A Look Back at the Three Nights of UNLVino

Naked Fish carves up a 240lb tuna at UNLVino's Sake Fever.
Naked Fish carves up a 240-pound tuna at UNLVino’s Sake Fever.

This past weekend, the 41st annual UNLVino took over Las Vegas with three evenings wine, beer, spirits and sake as well as cuisine from dozens of the city’s restaurants, chefs and UNLV’s culinary students. Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada and UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration partnered to raise scholarship funds through three events, Bubble-Licious at the Venetian, Sake Fever at Red Rock Resort and the Grand Tasting at Paris Las Vegas. New to the UNLVino tradition, each included entertainment, celebrity chefs and VIP experiences

On Thursday, April 16, UNLVino kicked off with its inaugural event, Bubble-Licious at the Venetian’s Doge’s Palace Plaza. Guests imbibed on champagne and sparkling wine selections and dined on dishes the resort’s restaurants.

The Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence was given to James Beard Award-winning chef Daniel Boulud, recognizing him as one of America’s leading culinary authorities as well as for his commitment to encouraging aspiring chefs in the hospitality industry.

The evening included a birthday cake presented by Buddy V Las Vegas, a signed chef jacket from UNLV’s Hotel College senior class and a rendition of “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” performed by award-winning singer and songwriter Chadwick Johnson.

A UNLVino staple for several years, Bubble-Licious started with the traditional “21 Cork Salute” as local sommeliers and restaurateurs popped 21 bottles of Dom Pérignon.

UNLVino continued with Sake Fever, an outdoor soiree at Red Rock Resort’s pool on Friday, April 17. The night was filled with sakes and Asian spirits, as well as cuisine from Las Vegas restaurants.

During a special presentation, Don Snyder, presidential advisor of UNLV, was given the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence for his contributions to Las Vegas’ community, including landmarks such as Fremont Street Experience and The Smith Center. Larry Ruvo also took a moment during the ceremony to honor Don’s wife, Dee Snyder, for her leadership in the community and as a partner in Don Snyder’s Las Vegas endeavors.

The event started with a ceremonial sake barrel cracking. After opening the barrels with traditional mallets, guests were treated to a performance by a Japanese Taiko drum troupe.

The East and West were united as guests sampled dishes from a variety of Asian eateries, as well as barbecue joints to pair with a variety of sakes, cocktails and spirits. As per tradition, Naked Fish’s Sushi & Grill treated guests to the rare experience of tasting fresh sashimi carved from a 240-pound bluefin tuna; and Katsuji Tanabe, a Food Network “Chopped” champion, served up his famous Dirty Tacos. “Top Chef: Season 12” winner Mei Lin created a private dining experience for guests in one of Red Rock’s cabanas.

UNLVino’s weekend concluded with its flagship event, the Grand Tasting, on Saturday, April 18, at Paris Las Vegas’ ballroom with celebrity chefs, libations, food and live entertainment.

Italian-American cook and restaurateur Steve Martorano was the night’s guest of honor as Larry Ruvo, Michael Severino and Stowe Shoemaker presented Martorano with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. After receiving the award, complete with a cased bottle of Dom Pérignon and a chef’s jacket signed by UNLV Hotel College seniors, Martorano gathered students around the stage and told them to “never say no” when reaching for their dreams. Following Martorano’s encouraging acceptance speech, musician Frankie Moreno sang Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” to congratulate the honoree.

“Top Chef Season 12: Boston” winner Mei Lin showcased her winning snapper dish and “Chopped” champion Katsuji Tanabe joined UNLV Hotel College culinary students to create small plates and passed appetizers

“Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise” contestant Marquel Martin showcased confections from his newly opened business Social Cookie, including a UNLVino strawberry cookie.

Frankie Moreno serenaded the crowd with his modern jazz hits while guests danced between drinks and bites.