By Jacqueline Monahan
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They don’t call it The Grand Tasting for nothing.

On April 20, 2013, the Paris Las Vegas Champagne Ballroom burst with bubbles and brews, shook with sake and nearly tipped over with tequila during the third (but not last) event of the 39th annual UNLVino Wine Tasting.  The event raised thousands of dollars for the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration in the form of scholarships for UNLV students.

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A Glass Act

Photo credit: Jacqueline Monahan

The wine flowed, but so did the (flavored, sparkling and still) water, the Bombay Sapphire, and the Newcastle Ale.  So did the ginger beer, bourbon, and rye.  Under one massive, chandeliered ceiling, guests could sample international wine selections from Italy, France, South Africa, Australia , Japan, England, Spain, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Singapore, Chile, Portugal, Argentina, Mexico, and New Zealand.

UNLVinos 2013 Grand Tasting at Paris Las Vegas

The Champagne Ballroom at Paris Hotel

Photo credit: © Tom Donoghue / Tom Donoghue Photography

Domestic favorites included Wolfgang Puck Wine’s Master Lot Reserve Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon, Francis Ford Coppola’s popular Director’s Cut varietals out of California, with Oregon, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas, Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Washington representing their fermented libations at booths that begat buzz from more than just word of mouth.

Attendees dined on signature dishes prepared by UNLV’s culinary students and got to wrap their taste buds around antipastos, freshly shucked oysters and shrimp cocktail chilled around an ice sculpture of the Eiffel Tower.  A slider station offered up crab cake, chicken salad, pulled pork, and cheeseburger variations. 

UNLV Hotel Students Celebrating UNLVinos Grand Tasting

The Popular Seafood Station

Photo credit: © Tom Donoghue / Tom Donoghue Photography

Asian cuisine featured a sweet & spicy “Bang Bang Shrimp,” and passed hors d’oeuvres included a sweet and savory french toast with pork belly and maple syrup (it works!).  Fried olive and Pepper Jack balls gave a delayed but delightful “bite” back to the sampler, and crudité tables overflowed with breads, cheeses, crackers and vegetable platters (some grilled) to complement any beverage pairing.

On this night, restaurateur Elizabeth Blau was honored with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence, presented by Larry Ruvo and Michael Severino of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada.  Blau is credited with having an integral role in Las Vegas’ transformation to the world-class culinary destination it is today. Coincidentally, Dom Pérignon happens to be her favorite champagne.

Elizabeth Blau accepting Dom Perignon Award of Excellence from Larry Ruvo at UNLVinos Grand Tasting 4.20. 2013

Elizabeth Blau and Larry Ruvo

Photo credit: © Tom Donoghue / Tom Donoghue Photography

A Live Auction featured offerings ranging from a World Whiskey Tour for 10 people with Master Mixologist Francesco Lafranconi and a three-day VIP Napa Valley wine tasting, to luxurious staycations at Bellagio, MGM Grand and more.  A Romero Britto original painting, created especially for UNLVino sold for $15,500; a five-course meal with wine and cocktail pairings for 15 people prepared by talented culinary students from UNLV’s Hotel College (three packages sold for $3,000 each). 

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Cheering on the Auction

Photo credit: Jacqueline Monahan

As guests enjoyed live jazz arrangements by Blu 7, a silent auction also took place offering Golf for two and a one-night stay in Lake Tahoe, Beer Tasting at Gordon Ramsay Pub, Staycations at the Bellagio, Venetian or Palazzo, Courtyard by Marriott, Palms, and Golden Nugget, Happy Hour for 10 at Bahama Breeze, and a California Dreamin’ Package in Napa Valley, among many other luxurious items.

The emphasis may have been on wine (G’Day Red Moscato from Dolce Imports, If You See Kay, Red Blend from Market Right, Cupcake Vineyards, Red Velvet from The Wine Group, and House of Mandela, Royal Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon from Heritage Link Brands, and Hello Kitty, Spumante from Mission Wine, to name a few) but spirits flowed from a variety of products having nothing to do with grapes.

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Other Featured Products

Photo credit: Jacqueline Monahan

Newcastle Breweries featured their Founder’s Ale and Strongbow Cider (NOT for children) while Pabst Brewing represented their Lagers and light beers.  The Pernod VIP booth offered samples of Absolut Hibiskus, a scarlet-colored mouthful with a smooth, incomparable flavor.  You could get the ginger-flavored East of Eden over at The Bombay VIP booth – an orange concoction that could possibly persuade non-drinkers to imbibe.

Water varieties like Hint, in still and sparkling varieties, provided touched of fruit flavor with their strawberry-kiwi, peach, blackberry and watermelon varieties.  Jana, Fiji, Evian and Badoit waters beckoned guests from ice-filled containers. 

Teetotalers could also enjoy Dry Soda’s fruit, flower and herbal flavors (Vanilla Bean, Wild Lime, Lavender, Blood Orange, Cucumber, Rhubarb, and Juniper Berry).  Gizmo Beverages’ Tea of a Kind has a bottle full of clear liquid that releases the tea (and color) when the bottle is opened for the first time.  TapouT’s Hybrid sports beverages (one is dark cherry pomegranate) provide 75 minerals and 12 vitamins at only seventy calories a bottle.

Music legend Bob Marley’s family offers Marley’s Mellow Mood Teas in black and green varieties, a tea/lemonade mix, berry and citrus sodas, and two different coffee beverages.

Champagne was never far away with Pernod’s Perrier Jouet, and whiskey drinkers could rejoice at the Campari America booth with Wild Turkey in bourbon and rye versions.
Tequila came in space alien head bottles (Alien Tequila) and tiny packaged shots called Rattlesnake (Twisted Shotz).

The Grand Tasting was the third of four events that comprised this year’s festivities.  On Sunday its first annual mixology-focused BAR-b-q featured cuisine from renowned celebrity chefs Scott Conant, Angelo Sosa and Gustav Mauler.  Craft-cocktail creations by Master Mixologist Francesco Lafranconi were also created under the unique architecture of Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The event honored MGM Grand President and COO Scott Sibella. Live entertainment was provided by the Richard Femenella & the Chris Hermes Band.
Previously at UNLVino (The first two events):

Event #1:  Bubble-Licious at The Venetian. Legendary chef Thomas Keller of Bouchon was honored with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence for establishing a collection of restaurants that set a new paradigm within the hospitality industry.

Larry Ruvo Awarding Chef Thomas Keller with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence at BubbleLicious 4.18.13

Thomas Keller and Larry Ruvo

Photo credit: © Tom Donoghue / Tom Donoghue Photography

Event #2:  Sake Fever at The Mirage’s resort pool. Chef Masaharu Morimoto, star of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, was honored with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence for his recent Culinary Hall of Fame induction.

Larry Ruvo and Chef Masaharu Morimoto at UNLVino Sake Fever 4.19.13 Tom Donoghue Photography 2013

Larry Ruvo and Iron Chef Morimoto

Photo credit: © Tom Donoghue / Tom Donoghue Photography

At this year’s UNLVino, guests proved that not only could they drink responsibly, but generously as well.


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