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By Jacqueline Monahan
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For four decades it’s been the premier fundraising soiree at which to raise a glass and “take a sip for scholarship.”  UNLVino, the local wine festival (sponsored by Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada) benefits students enrolled in the Wm. F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV – the last letter of which puts the “V” in Vino.

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THIS is what 40 looks like!

Photo Credits: John Hardin

Kicking off the festivities was the April 9 Sip & Savor event held at celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant featuring premium label wines and cuisine from Puck’s six Las Vegas restaurants.  Puck also received the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence for his culinary accolades and contribution of the city of Las Vegas.

In recent years, the traditional three-day affair has expanded to four days with the addition of an elegant barbecue and mixology celebration at Caesars Palace, circling the Garden of The Gods Pool (Day Two).

Day Three featured the ever popular Bubble-Licious, a champagne-filled field of sparkling beverages at the Venetian’s Doge's Palace Plaza, with small plates offered by Venetian and Palazzo restaurants.  Pop Artist Romero Britto received the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence for his longtime support and works for UNLVino.

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Art by Romero Britto (depicting UNLVino Founders Vallen and Ruvo)

Day Four was the Founder’s Grand Tasting at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, much of it held in the parking lot as well as selected booths and a performance stage inside the building.  

The Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence was presented to the event's creators, Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada's Senior Managing Director, Larry Ruvo, and Dean Emeritus of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration (HCHA) Dr. Jerry Vallen.  The pair started the event back in 1974 to address the lack of wine knowledge in the Valley. UNLV President Don Snyder presented the award to Ruvo and HCHA Dean Rowe Shoemaker, who accepted the award on behalf of the absent Vallen.

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L to R, Dean Stowe Shoemaker, UNLV President Don Snyder, Larry Ruvo

Guests were greeted by UNLV culinary and hotel administration students as well as the sight of hundreds of empty wine glasses waiting to be filled.  Everyone is presented with a glass before visiting the 74 booths that beckoned with all manner of spirited, fermented “fillers” in colors ranging from blush to burgundy, and crystal clear to amber to nearly black (coffee, that is).  Food vendors, some in white tents, some open air, and some in food trucks served up small plates with big flavor.

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Before the Pour

UNLV culinary students manned six booths and two buffet stations dished up Margherita pizza, crawfish tarts, ceviche, pulled pork sandwiches, crab cakes, crawfish tarts, éclairs, Napoleons, and grilled cheese on a stick.  Attendees also got to wrap their taste buds around two kinds of oysters, freshly shucked and Rockefeller-style, and shrimp cocktail chilled around ice sculptures.  

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The Seafood Station

A SausageFest food truck offered samples of mild Italian, Polish, and bratwurst slices.  Popped popcorn distributed its gourmet caramel version in a generous-sized reusable plastic container.

Scholarship donors, auction bidders, and wine lovers mingled with first-time attendees and sauntered amiably along the aisles, stopping for samples and chats with vendors while classic rock tribute band Yellow Brick Road covered hits from the 70’s (Led Zeppelin, anyone?) on the main external stage in front the neon sign for the Showboat Hotel.

Inside the clinic, another stage featured a bartending “flair” demonstration in which filled liquor bottles were tossed into the air in precise somersaults before being poured into cocktails.  It’s a lot like juggling BUT the practitioners needed to be absolutely sober to do it.

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The Scene Inside

A Live Auction featured offerings ranging from a World Whiskey Tour for 10 people with Master Mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, an evening for two with Chef Joel Robuchon, and luxurious staycations at The Cosmopolitan and The Wynn.

A Silent Auction offered a variety of enticements that could also be accessed online including two tickets to Disneyland Resorts, A cabana at Azure pool at Palazzo, a Glider-Sailplane ride for 2, golf & lunch at Southern Highlands Golf Club (for 4), 15 minutes of indoor skydiving (2-5 people), and a boudoir photo shoot.  Many of these also came with food credits and cases of wine.

The emphasis may have been on wine (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ Red Diamond Temperamental, The Wine Group’s Save Me San Francisco Pinot Noir, Premium Port Wines’ Graham’s 20yr Porto, V2 Wine Group’s Toad Hollow, Eye of the Toad Rose, to name a few) but spirits flowed from a variety of products having nothing to do with grapes.

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Quote of the evening:  "Be sure to include my pecker!"

Whiskey drinkers could imbibe in Diageo’s George Dickel White Corn variety, unless Zeiler Spirits Coldcock in American Herbal took their fancy. Sazerac’s Fireball (a cinnamon-flavored shot that pours heat down your throat in a spicy cascade) and Firefly Moonshine (in White Lightning, Apple Pie and Caramel versions) could be combined with Chila’s Orchata Cinnamon Cream Rum for layers of 21+ flavor.

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Moonshine!

Craft beers from Newcastle Brewery (Bombshell), Brooklyn Brewery (Pennant Ale ’55) and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Namaste) provided a different type of effervescence while sake purveyors Ty Ku, Wine of Japan Import, Sake One, Terlato Premier Selections, and Pacific International Liquor, Inc. ensured that the presence of fermented rice wine was represented with a sip and a bow (not to mention a wow, when you realize the variety of flavors available).

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Vodka made a splash, especially with Savvy Distillers’ Deep Eddy flavored varieties in Sweet Tea, Cranberry, and Ruby Red in addition to a straight, colorless classic version.  The Ruby Red will make you rethink grapefruit in a good way. Cavoda Spirits offers its vodka in illuminating bottles of pink and blue, making a lovely and alluring display of the clearly enticing libation.

Teetotalers could also enjoy Gizmo Beverages’ Tea of a Kind, which features a bottle full of clear liquid that releases the tea (and color) when the bottle is opened for the first time (in Peach Ginger Black, Citrus Mint Green, and Pomegranate Acai White).
 
TapouT’s beverages come in Wild Orange, Berry Punch and Citrus Kick.  Brands of Britain mixers in Ginger Beer, Ginger Ale, Sparkling Lemon, and Mediterranean Tonic Water were packaged in small glass bottles for sampling or squirreling away for post-bash refreshment.

Activate Drinks stores vitamins in the drink’s cap and released just before taking the first swig.  Vitamins A, B5, B12, and C join a zero-calorie, Stevia-sweetened beverage in flavors like Pomegranate Blue, Passion Fruit, Exotic Berry, and Electrolyte for a potent delivery system of fitness and flavor.

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UNLV Mascot Hey, Reb! Right in the Middle of Things

 

Jana, Fiji, Evian and Badoit waters offered a chance to rinse both palate and glass, and guests were encouraged to take bottles from ice-filled coolers.  
 
Champagne was never far away with Pernod’s Perrier Jouet, and Wilson Creek’s flavored varieties in Almond, Mimosa and Peach Bellini.  Freixenet’s Sonoma and Spanish Bruts also added bubbly sparkle to the event, appropriate to its celebratory nature.

A balmy night, a filled glass, and a good cause converged for the 40th time to fulfill UNLVino’s annual promise of support and success for future generations of hospitality professionals.
We can all drink to that.

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