A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 471: Las Vegas

Monday, November 18: Up at 6 am for an Air Canada flight to Las Vegas. I’m going to have dinner with Andre Agassi, Jacob’s Creek’s head winemaker Bernard Hickin and a bunch of wine guys at Michael Mina’s restaurant in the Bellagio, where I’ll be staying.

The reception area has a ceiling decorated with huge glass flowers created by Chihuly and an amazing Chihuly glass sculpture in the lounge seating area. From my bedroom window I can see Paris – at least a replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Chihuly glass sculpture

Chihuli ceiling in the Bellagio

View from my room at the Bellagio

I walked along the strip, being importuned at each step with people handing me cards of near-naked women. They wore T-shirts that promised “Girls, Girls, Girls Delivered to You in 20 Minutes.” Everyone is on the hustle here, with characters dressed in outlandish costumes asking you to have your photo taken with them for “tips.” It’s loud, it’s vulgar, it’s over the top – and I love it.

The Strip

Buddhist shrine on the Strip

Some tasteful Vegas architecture

Dressed casual for dinner at 6:30 with Andre Agassi. Before we sat down hors d’oeuvres were served – Foie gras mousse with huckleberry jam on toast; Dungeness crab cake, steak tartare on crispy potato cake, served with Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Sparkling Non-Vintage.

First course: Maine Lobster Pot Pie, baby vegetables and truffle-lobster cream, with Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2012 (dry, lime, lemon and grapefruit flavours (88).

Second course: Colorado lamb rack, glazed ricotta gnudi, tagine vegetables, lamb jus, with Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2010 (spicy blackberry and briary nose with plum, prune and blackberry flavours, lively acidity (89); and Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (dense purple-ruby colour; blackcurrant nose with a creamy mouth-feel that finishes dry with soft, melting tannins (88)).

Dessert: Chocolate custard, red velvet cake, cocoa nib ice cream; assorted cheeses, with Centenary Hill Shiraz 2002 (95-year-old vines – dense purple colour showing no signs of ageing; smoky, charred oak, spicy blackberry nose; beautifully balanced with blackberry and pencil lead flavours. Very elegant (92)).

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi lives in Las Vegas. He is a business partner in Michael Mina’s 31 restaurants across the US and is a spokesperson for Jacob’s Creek’s promotion of its “true character” regional wines. Obligingly, he posed for photos with everyone, signed autographs and made signed copies of his autobiography available to all at the dinner. His book, incidentally, is a remarkably good read and beautifully written. I brought along a bottle of Château des Charmes Riesling Icewine 2012. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to present it personally to him but left it with his agent.

We were invited to go for drinks after dinner to a bar called Milly’s, but since it was midnight by my body clock I decided that bed was the best option – especially since tomorrow there will be a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam.

Helicopters landing at the Grand Canyon helipad

Tuesday, November 19: Bernard Hickin, two reps from Corby’s and I were picked up at the hotel by Maverick Helicopters’ shuttle bus and driven to the airport. Josh, the pilot of the DC 130, tells us that his family has a Pinot Noir Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. As we fly towards the Grand Canyon – a 40-minute trip – he regales us with facts and figures about Las Vegas and its environs.

The Strip from a helicopter

There are 2 million inhabitants of Vegas and 47 million visitors annually. Every 1000 visitors will support nine jobs locally. The average number of weddings a day in Las Vegas is 315 (no stats on divorces). Average rainfall is 4 to 5 inches a year. The Maverick helicopter DC 130 fleet is the largest on the planet and will grow soon to 47. These craft cost $2 million apiece, which shows how well the company must be doing with their Grand Canyon flights. Boulder City, a dormitory town for workers during the construction of the Hoover Dam, is the only place in Nevada where you can’t gamble (the workers wouldn’t turn up on the job after a night of drinking and gambling, apparently).

Hoover Dam

Josh touched down at a low plateau above the Colorado River where there were several picnic tables. Bernard Hickin had brought along some Jacob’s Creek wines for a tasting in the most spectacular setting.

  • Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Adelaide Hills): straw colour with a hint of lime; apple, pear and citrus nose; medium-bodied, nicely balanced orchard fruit flavours, full in the mouth. Good value at $14.95. (88)
  • Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra): deep ruby-plum colour; a bouquet of cedar, blackcurrant and minty eucalyptus; firmly structured with succulent sweet fruit. (88)
  • Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2010 (Barossa): dense purple colour; savoury, blackberry nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, blackberry and black olive flavours expanding to blackcurrant and plum with lively acidity. (89)
  • St. Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: dense purple colour; minty, blackcurrant nose with a creamy note; full-bodied, richly extracted, sweet blackcurrant and blackberry flavours; soft mouth-feel with ripe plushy tannins carried on lively acidity. (90)
  • Centenary Hill Shiraz 2009: dense purple colour; creamy, briary, plum and blackberry nose with oak spice; full-boded, sweet, spicy fruit – juicy and creamy on the palate with a vanilla oak note. Lovely mouth feel. (92)

Tasting in the Grand Canyon

Back in Las Vegas, a quick panini at Jean Philippe Patisserie in the hotel before crossing the street to the Paris Hotel to see a great production of the Jersey Boys. Sat next to a woman from South Carolina who runs an ambulance service with her husband. Watched the Bellagio’s famous water fountain show before retiring.

A bar I didn’t go to

Wednesday, November 20: A coffee and almond croissant at Jean Philippe Patisserie before meeting up with Rae and Eric from Corby’s for the car to the airport and the flight back to Toronto. Left Las Vegas down $9.92 and a corkscrew (confiscated at security). But it was worth it. Back home to dinner. Roast pork loin with a bottle of Quails’ Gate Rosé 2012 (refreshingly dry and crisp rhubarb and redcurrant flavours (88)).

Thursday, November 21: Beaujolais Nouveau release day. The only new wine I got to taste was Château des Charmes Gamay Nouveau, which was very good. A lunchtime meeting with Liz Gallery and Cathy Martin to discuss the next Grapes for Humanity event – Chile uncorked (set for May 15th at the Gardiner Museum). In the evening, a Grapes for Humanity directors’ meeting to welcome Doris Miculan Bradley as a new director. Then down to the Senator for dinner with Frank and Patti-Ann Daley before going to the Jazz Bistro next door to hear Patricia O’Callaghan sing the songs of Leonard Cohen.

Friday, November 22: A meeting with David Rose and Sandy Kurbis to talk about next year’s Ontario Wine Awards (celebrating its 20th anniversary) and sip&Savour Ontario (the consumer event which will be in its 10th year).

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