Wine Is the InterContinental Presidente's Best-Kept Secret

The frequent business traveler to Mexico City know that the 661-room luxury InterContinental Presidente Mexico City is a standout in this crowded metropolis. It's the choice of diplomats and dignitaries from around the globe __ including one recent, very high-profile Western leader. But here's what I am willing to bet most of them don't know: The hotel has a killer wine cellar manned by a master sommelier, Pedro Poncelis, who personally handpicks a 30,000-bottle inventory worth more than US$2 million.

On a recent visit, when general manager Guillermo Valencia said, "Follow me. This way, please," I thought I was getting the standard back-of-the-house tour. He opened a metal utility door next to the kitchen, and I followed him through it and down a dimly lit corridor lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves on either side, stacked with food items. We continued through another door and around a corner, and suddenly there it was: a magnificent brick wine cellar, lit by dozens of white candles, with an elegant mahogany dining-room table right in the center.

You won't find the wine cellar listed among the hotel's many dining options, but it is discreetly available to meeting planners for private wine tastings and even special dinners. "We don't tell everyone about it, because it's only for our most important clients, like high-level corporate groups and VIP guests," says Valencia, as a wine steward hands me a glass of champagne. The cellar is stocked with wines from 20 countries, 2,500 different labels in all. Here, Poncelis, who with his son owns and operates a well-respected winery, oversees 15 sommeliers who flit throughout the hotel's seven restaurants. Two of them __ The Palm and the 24-hour French bistro Au Pied de Cochon __ are consistently named among Wine Spectator's annual Award of Excellence winners.

"We open about 10,000 bottles of wine every month, and everything is catalogued and updated daily online in our system, so we have an exact count of our inventory to the hour," says Poncelis, whose grandfather emigrated to Mexico from Italy. If you are wondering, the house wine (white and red) for all seven restaurants is French. But there are some very special labels making their home in this hideaway cellar. One of the pricier ones in limited supply is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Screaming Eagle, a Napa Valley, Calif., winery, that sells for $6,000 a bottle. There is such a limited supply, Poncelis won't allow any client to order more than one. "We get clients who want to buy the entire supply, and they are always disappointed when we say no," notes Poncelis. Salud to that!