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Desert Flower

The wine list at Mary Elaine's has blossomed in the Arizona heat

Harvey Steiman
Posted: September 21, 2000

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Desert Flower

The wine list at Mary Elaine's has blossomed in the Arizona heat

Wine has always played a key role at Mary Elaine's, the most luxurious restaurant in the Phoenix area. The restaurant, atop the sumptuous Phoenician Resort at the foot of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., built a solid 900-selection wine list, good for a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. But this past year, the number of wines doubled, the sommelier staff grew to five, and the kitchen got a shot in the arm from chef James Boyce, a veteran of New York's Le Cirque 2000.

"It wasn't easy," says Scott Orlich, who became the restaurant manager when Starwood Hotels and Resorts bought the Phoenician for its Luxury Collection brand in 1998. "We had to prepare a business plan to show that expanding the wine cellar made financial sense. That's what convinced Starwood to commit to the investment."

So far, says Orlich, the results are ahead of the financial plan. Wine sells faster than ever at the restaurant, and Orlich sees wine-savvy diners coming in greater numbers.

No wonder, when the choices in Bordeaux include at least eight vintages of each first-growth, such as Pétrus and Cheval Blanc, and plenty of mature bottlings. California Cabernets are the real strength, however, with impressive vintage depth in Araujo, Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve, Beringer Private Reserve, Caymus Special Selection, Dalla Valle, Diamond Creek, Dominus, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Opus One, Mondavi Reserve and Screaming Eagle. Chardonnays also are well-represented.

Orlich and Tresner overcame Arizona's restrictions on direct imports in order to build up and maintain the list by buying at auction and clearing the wines through the local trade. The restaurant purchases older wines in lots of four bottles or more. "There's nothing worse than having to tell a table getting excited about a wine that they can't have another bottle," Orlich says. "When we do run out, we try to replace the wine or get something as good or better."

That leads to turnover, but so far the list is only growing. By early summer, it comprised more than 1,800 selections, and the number of bottles was at 44,000. Computer printing allows pages in the 2-inch-thick book to be updated daily. Diners, therefore, are always looking at a complete and accurate list.

If the commitment to a cellar this big and deep con-tinues, Mary Elaine's should be a wine oasis in the Arizona desert for years to come.

--Harvey Steiman

Mary Elaine's
The Phoenician Resort, 6000 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Telephone (480) 423-2444
Wine selections 1,880
Number of bottles 44,000

For the complete article, please see the Sept. 30, 2000, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 72.

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