Las Vegas, the entertainment and gambling capital of the world is known for its 24-hour casinos, its shows and luxurious hotels. Most of the action happens on a four mile stretch known as the Strip. Hence the nickname the “city of lights”. Most of the revenue the Strip earns is still from gambling. But the recession took a big chunk out of that. Las Vegas had to reinvent itself as more and more States legalized gambling and other jurisdictions in the world such as Macau followed suit.
Part of the reinvention of Las Vegas has taken place in the last 10 years. Today Las Vegas is also a great place to shop, dine and…..drink some tasty wines. World class shows such as those presented by Cirque du Soleil have helped Las Vegas change its image as merely a gambling town.
Italian influence is everywhere in Vegas. From the architecture of the hotels such as Caesar’s and The Venetian to dining. Today, most celebrity chefs have a presence in Las Vegas: Chef Mario Batali’s Carnevino, Chef Scott Conant’s D.O.C.G, Wolfgang Puck (4 restaurants), Gordon Ramsay (3 restaurants), Bobby Flay, Buddy Velastro, Guy Fieri, Julian Serrano, and Jose Andres. It seems they are all in Vegas. Where once chefs tried to make it big in New York City, today Vegas is a big magnet for them.
When I travel and dine outside of Canada, I love to check out wine lists. Most of the names I see are usually familiar. But many names are from smaller producers. Wines that we cannot find in Canada. So while what “happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, I will tell you about 2 very special venues.
I was in the mood for Pizza, so my wife and I visited Wolfgang Puck’s Pizzeria and Cucina at the Shop’s at Crystal’s. I had the traditional Pizza Margherita. In Italy, beer is the beverage of choice with pizza. I find pizza is hard to match with a good wine. The different ingredients on the pizza make it a tough match. I paired this with a California Pinot Noir from a California producer called Irony. (The LCBO has only their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon offering.) Pinot Noir is a mid-weight wine with excellent acidity and mild tannins that don’t over power the ingredients on the pizza. The fruitiness of Pinot’s from Oregon and California was an excellent match for the cheese on this pizza. Devine!!
I think every wine lover that visits Vegas has got to visit the “wine tower” at the Aureole restaurant located in the Mandalay Bay hotel. It is a 4 story stainless steel wine tower with a 14 foot base, consisting of over 10 000 bottles with the restaurant storing an additional 40 000 bottles. The restaurant has a 50 ft. ceiling in the middle of which lies the tower. To enter the dining area, you have to descend stairs located beside the tower. It’s very imposing. The tower comes with its very own wine “angels”. Instead of servers getting your wine from the wine cellar, you have these “wine angels”. The lucky few ladies hired as “angels” are on a harness system. They ascend and descend to different slots on the tower where the wine you chose is located. They have to be part gymnast, part trapeze artist. The $1.2 million dollar tower was opened up in 1999. It is kept at a steady 55 F and 70% humidity. Each harness cable can handle 1000 pounds, more than any wine angel weighs. The wine angels have earpieces and microphones clipped to their collars so that they can talk to the sommeliers on the ground. The wines once removed from the shelves are placed in holsters that hang by their thighs. The idea was inspired by the Mission Impossible movie. But it’s not all show. This tower is home to a serious collection of French wines featuring the top Bordeaux wines. It also contains wines from California, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, and Portugal. The customers choose their wines from an iPad wine list containing 3200 different wines. If you are a wine geek, you must check out the collection and the spectacle of someone flying up and down the tower retrieving your Amarone!! Check out this YouTube clip to watch a “wine angel”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXapZVoJ4Cw
Grazie e salute!
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Domenico Cellucci is a wine consultant and educator and is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Sommelier Program. He puts on food and wine matching events in the national capital area. He has visited wineries and vineyards in Italy, France, British Columbia, Ontario and the United States.