Jacqueline Monahan



By Jacqueline Monahan

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UNLVino Turns 45 – and Gets Groovy!

For four-and-a-half 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 Glazer’s Wine and Spirits of Nevada) benefits students enrolled in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV – the last letter of which puts the “V” in Vino.

The Grand Tasting

Photo Credit:  Mike Monahan

UNLVino 70s Welcome

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

UNLVino began in 1974, created by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada's Senior Managing Director, Larry Ruvo, and Dean Emeritus of the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, Dr. Jerry Vallen. The event also honors numerous industry leaders in the Las Vegas community with The Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. This prestigious honor is given to outstanding individuals that are influential in both the community and the industry. One award was given out each of the three nights.


UNLVino: Ballroom Blitz

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Kicking off the festivities was Thursday’s April 11 Bubble-Licious, a champagne-filled field of sparkling beverages at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, much of it held in the parking lot as well as selected booths inside the building. The Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence was awarded to Don Ross, Vice President of Catering, Conventions and Events for Caesars Entertainment.

Bubble-Licious Display
Photo Credit:  Mike Monahan

Friday’s Sake Fever, April 12 at Red Rock Resort and Casino’s pool featured Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence honoree Hae Un Lee of Lee’s Discount Liquor. You’ve seen his face all over town on billboards advertising the many spirits at his 23 valley stores.

The Grand Tasting lived up to its name in Ballrooms A and B at the Mirage Convention Center. Held on Saturday, April 13, the event sported a 70s theme – it was born in 1974 – and a decidedly groovy vibe. A central stage held an 8:00 p.m. award ceremony that presented Chef Nicole Brisson of Eataly (the first female executive chef of the brand in the U.S.) with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence, personally witnessed by your humble correspondent.

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Brisson is the youngest female to become a chef at a Las Vegas restaurant on the Strip. She’s also been featured on several TV shows, including “Chopped,” “Late Night Chef Fight,” “Action Bronson Munchies” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” Brisson is also the first chef appointed to the board of directors of the Southern Nevada Health District and has recently served on the board of Urban Seed Las Vegas.

The evening’s speakers included emcee Mercedes Martinez of Mix 94.1, Larry Ruvo, Senior Managing Director, and Michael Severino, Director of Marketing and Special Events for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits of Nevada, UNLV President Marta Meana, and Executive Chef Mark Sandoval of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.

Mercedes Martinez (Mix 94.1) Introduces Larry Ruvo (left) and Michael Severino (center)

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Marta Meana, UNLV President

Photo Credit:  John Hardin


Nicole Brisson, whose mother flew in from Sicily to see her daughter honored, accepted her award with few words but an abundance of emotion. Students of the College of Hospitality also gifted her with a chef’s jacket full of their signatures.

Executive Chef Mark Sandoval Toasts Honoree Nicole Brisson

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Performances by Legends in Concert tribute singers Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin made guests dance in the aisles. Filled Reidel wine glasses encouraged it as well. Each guest receives one upon entry. You’ll start using it right away, visiting booths that beckon with all manner of spirited, fermented “fillers” in colors ranging from blush to burgundy, and crystal clear to amber to nearly black (espresso, that is).


Legends in Concert -Elvis

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Legends in Concert - Aretha

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

A Silent Auction offered a variety of enticements that included three vehicles (two cars, one SUV) parked right in the middle of the ballroom, a Dior wallet, a Staud handbag, a Ruby Shoo collection of sparkling pumps, assorted high-end gift baskets, jewelry, and experience packages.

Silent Auction

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

The live auction featured a two-night stay at the waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, tickets to a 2020 pre-season Raiders game, a visit for 12 to the Tuscany exhibition kitchen (wine pairings included) a Golden Knight package that includes dinner, jewelry and signed sports memorabilia, a Cicerone class for ten (beer sommelier) Bruno Mars tickets for two (with dinner for four included) a Napa Valley getaway for two, and a private dinner for ten by Executive Chef Mark Sandoval.

The emphasis may have been on wine (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ Hot to Trot Red Blend, The Wine Group’s Beso Del Sol Sangrias in Red, White, and Pink, Wagner Family of Wine’s Conundrum in White and Red Blends and Red Schooner Malbec, Lapham Imports’ Whispering Angel Rosé, and Luna Vineyards Lunatic Red Blend, to name a few) but spirits flowed from a variety of products having nothing to do with grapes. Under one massive, disco-balled ceiling, guests could sample international selections from Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Spain, Ireland, Chile, Portugal, Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, New Zealand, Barbados, Russia, and Sweden.

Spirits in the Material World

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Domestic favorites included Francis Coppola’s popular Director’s Cut varietals out of California, and Oregon’s Integrated Beverage Group’s Rascal in Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, with Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, New Mexico, Texas, Hawaii, Utah, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington representing products (and state pride) at booths that created buzz from more than just word of mouth.

Whiskey drinkers could imbibe in Heaven Hill Brand’s Larceny Bourbon, unless Sagamore Spirit’s Rye (in Cask Strength or Double Oak) took their fancy, or any one of several other offerings.


The Hard Stuff

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Craft beers from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (60 Minute IPA), Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn Lager, 21st Amendment Sparkale) and Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Mind Haze IPA) provided a different type of effervescence while sake purveyors TaKaRa, Saké One, Terlato Premier Selections, and Sabé 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).

Vodka made a splash, with Bacardi USA (Grey Goose) Pernod Ricard (Absolut Elyx), and Stoli Group (Stolichnaya Vodka in Cucumber and Pineapple varieties, Ginger Beer).
Champagne and sparkling wine was never far away with Beau Joie’s Brut (also in Rosé and Sugar King varieties), and Wilson Creek’s flavored varieties in Almond and Coconut Nui. Freixenet’s Spanish Bruts also added bubbly sparkle to the event, appropriate to its celebratory nature.

Other vendors specializing in rum, tequila, gin, Irish Cream, sangria, Jell-O shots, and cocktails ensured that most if not all attendees could find their preferred party potion. Fiji and Evian waters flowed like…water! Hey, sometimes you need a mixer.

UNLV culinary students and personnel from sponsored restaurants such as Elephant Bar, Skinny Fats, Momofuku, STK Steakhouse, The Slanted Door, Lotus of Siam, Estiatorio Milos, and Haute Doggery manned booths and buffet stations dishing up pizza, ceviche, pulled pork sandwiches, tira misu, smoke bowls (chicken and rice) impossible chili (vegan) cannoli, cotton candy, and chili dogs en croute.

Food and Fun

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Guests also got to wrap their taste buds around lobster and scallop bites, ahi tuna, cream-filled pastry shells, fruit tarts, and shot-glass sized tiramisu. A large ice sculpture was the gateway to the jumbo shrimp, and since The Oyster Bar was on the premises, you can bet their featured product slid down many an eager throat. Small plates mean big flavor here.

Small Bites: Savories

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Small Bites: Sweets

Photo Credit:  John Hardin

Photo Credit:  Mike Monahan

Burgers n' Chips

Photo Credit:  John Hardin


UNLVino may be middle-aged and fueled by alcohol, but this is one class act that supports classes – and students – and UNLV’s Harrah College of Hospitality. It’s party, a banquet and a benefit to help the youngest generation of hospitality professionals.

What a way to say, “Here’s looking at you, kid!”