The Vintastic Five

By the taste, glass and bottle—Vegas’ best wine bars pour it on

A good wine bar should provide three things: a convivial atmosphere, the opportunity to try a wide selection of wine at a reasonable price, and a few nibbles to balance the experience. My inaugural wine bar was Jacques Melac in Paris, where I often stopped in to try wines from the Languedoc and Loire, and chat with working-class guys busy devouring French sausages, giant hunks of smelly cheese and huge glasses of six-franc red.

Suddenly, wine bars are hot in Vegas and it reminds me of the late afternoons I spent in the City of Light. Here are just five of Vegas’ fantastic wine bars to suit the mood or occasion, and hopefully inspire many more such food and wine memories.

Hot First Date: La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway

Enter Michael Morton’s La Cave through a revolving glass door. The nightclub and restaurant impresario converted part of the Terrace Point Café to do this build-out, and suddenly, there is new energy running down this corridor.

Sixteen wines are dispensed from Enomatic machines with glass fronts, showcasing whole bottles, vacuum-sealed. The selection includes albariños, Alsatian rieslings and barberas from Italy, plus a host of California wines. Chef Bill DeMarco toils in a small kitchen that’s equipped with a wood-burning oven. Flatbreads, charcuterie, imported cheeses and contempo bar chow like hamachi tartare and halibut rillettes anchor the menu. Everyone orders the bacon-wrapped dates. And who doesn’t like their hot date bacon-wrapped? In Wynn, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11:30 a.m. 770-3463.

Vintellectuals Love: Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Bar

Ray Nisi is opening a second Double Helix soon in Town Square (see Page 86), and he’s already signed to open a third later this year. But at his flagship location—a 2,100-square-foot space including a retail shop and a circular wine bar in the Shoppes at the Palazzo—wines are kept fresh by the Vinfinity system, which uses a series of long vacuum pumps.

There are more than 50 wines by the glass here, starting at $9 for a Ramon Bilbao Tempranillo, to $35 for a Stag’s Leap Estate Cabernet. The good food comes from Table 10, Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant down the hall. The cheese board and shrimp po’ boy are both good choices. Nisi favors the Ken Wright Abbott Vineyard pinot noir ($28). In the Shoppes at the Palazzo, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun-Thu, 10 a.m.-midnight Fri-Sat, 735-9463.

For the Italophile: Nora’s Wine Bar & Osteria

Gio Mauro of Nora’s Cuisine is chef/owner at this Boca Park gathering place. Six Enomatics dispense 48 wines by the ounce. The per-ounce price is digitally displayed above the bottle. Insert your credit card and talk to the machine.

Try the artisan meat platter, a selection of Italian cold cuts, hand-sliced on an Art Deco slicer, or small bites (cicchetti) like polpette agro dolce—sweet and sour meatballs with a sauce that uses three parts vinegar to one part sugar. I also love Gio’s lamb chops: meaty, wood-grilled chops glazed with a red-wine reduction. 1031 S. Rampart Blvd., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat, 940-6672.

Casual Carousal: Terra Verde

This attractive space at Green Valley Ranch primarily functions as a restaurant, but it’s the only real wine bar in southeast Vegas. Just beyond the bar are comfy sofas and chairs, tall tables and stools, and a roaring fireplace.

The wine selection is by Station Casinos wine director Peter Donkonics, and it’s a good one. Enomatics dispense wine in increments of one, three and five ounces. There are four of them, hence 32 wines including choices such as the ’06 Antinori Tignanello, a “super Tuscan,” for $7 per ounce, and a terrific California blend, Conundrum, a bargain at $3 per ounce. There is the added benefit of being able to eat from the menu. Dishes such as scampi fra diavolo and the house antipasto plate are both first rate. In Green Valley Ranch, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun, 617-7777.

Where the Wine Geeks Are: The Hostile Grape

You can’t fail to be impressed by the technology, design and passion at this cellar-level space at the M Resort. The entrance is framed by stacked oak barrels, and inside this vast space, there is the largest by-the-glass selection in Las Vegas—an incredible 160 labels.

The one catch is that to access them you must purchase a sort of debit card for $5, and then add to it in increments of $25. Place your card in one of the Enomatics and your charges are automatically deducted. An Iniskillin cabernet franc icewine is $16.75 an ounce, but worth it. Starter wines like Garnacha de Fuego are $2.25 an ounce. If you get hungry, there are massive cheese plates stocked with good breads for $24-$35. In M Resort, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Thu-Sun, 797-1000.