UNLVino®: Something to “Wine” About
Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, in partnership with UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, celebrated the 36th Annual UNLVino® wine tasting event with a three-day binge (for a good cause, of course) from April 8-10. UNLVino® is a hugely popular consumer wine and food festival featuring hundreds of premium wines and spirits from around the world and a selection of top dishes from some of the country's most renowned chefs.
This Las Vegas tradition (Nevada’s oldest and one of the country’s largest) supports scholarship and brings together wine enthusiasts and vintners (over 6000 visitors and 125 suppliers representing 750 wineries) to experience the latest releases, vintages, and varietals under one very large roof; sometimes it’s even under the stars and among the Gods.
In need of a good, stiff drink
Such was the case with the hugely popular Bubble-licious champagne tasting, which kicked off the festivities alongside the sumptuous Neptune Pool in the Garden of the Gods at Caesars Palace. The posh space was highlighted by fountains, statues of Roman Gods and Goddesses, and marble stairways leading to panoramic views with multi-level vantage points. Add champagne to this already spectacular venue and you can imagine the festive ambiance of a cocktail party in ancient Rome.
Jason Maxwell shows off some sparkle
Even Mayor Goodman put down his martini glass in favor of some bubbly, accompanied by a showgirl duo that sparkled as much as the celebrated wine. His honor certainly knew how to go with the flow, so to speak. A small crowd assembled wherever he stood and cameras flashed as guests scurried to be photographed by his side.
Happiest Mayor Oscar Goodman (with "proof")
The evening featured world class champagnes, including well-known varieties like Freixenet and Moet & Chandon shared the limelight with newer brands, such as the bright, lively Sovereign artisanal vintage Armand de Brignac. Sparkling Wines and exotic Champagne cocktails with names like Golden Bubbles (Chantal Organic Kiwi Gold & champagne), the Ambhar-ita (Ambhar Platinum Tequila, Cointreau & champagne) and the Danny DeVito Bellini (his own brands of Limoncello and prosecco) were dispensed and consumed in vast quantities. To their credit the assembled masses managed to remain around, and not in, the elegant pool and fountains.
Ambhar Tequila execs mix with a champagne clientele
Sweets and savories were provided by Francois Payard’s Patisserie & Bistro (Caesars Palace). Payard is one of three honorees who received the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence. Blake Sartini CEO, Owner Golden Gaming and William P. McBeath, President and COO of Aria Resort & Casino, were also honored.
Champagne Facts: • Wine can only be labeled "champagne" if is made in the Champagne region of northeastern France. If a sparkling wine is produced elsewhere using the traditional French method, credit must be given to the "methode champenoise" on the label. • The three traditional grapes used to make champagne are the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, all which grow in the region. • True champagne, as opposed to other sparkling wines, has to have developed bubbles by undergoing the fermentation process twice: once in barrels and again in bottles. • Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk is considered to have invented champagne allowing the carbon dioxide to build up in the fermentation process, thus creating bubbles. • There are 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of champagne, • The pressure in a bottle of champagne is 90 pounds per square inch, about three times that in an automobile tire. • Marilyn Monroe is said to have once taken a bath in the bubbly. According to her biographer, it took 350 bottles to fill the tub.
The happiest mayor in the universe, limitless champagne, and a Roman bacchanalia under a sky full of stars rivaled the number of bubbles in hundreds of flutes. And that was just the beginning of the spirited fun.
Day two of UNLVino®, christened Sake Fever, featured the complex, brewed rice wine that rhymes with hockey -not fake- and took place poolside at the Palms. There, skilled toji (brew masters) artfully assembled 150 premium sakes for guests to savor.
FIFA of Japan Sake
Sake is a fermented beverage brewed using a microorganism called koji and yeast. It has an alcohol content of from 13% to 16%. Varieties include:
• Junmaishu (Sake made only from white rice, rice koji, and water) • Namazake (Sake that is not heated for pasteurization after the final mash is pressed), Genshu (Sake with a higher alcohol content 17%-20% because it has been pressed but not diluted with added water) • Koshu (Sake that has been aged for years, up to five or longer. It has a flavor profile that includes spices and nuts), • Taruzake (Sake that is aged in casks and thus takes on the fragrance of the wood from which the cask is made) • Sparkling sake (Carbonated sake, with a mouth feel reminiscent of champagne).
Mizbasho Sparkling Sake was a particularly smooth and refreshing offering.
And then Day Three arrived, which meant it was time for…
The Grand Tasting, which was held, fittingly enough, in the Grand Ballroom of Bally’s hotel with clusters of purple balloons in grape clusters decorating the entrance. Representatives from international wine cellars and distributors offered new releases and brand samples to a suitably knowledgeable and sophisticated clientele, one that could differentiate their Rieslings from their Pinots (both Noir and Grigot).
"Vintage" Vegas Attendees
Vendors with names like Sort This Out Cellars, Vin Divino, Chronic Cellars, Underdog Wine Merchants, Purple Wine Company, and Daedalus Cellars poured their products into world renowned Reidel stemmed glassware. Yes there were spit buckets and rinse pitchers full of water to clean out glasses for the next sample. Your humble correspondent witnessed no spitting, just sipping, refilling, and more sipping.
Trends seemed to be in organic and biodynamic wines (a process for growing that incorporates ecology, energy and spiritual elements of nature). Red blends were getting a nod as well, with some aficionados declaring them better than single-variety samples. The Merlot/Cabernet blend offered by Francis Ford Coppola vineyards captured the best attributes of both those wines.
He'll make you a wine you can't refuse...
Countries represented included New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, Japan, Chile, France, Italy, Argentina, Spain and Portugal. The U.S. made a formidable showing with Napa Valley and Sonoma County varietals.
Those varietals are familiar indeed to wine lovers, whether they favor wondrous whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay) or ravishing reds (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel).
Buckets and Pitchers and Wine, Oh, My!
Novices looked on with curiosity when encountering wine rituals; those of pouring, swirling, sniffing and sipping that seasoned connoisseurs engage in after opening a bottle and letting the wine “breathe.” Those in the know use their nose in searching for a wine’s notes, not in words, but in scent and taste.
The Hometown Brand
Wine notes can be floral (rose, violet) fruity (citrus, berry, tropical, tree fruit) herbaceous (green grass, bell peppers, black olive, tea), spicy (cloves, black pepper) or woody (cedar, oak, smoky). They can be chemical (sulfur, petroleum, pungent) earthy (mushroom, moldy) nutty (walnut, hazelnut, almond) or caramel (honey, butterscotch, chocolate, molasses). It can be a real game of “What’s My Wine?”
Typical Line o' Wine
Also showcased were wine variations in ice cream (from Mercer’s Dairy) in flavors such as Cherry Merlot, Ala Port and Red Raspberry Chardonnay; TY KU, a premium Japanese liqueur blending traditional Asian spirits with soft citrus and fresh melon with a balance of teas and botanicals is finished with a hint of ginger. The display bottle was lit from within, making the bright green liquid seem like fluid neon. The taste is sweet and seductive.
Student Raffle Prizes
TY KU light-up bottle
The People’s Wine hosted a social network for wine lovers, and guests could join the online community via laptop, a kind of grape fermentation nation (my words). Pottery, jewelry, artwork, leather craft, and wooden signs proclaiming the wonders of wine were also displayed for an appreciative audience.
Wine Words on Wood
The occasional visitor that could not be classified as a voracious vino vulture could find spiked frozen fruit drinks in Blueberry Acai and Melon Colada, several cappuccino and espresso stations, and even an abundance alkalized antioxidant water from Affinity, along with Perrier products.
Water also begins with a "W"
Frozen, but still potent
Wine Facts: • It takes about 2 ½ pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine. • If newer oak barrels were used in the winemaking process, the wines will often have a hint of vanilla in both the aroma and flavor. • Over 10,000 varieties of wine grapes exist in the world today. • A four ounce glass of red wine contains approximately 85 calories. • The Mesopotamians were credited with producing the first wines in 6000 B.C.
Its catchphrase, “Take a sip for scholarship” says it all, making UNLVino® the undisputed toast of the town. Even teetotalers would have to drink to that.
Giant display gass holding about four bottles of red wine
UNLVino® was created by Larry Ruvo, Senior Managing Director of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada (SWSN) and Jerry Vallen, founding Dean of the Hotel College in 1974. The event has raised millions, making this one of the largest endowments for scholarship and student activities at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
SWSN Senior Managing Director Larry Ruvo and Artist Jessica Delindo
The University of Nevada Las Vegas offers some of the most comprehensive culinary and hospitality management undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the nation. Student volunteers assist with both live and silent auctions as bidders compete for rare wines, fine art and wine country trips; all auction items are donated by event suppliers, as well as national and local businesses.