Highlights from Las Vegas

top pairing
by Amanda McDougall with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 8
October, 2008   
Las Vegas: a town of infinite wine selection, countless sommeliers and beverage directors, and a mixology scene on the ascent. A good wine pairing isn’t difficult to come across, but a spectacular one is quite another thing. Here are a few of the pairings that made us pause and take note—and it’s not just wine on the hit list. Sake, beer, and cocktails are making ground.
Restaurant
  • Michael Mina at the Bellagio
  • 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South.
  • Las Vegas, NV 89109
  • (702) 693-7111
  • www.bellagio.com
Who
  • Sommelier Jason Smith
  • It takes a little something to become the country’s youngest Master Sommelier; three years later, at 30 years old, Smith still retains the title to this day. Smith got into wine after taking the wine course while training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park; since then he’s developed a penchant for Burgundy wines.
Wine
Puligny-Montrachet, Dujac Fils and Pere, Burgundy, France, 2004
Dish
Alaskan Halibut with Maine Lobster Tortellini, Roasted Oyster Mushrooms and Lemon and Olive Oil Emulsion
Pairing Note
What made this pairing feature-worthy is its ability to highlight the flavors in the dish’s lemon and olive oil emulsion. The lemon and olive flavors are brightened and leave a clean, pure olive flavor on the palate that just keeps going and going. At the same time the “light on the toes” oak elements in the wine aren’t tossed aside, but provide a backbone along with the woodsy roasted mushrooms and browning on the halibut.
Restaurant
  • rm Seafood
  • 3930 Las Vegas Boulevard South
  • Las Vegas, NV 89119
  • (702) 632-9300
  • www.rmseafood.com
Who
  • Chef Jeff Eichelberger
  • “Wine, food and people are my three greatest passions,” exclaims Eichelberger—a pretty ideal combination for the beverage director of one of Mandalay Bay’s premier restaurants. In step with Executive Chef/Creator Rick Moonen’s sustainable mission, Eichelberger has built a 100% sustainable wine and beverage menu—the first in Vegas.
Wine
Cinq Cents, Chimay Trappist Ale, Belgium
Dish
Blue Point Oysters, Braised Neuske Bacon and Creamed Kimchee
Pairing Note
Mixing up the wine pairings with the occasional Belgian Trappist ale is always fun. Eichelberger chose the fruity white label Cinq Cents Chimay to contrast with the dish’s ultra-richness and smokiness—and served it in a brandy snifter to heighten the fruit characters. The bitterness and effervescence worked perfectly: breaking up the decadent and spicy cream sauce and complimenting the smoky bacon.
Restaurant
  • Prime
  • 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
  • Las Vegas , NV 89109
  • (702) 693-7223
Who
  • Sommelier Jason Quinn
  • Quinn started out his wine career in the Bellagio stockroom’s master wine cellar. Before long he started educating himself about the products he was handling and now he’s shooting for that gold Master Sommelier pin. Quinn is a self-professed Bordeaux fan for its old world rustic style, and medium to full body profile – besides “who can pass up a glass of bubbles?” he jests.
Wine
Barolo, Brunate-Le Coste, Rinaldi, Piedmont, Italy, 1997
Dish
Monkfish Osso Buco-Style with Chanterelles and Lemon Thyme
Pairing Note
“Typically, I would do a white pairing with the calamari, but I went with the tomatoes and olives in the dish,” explained Quinn. And he is so right to do so – there is something magical about this pairing. The wine envelopes the whole composition of the pesto, beans, tomatoes, and olives, and grabs your attention. But the age of the wine mellows it out: it’s smooth and silky, with enough oomph to compliment the meatiness of the calamari but not overwhelm the halibut.
Restaurant
  • Restaurant Charlie
  • The Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South
  • Las Vegas, NV 89109
  • (702) 607-6336
Who
  • Mixologist Jeremy Merrit
  • Merritt and Beverage Director Desmond Echavarrie are looking to change the way Vegas diners look at cocktails – at least at Restaurant Charlie to start. Merritt is mixing custom concoctions for his guests, some with and some without alcohol, and pairing them with dishes (guests can choose wine, cocktail, beer, sake, or non-alcoholic beverages to pair with their meal). When Merritt is devising a cocktail to match a course, he starts with the food itself, identifying two components and then letting the creative juices flow.
Wine
Coconut Conundrum (tequila, young coconut juice, almond milk, ginger ale, Fresno chile)
Dish
Poached Maine Lobster in Yellow Curry with Lotus Root
Pairing Note
A little outside of the box on this one? That’s just what Merritt was going for. His cocktail was made on the spot to pair with this rich and spice-heavy dish; he hit a home run. The spicy notes in the tequila, ginger ale, and chile blend effortlessly with the complex curry spices, while the coconut juice and almond milk provide cooling effects.
Restaurant
  • SENSI at Bellagio Spa Tower
  • 3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
  • Las Vegas, NV 89109
  • (702) 693-7223
  • www.bellagio.com
Who
  • Sommelier Joseph Phillips
  • A college professor, a glass of wine, and a plum wine making kit – perhaps a rather dubious start to a successful wine career, but Phillips has a sense of humor about life in general. Phillips’ wine list at Sensi features a lot of southern hemisphere wines (Chef Martin Heierling is from New Zealand after all), but he’s not exclusive. Phillips expounds: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me where the wine comes from; if Burgundy works better than shiraz, then we’ll use that.”
Wine
Shargren, Sparkling Red Wine, Patritti, Australia, NV
Dish
Tamarind-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Onion Seed Grits
Pairing Note
A sparkling red: nice. A sparkling shiraz-grenache: interesting. A sparkling shiraz-grenache with tamarind-braised short ribs: brilliant. Phillips chose this wine for “a little bit of shock quality,” and for the wine’s low tannins and residual sugars. The bubbles in this red sparkler cut through the rich sweetness of the reduced tamarind sauce, while the fruit characters build on the tamarind’s fruit and floral aspects. And given the inherent body of the grapes, it stands up to the beef.
Restaurant
  • Restaurant DJT
  • (*editor’s note: DTJ is now closed, and Michael Shearin is at Drago in Los Angeles. The pairing, however, remains standout.)
  • ,
Who
  • Sommelier Michael Shearin
  • Shearin, just 34 years old, has worked with and been responsible for some of Las Vegas’ most prestigious restaurant wine lists, including Bouchon, Craftsteak, and Guy Savoy. When opening Guy Savoy, Shearin was given a carte blanch to assemble the cream of the crop of wines; his efforts weren’t overlooked. In 2007, Food & Wine magazine awarded Guy Savoy Best New Wine List – no chump change. At DJT, Shearin is working to put together a comprehensive beverage program, including wine, beer, specialty sodas, spirits and sakes.
Wine
Princess, Himezen, Junmai, Ichinokura, Japan, NV
Dish
Harry’s Strawberry Soufflé with Chartreuse-Crème Brulee Ice Cream
Pairing Note
A sake pairing with a dessert course is always worth mention – even more so when the match is out of this world. This junmai sake is delicate but with an overt strawberry flavor that heightened and highlighted the Harry’s fresh strawberries in the soufflé. The end result was a loud chorus of beautiful ripe berries that kept up for minutes afterward, occasionally changing tunes from bubble gum to cotton candy and back to strawberry.
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