Most recently, I’ve been returning to a ritual that I’d practiced very sparingly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: going out to restaurants. Las Vegas locals like myself are starting to feel a bit safer and eager to get out, now that vaccines are readily available.
Along with this feeling of emergence – a metamorphosis, if you will – is taking place, with locals taking flight into restaurants and wine bars and showing interest and exploration into new wines.
“In a nutshell, COVID helped diversify the local wine scene and helped catch Las Vegas back up to national trends that had been largely overlooked by the Strip,” says Mario Enriquez, owner of Garagiste Wine Room & Merchant. “The wine scene has come back and has actually grown during COVID.”
Enriquez and co-owner Eric Prato opened Garagiste Wine Room & Merchant at the end of 2019. At the onset of the pandemic, they shut down temporarily for on-premise, indoor sipping. However, they maintained agility in the marketplace by offering curbside pick-up, outdoor experiences, and online events via Secretburger.com, among other things. All the while, they continued to introduce and offer interesting and under-the-radar wines to their customers while fulfilling the need to quench the thirst of the professional wine community.
Enriquez says that before COVID, the local market was largely ignored by distributors since smaller restaurants couldn’t compete with the pallets of wine the casinos were ordering.
“Thus, the local wine market was full of large production, commercial, uninteresting wines that were cast-offs of the casinos.” says Enriquez. “However, with distributors being forced to build relevant local market strategies, there is now, more than ever, a willingness from distributors to carry and distribute more interesting wines that the transient local population actually wants to drink.”
Jerad Howard, founder of Alt Imports, specializes in sustainable, artisanal, small-lot wines. He noticed that the wine-drinking public is more eager to try new things.
“They [wine drinkers] want to know where and how it was made,” says Howard. “Their questions are opening them up to explore new producers, appellations, and types of wine. They want to experience something with life and vibrance.”
Similar vibes are flowing into Ada’s Wine Bar, located in Tivoli Village. Owner and Chef James Trees decided to open during the pandemic in early March 2021. And in just one month, Ada’s has been increasingly seeing success. With ample indoor and outdoor areas, guests are comfortable to stop in for a few bites and try wines from Ada’s diverse wine list. The wine program is operated by seasoned sommeliers, most of whom have previously worked on the Las Vegas Strip. Their passion is contagious, and they are engaging with customers in a way they never expected.
“People are more willing to step outside their comfort zone, try new wines made with varietals they never heard of or regions they are not familiar with,” says sommelier Jodie Hellman. “We get the pleasure of introducing them to something new, and the guests get an excellent value and great experience.”
The craving to drink and dine at a casual, local establishment and socialize is also shaping the wine tasting culture in Henderson at The Local. The wine bar inside The District opened in July 2019 where they immediately developed a loyal following. Then after two months of shut-down, The Local carefully re-opened to customers that were eager to come back out again.
“We have introduced a number of new wines to our list which have become more accessible due to close-out pricing from many distributors,” says Rafael Garcia, beverage director. “Guests are asking for ‘new and different.'”
According to Garcia, one of their biggest surprises has been Ribolla Gialla, from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy, which happens to be one of their best-selling whites by the glass. “People seem to be treating themselves very well with great wine.”
And of course, we can’t ignore the classics, but personally, I hope that this trend to explore interesting, small-batch, family-owned, artisanal wines continues. As a wine writer and lover, I am always trying to reach anyone who is interested in wine and wants to learn more about it. The most exciting part of wine (for me) is the journey into the new and undiscovered. It’s a personal adventure that is waiting for each of us! And with that I raise a toast … with a sparkling Ribolla Gialla. I met this one during the pandemic at Ada’s Wine Bar.
Cheers and effervecense, Las Vegas!
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