UNLVino Turns 39

Seven reasons to fall in love with the annual wine festival all over again

UNLVino is the grande dame of epicurean festivals, having served Las Vegans every spring for 39 years. And, like a vintage Bordeaux, the event seems to improve with age. This year’s version, which has moved from its customary late-March slot to mid-April, expects to be bigger and better than ever, with more than 600 wines, spirits and sakes for tasting over four days instead of three. One thing that hasn’t changed in the four decades since the festival was conceived by College of Hotel Administration dean Jerry Vallen and Southern Wine & Spirits senior managing director Larry Ruvo is its purpose: to raise scholarship money for the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. The first event took place in Southern’s warehouse; these days, you need a city map and a day planner to properly immerse yourself. To save you some time and a few steps, we’ve asked Southern’s territory manager, Tony Goitia—a former UNLV International Wines instructor—to share his highlights: 

Fine Bites With Your Bubbly

For the first time in Bubble-Licious history, there will be a number—and it looks like seven—of fine local restaurants showcasing their individual cuisines, including Dom Perignon Award of Excellence honoree Thomas Keller. So far, the list includes Table 10, Delmonico, Mario Batali’s Las Vegas restaurants, Bouchon and Postrio. Bubbles and great food under the stars? What a combination! Bubble-Licious, 7-10 p.m. April 18, Doge’s Palace across from the porte cochere at the Venetian.

Iron Chef in the House

Once just a dedicated tasting area during UNLVino’s Grand Tasting, Sake Alley so grew iso much that it requires its own night. Sake Fever features incredible fare from local Asian restaurants, along with many of the best sakes available. This year, Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto will be the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence honoree. Sake Fever, 7-10 p.m. April 19, at The Mirage Pool.

Wine Finds for the Big Night

Among the hot new wines that will be featured at Saturday night’s Grand Tasting, don’t miss the two cabernet sauvignons and chardonnay from Napa’s Parallel, a relatively new winery at only 12 years old. Owned by a group of old skiing buddies, and with consulting from winemaker Philippe Melka, the wines consistently receive high acclaim. Along those lines, have a go at wines by the Dreaming Tree, especially Crush, a collaboration between famed winemaker Steve Reeder and singer–songwriter Dave Matthews. Both men enjoy reasonably priced wines that go well with food and are ready to drink upon release. The Grand Tasting, 7-10 p.m. April 20, in the Champagne Ballroom at Paris Las Vegas.


Like sake, beer has a growing presence at this increasingly diverse epicurean weekend. Among the new and not-to-miss items being poured at the Grand Tasting is a Belgian strong ale called Rince Cochon. Translated, it means “Pig’s Rinse,” and not only is the label a winner—a pink piggy downing a frosty one—but so is the beer! This ale is re-fermented in the bottle, resulting in sediment at the bottom. It has a dominant caramel flavor mixed with the bitterness of roasted malts and hops.

Happy Hybrid

Yes, there are spirits, too! In the world of spirits (booze, not ghosts), a new must-try at the Grand Tasting is Absolut Tune. This blend of Sweden’s Absolut vodka and New Zealand sauvignon blanc wine is then carbonated, and—voilà—sparkling vodka in a bottle. Sounds like a party waiting to happen. Absolut.com/US/Tune.

Sunday Funday

A new event, Bar-B-Q (with an emphasis on the bar), makes this year UNLVino’s first four-day festival. Chefs including Charlie Palmer, Scott Conant and Gustav Mauler will present their high-end cuisines, and mixologist Francesco Lafranconi will showcase his polished, balanced cocktails. Farm-to-table is the theme, as local producers are in the spotlight, as well as an Absolut Bloody Mary bar and Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence honoree, MGM Grand President and COO Scott Sibella. Bar-B-Q, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21, at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Creating Opportunity

Today, hundreds of UNLV graduates work in the Las Vegas hotel or restaurant field—and UNLVino helped many of them get through school. The sip that supports scholarship is the most delicious of them all.