Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 1:59 a.m.
More than 7,500 enthusiasts turned up for the largest-ever Founder’s Grand Tasting, which capped the expanded four days of wine-and-food experiences marking the 40th annual scholarship fundraiser UNLVino. More fans turned up for the previous night’s Bubble-Licious champagne event at the Venetian and the Bar-BQ at Garden of the Gods pool at Caesars Palace.
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck kicked off the eat, drink and be merry festivities at his restaurant Spago in the Forum Shops of Caesars Palace, where he hosted a signing of his new cookbook and was honored with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence for his contributions to UNLV and the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
The second day of celebrations began with a City Hall presentation by Mayor Carolyn Goodman proclaiming it UNLVino Week. She saluted founders Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wines & Spirits, and Dr. Jerry Vallen, dean emeritus of William F. Harrah.
Four decades ago, the two men dreamed up a small warehouse wine tasting to raise scholarships. It was a one-night-only affair for 200 people. Now 40 years later, it has grown to four spectacular nights, thousands of supporters and one of the largest events of its kind in America.
“It’s amazing that it’s been around for 40 years,” said UNLV Hotel College Dean Dr. Stowe Shoemaker. UNLV President Don Snyder added: “It’s a gift that keeps on giving. We’ve had millions of dollars worth of scholarships supporting hundreds of students resulting from UNLVino.” (Since 2000, some 600 students have received more than $1.1 million in scholarships.)
The mixology-inspired poolside soiree at Caesars featured gourmet twists on barbecue favorites with 16 signature cocktails served by our city’s most talented bartenders and mixologists. Forty booths served food, craft beers, tequilas, water and even British cider.
Francesco Lafranconi, Southern’s executive director of mixology and spirits education, presented Herbs & Rye owner Nectaly Mendoza with UNLVino’s first-ever Chartreuse Award of Excellence.
Bubble-Licious kicked off with a traditional 21-cork salute using champagnes and sparkling wines. Pop artist Romero Britto was honored with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence for his commitment to education and his works of art created the last 14 years to benefit UNLV. He opened a pop-up shop at Bubble-Licious with his whimsical productions, with a portion of sales going to the “Sip for a Scholarship.”
Star chefs Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, who all have restaurants at the Venetian, dispatched their chefs to join Sushi Samba and Zine Noodle kitchen crews to serve food at the event.
Saturday night’s finale was the largest-ever Founder’s Grand Tasting featuring themed culinary villages and hundreds of wines, spirits and beers served at more than 65 booths and tents. Additionally, there was a sake village and a beer garden. UNLV’s mascot Hey Reb arrived by helicopter to start the events.
Students under the direction of chef Mark Sandoval prepared the food. Nearly 600 UNLV volunteers were involved in the event at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health for the first time as an indoor-outdoor celebration.
It was fitting that founders Larry and Jerry were honored. Larry told me: “We never expected such a constant turnout. Growing to four days this year was our biggest yet, and the wonderful feeling of successfully raising more scholarship funds from enthusiastic supporters can’t begin to be put into words.
“It was all just fantastic. Now we start work tomorrow on next year’s event. Who knows, maybe it can grow to a fifth day by our 50th and become the biggest in all of America!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.