There is no time better than now to join what I call the Rockstar Somm Club Movement, a new trend in wine clubs being steered by a few famous wine experts. And who wouldn’t want to drink what the professionals drink?
Chef Michael Mina and his longtime wine director and sommelier Rajat Parr have started the eclectic Michael Mina Wine Club. Parr and his crew of sommeliers hand-select each wine, and pair it with a recipe from one of Michael Mina’s restaurants.
What I like the most about Mina’s wine club is that it offers bottles from Mina’s own restaurant wine lists—hard-to-find, food-friendly wines from small producers around the world, and at different price points. Membership to the club includes four shipments of six bottles per year, spaced three months apart. The Hidden Gems level costs $120 per shipment ($20 per bottle), while the Wines of Consequence (meant for budding wine geeks) is $300 per shipment ($50 per bottle).
Another option: Parr protégé Eric Railsback and master sommelier Brian McClintic (both subjects of the 2012 documentary Somm) have formed the Somm Series Wine Club. A master sommelier featured in the film selects rare wines from both established producers and rising stars of the industry. This club features personal hand-written tasting notes and food-pairings. The seasonal package of three wines every three months is $109 per shipment ($36 per bottle), while the annual package of three wines every month for one year is $99 per shipment ($33 per bottle).
Locally, wine experts Gil Lempert-Schwarz (chairman of the Wine Institute of Las Vegas), master sommelier Ron Mumford and Kenny Lee (general manager of Lee’s Discount Liquors) have formed the Knowing Wine Club, which includes special membership perks, such as priority access to exclusive VIP wine tastings and wine classes, as well as discounts at Lee’s stores. There are six-month and 12-month options, but both have you receiving two highly rated reds from around the world for $50 per month, plus those perks.
I want to bring a bottle with me to the restaurant for a special occasion. What is proper BYOB etiquette in Las Vegas?
This is the most ambiguous Las Vegas dining topic. First, always be courteous and call the restaurant to ask if there is a BYOB policy before showing up, bottle in hand. This simple act prevents any awkwardness when you might be greeted by management with a firm “No.” Don’t be surprised if you get that same “No” when you call, and don’t hold it against these establishments. They are just cautious concerning their liquor license.
If they do allow BYOB, some restaurants will require you to pay a corkage fee. Why? You are paying for the experience, service, knowledge of the staff and sommelier and the ambience of the restaurant, which must pay its overhead of taxes, insurances, licenses etc., whether the wine is yours or theirs. Corkage fees can run you $30-$50 per 750-mililiter bottle opened (you will not be charged for bottles brought in but not opened) and can vary by restaurant. Some have limits on the number of bottles per party; others request that you not bring in a wine on their list (again: call first). And my favorite: If, in addition to the wine you bring in, you buy a bottle from the wine list, your corkage fee is waived.
If it sounds like the restaurants are trying to deter you from B-ing YOB, that’s because they kinda are. At the end of the day, restaurants want you to buy their wine, not bring it in.
That said, having a good relationship with the restaurant will usually earn you the right to open your bottle yourself. If a restaurant does allow you the pleasure of opening your bottle, it is always suggested to offer the chef, sommelier or GM a taste.
And by “taste” I mean 2 ounces, not the whole bottle.