us to start a Sommelier Club here. The best part is that we are all from different part of the world: France (of course), Mexico, Italy, Cuba… so everyone can bring his or her own style and preferences, which means more wine in total available here.
So don’t cancel your vacation plans to the U.A.E. just yet! Explore this otherwise wonderful country and if you happen to crave wine, ask me or one of the other Sommeliers in town, and we’ll take care of you the best we can. Because we may not have everything from around the world, but the modest selection we do have we make sure is good enough for you to enjoy!