The award is the result of an annual competition, during which restaurants submit their wine lists to the magazine and are judged on the quantity, depth and uniqueness of their wine offerings. The minimum requirement for the "Best Of" designation is 350 selections, and only one other restaurant in Sarasota has this award: Michael's on East. Marcello exceeded the magazine's requirement, listing more than 500 wines it serves.
The restaurant's proprietor and chef, Marcello Aquino, readily admits he spends more on wine than most establishments, but it has always been a passion for him. It seems to be for his clientele, as well, because he says he has no difficulty selling very expensive bottles.
Aquino's primary devotion has always been to Brunello from Tuscany, because he feels the wine best complements most of his dishes. However, he has no problem securing great American wines like Harlan and Opus. For the magazine award, he expanded his selections vertically by purchasing back vintages of wines, as well as escalating into previously underrepresented wine producing areas.
The investment in wine that Aquino has made is unique in part because his restaurant is one of the smallest in Sarasota. With only eight tables and a small private dining room, his commitment to wine is remarkable. Also, most other award winners are typically located in larger cities and serve spirits as well. At Marcello, it’s only wine and beer.
Another requirement to win the award is staff training. Aquino has two servers who are level two sommeliers and interact with other servers daily on any wine questions. It is not unusual for customers to seek out a certain server due to a previous enjoyable occasion.
The “Award of Excellence,” meanwhile, is a step down from the "Best Of" designation and several local restaurants can claim it: Bijou Garden Café, Duval's, Element, The Capital Grille, Maison Blanche, Sage, Seasons 52, Summer House and Grove. Two former recipients no longer possess it: The Crows’ Nest and Ophelia’s on the Bay. The ultimate prize is the “Grand Award” and only two establishments in Southwest Florida hold it: Bern’s in Tampa and Bleu Provence in Naples.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.