Wine Culture Is Evolving On (And Off) the Las Vegas Strip

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A burgeoning town that grew up on classic cocktails, buffets and steakhouses alongside slightly soused crooners and high-stakes games, Las Vegas has had a bibulous reputation. Comparatively, it’s centuries younger than other culturally rich U.S. cities built on bricks and brownstone that have spent decades upon decades curating their wine selections. But today, the city is maturing, and its wine culture is evolving. The Las Vegas wine scene is raising a glass to growing up.

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On the Strip

Also known as Las Vegas Boulevard, this four mile stretch of glittering lights and casino resorts inherits its reputation from and caters to its 40- plus million annual visitors with vastly diverse tastes in food and wine. Well-crafted wine lists continue to charm guests, particularly inside fine dining rooms and chic French spots bearing the names of internationally famed chefs. Celebrity chef restaurants anteed up the culinary space, and together with other hospitality offerings, by 1999, non-gaming revenue exceeded gaming revenue, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

With visitors from all over the world, Las Vegas has the verve and energy to fulfill every enophile’s desires.

Crush Sin City Delilah Dining room
Delilah dining room at the Wynn Las Vegas / Photo by Robert Miller

“Each property and restaurant has its own identity,” says Master Sommelier and MGM Resorts Wine Director Douglas Kim. He oversees the company’s 350,000-bottle collection spanning hundreds of restaurants and bars at 13 destination properties, including Bellagio, Aria and Park MGM.

“At Carbone, you’ll see Italian selections; Rivea is contemporary with some hidden gems; and Picasso has a great French selection and Spanish focus,” he says. “We are increasing and diversifying our selections, but we keep the quality consistent. Ultimately as a city, we provide great experiences for everyone.”

Crush Sin City NoMad Library
NoMad Library, Las Vegas / Photo Courtesy of MGM

While some restaurants, such as NoMad Library and SW Steakhouse, offer weighty tomes that span the globe, others specialize in one country or region for those seeking to take “sip trips” to their favorite wine-growing regions.

The collection of French wines at Michael Mina’s Bardot Brasserie inside Aria can take guests from Champagne and the Côte d’Or to Alsace and the Loire Valley over a meal. With wines spanning from Santorini to the Peloponnese, Estiatorio Milos inside Venetian Las Vegas is all about Greece. Jaleo by José Andrés inside Cosmopolitan Las Vegas brings the spirit and flavors of Spain with an impressive collection of Sherry. And for Italian wine lovers, Brezza inside Resorts World Las Vegas offers wines from Piedmont to Puglia.

Crush Sin City Picasso at the Belaggio
Picasso Patio, at the Belaggio / Photo Courtesy of MGM

The opening of Wally’s Wine & Spirits in 2021 modernized the town’s vinous reputation, adding to acclaimed establishments that have elevated the wine culture for decades, such as Le Cirque, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Restaurant Guy Savoy and Delmonico Steakhouse.

But Las Vegas is still quick to adapt as guests’ expectations evolve.

Crush Sin City Milos Front Bar Venetian Resort
Milos, front bar at The Venetian Resort / Photo Courtesy of the Venetian Resort

“There is a shift in awareness,” says Kat Thomas, a sommelier who has worked on and off the Strip since 2011. “Social media has made it easier for people to become more knowledgeable about wine.”

“I am always looking for special and unique gems for our educated guests,” says Cristie Norman, lead sommelier at Delilah, a glamorous, 1920s-inspired supper club inside Wynn Las Vegas. “Since we opened [in July 2021], we’ve run out of every selection on the wine list at least twice.”

Crush Sin City Brezza Wine Wall
Wine wall at Brezza / Photo by Sabin Orr

Norman, Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Educator of the Year Wine Star Award winner and also a 40 Under 40 Tastemaker from that same year, moved from Los Angeles to open Delilah. “I see Las Vegas as one of the nation’s top wine destinations, right there with New York City and San Francisco,” she says.

Off the Strip

Neighborhoods throughout the valley have long-time, wine-focused establishments. Some of these include Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar, Lotus of Siam, Marche Bacchus French Bistro & Wine Shop, Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits and Valley Cheese & Wine.

When the pandemic hit, many pivoted to a mercantile/to-go model, continuing to make wines easily accessible for locals. In addition, distributor-discounted wines flooded the market, bringing a variety of interesting and high-quality wines to the area.

In the heart of Las Vegas’ arts district, wine bar and shop owner Mario Enriquez says that his customers are enthusiastically trying new styles. He specializes in small-production, low-intervention wines and classic expressions.

Enriquez and co-owner Eric Prato, both former sommeliers at high-profile Strip properties, left their jobs to open Garagiste Wine Room & Merchant at the end of 2019. During quarantine, they continued to offer wine for their adventurous customer base while quenching the thirst of the large food and beverage community that supports Las Vegas’ hospitality industry.

“We are also seeing more and more out-of-town guests seeking authentic, local experiences, and the local market continues to grow the wine culture,” says Enriquez.

“Undoubtedly, it’s still changing, but it has been supremely encouraging to see so many of our independent local outlets thriving throughout,” says wine importer Kirk Peterson. “For my taste, it is difficult to beat the experience at The Patio Wine Garden or Lamaii—thoughtful selections, altruistic pricing and delicious food for the wine.”

Bank Atcharawan, a chef, sommelier and owner of Patio Wine Garden and Lamaii, says his clientele is much more knowledgeable these days.

“They are also more adventurous than when I started my business,” says Atcharawan. “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t be able to sell 60% of my [wine] list today.”

Atcharawan’s collections reflect his personal taste: German and classic Old World wines. Approachable for the pocketbook and the palate, his businesses have always provided a refuge for industry professionals, who account for 30% of his clientele. Locals benefit from the selections the industry craves.

And no list is too small. Jolene Mannina’s Vegas Test Kitchen boasts a growing selection of 20 different wines. In only one year of business, V.T.K. became a place for exclusive tasting events and for rotating chefs to showcase their concepts. One-third of her clients are now venturing off the Strip to come to her Fremont East District location.

“Because of the variety of cuisine we offer, natural wine is a good fit,” says Mannina.

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Ada’s Wine Bar, which opened during the pandemic, is also starting to see customers come from the Strip.

“We have a great range of wine styles, producers and pricing,” says Ada’s “wine goddess” and lead sommelier, Kat Thomas. “We bring in wines produced with intention, passion and love. This is fun for our clients and also for us.”

New to the sprawl is Harlo Steakhouse & Bar. OfftheStrip.com Editor Melinda Sheckells describes Harlo as “the ‘clubhouse’ of Las Vegas where every table needs its own publicist.” Harlo’s thoughtfully designed wine list seamlessly mingles with the menu created by its chef and partner, Gina Marinelli. With a focus on Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, the collection combines feelings of opulence and exclusivity with emphasis on its local clientele.

“Lucky for the world, all this exists in one spot,” says Sheckells.

“It’s exciting to see what is happening here in Las Vegas,” says Harlo’s Wine Director, Kester Masias. Masias moved from New York City in 2018, where he was wine director at NoMad. He says that Las Vegas’ wine community continues to show steady signs of growth.

“Natural wine is a good fit.”— Jolene Mannina, owner, Vegast Test Kitchen

“For a wine culture to exist in the city, the locals have to buy into that,” he says. “If you look at first-tier wine cities like New York and San Francisco, there are local spots that specialize in certain types of wine. We are starting to see that here.”

Across the valley’s 600 square miles lie culinary gems with focused wine lists Chef-driven spots, like Anima by E.D.O., fuses Italian with Spanish experiences. Forte Tapas delivers sips and bites from Bulgaria, Hungary and Spain. Pizzeria Monzu and Esther’s Kitchen focus on Italy, while modern eateries like Sparrow & Wolf span the world.

Steakhouses remain the city’s iconic foundational fix, and among the sprawl is Cleaver, bringing it all together with the classics. Plus, with casual wine bars such as The Local and The French Cellar, locals are feeling “lucky” about not having to go to the Strip.

In the world of wine, Las Vegas is an oasis that flows beyond the limits of glittering lights.

And, fortunately for locals and visitors, it’s no mirage.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

This story was updated on June 8, 2022 to reflect the inclusion of off-strip restaurants

Published on June 7, 2022
Topics: Wine Travel