Wine o’ the Irish

Source: pnj.com

Wednesday, 07th Sept, 2011

Dollar bills stapled to the ceiling. A thick steak. Cold brews. A tenor crooning Irish tunes.

These are the things you expect when you walk through the doors of McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola.

What doesn’t instantly spring to mind, for most patrons, is wine.

wine cellar at McGuire's Irish PubBut tucked away behind a locked door is a sommelier’s dream come true. The Ruprecht O’Tolf Wine Cellar, containing more than 8,000 bottles, is a world-class treasure trove.

“We have one of the biggest restaurant display wine cellars, and an award-winning collection,” Amy Martin, the daughter of McGuire’s founder, McGuire Martin, said. “But many people just aren’t aware of it.”

But one glimpse makes a big impression.

Visitors to McGuire’s wine cellar, tucked inside the appropriately named Wine Cellar room, walk across a clanking vineyard scale to enter the narrow, stone-clad space. Dim lights cast a rosy glow on the floor-to-ceiling racks of bottled Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The pride of place is the Chateau Mouton Rothschild Artist Series, which features labels designed by artists including Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. McGuire’s has the largest and most complete vertical — meaning all are from the same wine producer — collection of the series on display in the United States; bottles range in price from $500 to $20,000, depending on year and popularity.

Amy Martin feels a personal connection to the colorful, renowned collection.

“Rothschild worked so hard to make his wine a success, and when he retired, he passed it on to his daughter,” she said, cradling a 1982 Mouton Rothschild bearing a label designed by film director John Huston. “My dad built up this amazing wine collection, and now, he’s putting it in my hands.”

McGuire Martin started building the restaurant’s wine cellar about 20 years ago, mainly buying the wines at auction. He wanted it to showcase fine wine and fine dining.

“Not that we ever get to enjoy the collection, ourselves,” Amy Martin revealed, laughing. “Dad drinks the cheapest wine ever. We give him the hardest time about it. He won’t even let us open a good bottle on Christmas Eve.”

But there are plenty of “good” bottles for others to choose from McGuire’s wine cellar.

Named for Robert Tolf, a Florida Trend magazine writer, the cellar has received the coveted “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator, multiple times.

“We’re rated pretty high among American wine cellars,” Amy Martin said. “When I visit other wine cellars, like Bern’s (Steak House) in Tampa, they’re thrilled to see me. They know who we are.”

Closer to home, accolades take the form of satisfied customers.

Cabernets are the most popular vintage on McGuire’s Pensacola wine list, often paired with juicy steaks and hamburgers.

Justin Witkin, a regular diner and wine connoisseur, enjoys trying out new wines with his meal.

“Not many places in town have a wine list as extensive as McGuire’s,” the 41-year-old Gulf Breeze resident noted. “It’s nice to be able to explore the various offerings, especially when you’re entertaining guests.”

Wine list prices range from an $18 Sterling Pinot Grigio to a $10,000 Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux. Labels include Opus One, Silver Oak, Chateau Petrus, along with wines from all five Bordeaux Premier Cru regions.

Diners at McGuire’s Destin location can purchase a bottle of wine from its store, to drink at the table.

“In Pensacola, the wine cellar is more about the exceptional wines. People really come to admire it,” Amy Martin said. “In Destin, we’re focused on the $30 deals. But you can still purchase some excellent wines for that price.”

Always on the hunt for the latest and greatest wines, she hopes to continue offering world-class labels of all prices to McGuire’s patrons. And that means keeping the wine cellar well-stocked.

“My dad wanted the ‘wow factor’ for his restaurant, and that’s what our wine collection is,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be known for it as much as our steaks and 18-cent bean soup.”

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