Enthusiast's Corner - October 2005

Casinos bet on fine dining and wine.


Published:

Top sommeliers and chefs are taking center stage in America's gaming capitals—and Las Vegas is only one of many across North America.

Here at the Wine Enthusiast, we are always on the lookout for evidence that Americans are becoming more wine-savvy, more culinarily aware and more discerning in their dining choices. Sometimes the evidence is statistical, sometimes it's anecdotal and sometimes it's just as plain as the nose in your wineglass. That is the case with North American casinos.
Casinos will always attract people who love to gamble; that's a no-brainer. One key to casinos' bottom line, though, is to lure people who might spend their leisure dollars elsewhere. Glittery entertainments and food are the two primary attractions. Up until about 10 years ago, the primary strategy for presenting food in casino hotels in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno, Tahoe and elsewhere was the all-you-can-eat buffet. The reasoning: Charge people a few bucks for unlimited access to gargantuan displays of food and they will remain to drop substantial amounts of money at the slot machines.

Now, though, fine dining is seen as the more effective way to attract people into the casinos—not just as a strong revenue source, but also as an image builder. In "High-Stakes Tables", Wine Enthusiast staffers Tara Ferdico and Daryna Tobey and a host of correspondents take you on a whirlwind tour of some of the top wine-and-food-friendly casinos in North America. You'll read the names of some of the world's top chefs—Michael Mina, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Todd English—along with descriptions of astounding dishes, deep wine lists and vertical tastings of some of the world's great wines. If tossing the dice or flipping the cards are not all you're looking to get out of your casino visit—if a great bottle of wine and a gourmet meal are also essential ingredients—then you'll find this article invaluable.

The gambling theme continues, in an oblique way, in Michael Schachner's article on Spain's Priorat and Montsant (see page 48). That's because a small group of Spain's top winemakers are committing vast resources to this difficult region, which had been somewhat neglected for a good 50 years before winegrowers started showing interest again in more recent times. Priorat is one of the most forbidding and distinctive wine regions on earth. It's a desolate place, with vines planted in fine, stony ground. Yet Grenache and Carignan are doing well, and producing some of the most powerful and elegant red wines that Spain has to offer, courtesy of these roll-the-dice winemaking pioneers.

Further on, Steve Heimoff tours California's Paso Robles, the wine region inland of San Luis Obispo that is undergoing very interesting changes. The area is divided roughly by Highway 101. East of the highway, large and established wineries have been producing fine wines for years. West of the highway, an area which is marked by steep hills, is now being farmed by winegrowers who are looking to Rhône varieties as their future. And they are succeeding. If you take a look at the article and then at the full reviews of many of these west side wines in this issue's Buying Guide, you will undoubtedly discover a host of intriguing red wines to explore.

F. Paul Pacult takes you to Islay, the island off Scotland's west coast that is home to some of Scotland's finest whiskies. This is because of the plethora of peat bogs, some of which are estimated to be 10,000 years old. Peat is the pungent decomposed carbonized vegetable matter that is used as natural fertilizer. So prevalent is it that its "peat reek" permeates the water, and becomes a component of the whiskies distilled there. Its flavor is found in many of the island's best whiskies. I know how that sounds, too: heaven to whiskey enthusiasts, and a bit of a puzzler to non-fans.

Ginger, familiar to many  of us through ginger snap cookies and as an accompaniment to sushi and sashimi, is finding its way into many other fine dining preparations. As you'll find in Karen Berman's article, restaurateurs are using ginger more frequently when they want to add more complex heat to all kinds of dishes. In Mexican, contemporary American, Asian and other cuisines, you'll find its underlying heat and spice in many dishes. This presents an interesting challenge to wine enthusiasts in search of the perfect wine pairing. You'll find some suggestions and fine recipes for using ginger, a sure way to challenge your own culinary skills and, later, grab the attention of your guests.

Whether you try a a ginger-flavored recipe, sip a peat-flavored whisky or take your chances on a casino floor, life is full of gambles. The only sure thing? Open a bottle of wine, share it with friends, and life's true meaning will reveal itself. Bet on it.
Cheers!

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