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May 27, 2004
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Fine Wine 2004

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Believe it or not, there was a time, not that long ago, when winemakers were reluctant to ply their wares in Las Vegas. Oh how times have changed. In 1997 I took a trip to Napa Valley with my good friends Bob-the Wine Guy and his beautiful-yet-low-maintenance- wife Jennifer. I was looking to drown my sorrows over another busted relationship in a sea of cabernet.

What I got was a tour of some of the most prestigious wineries of California. Instead of gulping glass after glass of California's best, I found myself treading through fields of vines and discussing things like the brix at harvest, new versus old oak, and when to punch down the cap with winemakers...ya know...edge of your seat stuff like that.

But what I remember most of the trip was a conversation with Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards. It seemed that Shafer, being oh so protective of his prestigious label, thought than an association with our tacky town might damage the precious reputation of his precious wine. Bob the wine guy kept saying prescient things like: ''Ya know Doug, Vegas will soon to be where it's at in the wine world. Between our tourism, money and top-flight restaurants, it will have the best wine lists in the country, if not the world, and you should hop on board.''

With typical northern California provincialism, Shafer was unconvinced. With my typical style of not suffering fools gladly, I couldn't wait to get out of there. To such things did my mind wander recently when I contemplated how, in less than 10 years, Las Vegas has become the center of the retail wine universe.

Every Spring we are now besieged with wine tasting events that everyone, who is anyone, in the wine world attends. Because more fine wine is consumed in our town than anywhere in America, the Wine Spectator's Grand Tour now stops here every year, right after the Wine and Spirits Wholesaler's Convention. At both, the most prestigious wineries on earth try to elbow each other aside to attract the attention of buyers from our big hotels.

Vegas wine lists are now arguably the best in the world---if you judge such things by the scope, breadth and depth of such things. You'll find deeper lists of French wines in Paris, or Italian barolos in Bologna, but nowhere on earth can you find vintage bottles of Australian Zinfandel or Lebanese Syrahs, alongside great Gajas from Piedmont, or bling bling burgundies from Beaune.

As for Shafer's wines, you'll now find them in dozens of restaurants. Money has a way of doing that to people. In fact, I had his over-priced Cabernet at Smith and Wollensky, just the other day. For my money though, I preferred the Mount Veeder for ten bucks less.

As Sam Goldwyn once said, it had more warmth and more charmth.

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