The French Wine Merchant Opens in Palm Beach

For Maurice Amiel, retirement in Palm Beach was getting a little “boring,” so he went back to doing what for three decades had made his New York shop a “must go” for anyone looking for fine wines from some of the world’s best boutique vintners.

Only a few months after moving to the Island earlier this year, he opened The French Wine Merchant (139 N. County Rd., 561/833-7712), reprising his Park Avenue shop that attracted not only serious oenophiles but celebrities looking for that special bottle. (Among them, Amiel says, was Oprah Winfrey, who once picked up a case 1945 Lafite as a present for a friend. Must have been some friend, as a quick search of the -Net showed a single bottle goes for a breathtaking $3,000.)

What made The French Wine Merchant’s reputation in the Big Apple was Amiel’s ability to seek out and import wines from esteemed wineries that didn’t produce the kind of volume necessary to attract the attention of mass market importers and distributors. Not just from France either, but from small vintners around the world. And not just wines that can put a dent in the pocketbook of even Oprah Winfrey, but affordable, everyday wines you don’t need a Brinks truck full of gold bars to take home with you.

“Anybody can buy a $300 bottle of wine because of a review,”Amiel says. “But to find a $15 bottle of wine that drinks like a $50 bottle, that’s where the talent comes in.”

Though the new French Wine Merchant may be compact, its selection is backed by a trove of some 2,500 bottles in his Miami warehouse, also by his insistence that he can lay his hands on just about any bottle of wine you want, no matter how obscure or difficult to obtain. But there’s no reason to be intimidated if all you want is something good to drink with dinner.

“The final decision is about your taste,” he says. “What you like.”