Where to Go Next: Las Vegas
Las Vegas, despite its Scotch-swilling ways and comp drinks, has become one of America’s best wine cities, thanks to the talented sommeliers and wine geeks who followed the star chefs there. Prices can be stratospheric, but there are plenty of deals, especially once you decamp from the Strip.
The French restaurant run by Alessandro Stratta (an F&W Best New Chef 1994) is luxe, even if you don't order the seven-course menu. But if you do, push the experience completely over-the-top by getting the accompanying wine pairings. The terrific yellowtail tartare, for instance, will be served with the 1998 Charles Ellner Cuvée Prestige Champagne, a combination chosen by sommelier Paolo Barbieri (who is also the winemaker of CBIC Santa Barbara County's Barbieri Wine Company). Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-770-3300.
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's first Vegas endeavor, which opened in April, features some of the most popular dishes from the pair's terrific New York City spots like Babbo and Del Posto—mint-and-lamb-sausage-stuffed pasta "love letters" and veal chop with porcini mushrooms and escarole. The powerhouse almost- all-Italian list (the French Champagnes are the exception) has five pages of Barolos, like an exquisite 1974 Borgogno Riserva. The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-266-9977.
The Bellagio: The Best Hotel for Wine
The Bellagio This hotel may not have Vegas's deepest cellars, but with some 50,000 bottles in inventory for its 13 restaurants, the selection is extraordinary. At the sublime Picasso, for instance, Robert Smith's 10,000-bottle cellar includes impossible-to-get finds like the 2003 Kistler Cuvée Elizabeth Occidental Pinot Noir and esoterica like the 1999 Meyer-Näkel Dornfelder. No one is better at special requests than wine director Rob Bigelow, who presides over Bellagio's 18 sommeliers. When a guest preordered a magnum of 1997 Screaming Eagle—which Screaming Eagle no longer had in stock—the winery poured two regular bottles into a larger one and shipped it off. "We haven't been stumped yet," Bigelow says. 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-693-8105.
At this casual restaurant that doubles as a wine shop, Sonny Ahuja, former co-owner of Nevada Wine Cellar, specializes in approachable picks priced just above retail, like the 2005 Barrel 27 Syrah for $25. Corkage is free, so diners can choose wines from shelves by the tables to drink with succulent roast chicken, say, or one of the "phazanis"—pizza dough stuffed with items like asparagus, prosciutto and Fontina and baked in the wood oven. The beer list is impressive, too, with options like Canada's Trois Pistoles dark ale. 8751 W. Charleston Blvd.; 702-363-2538.
Located in the Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace, this is the first outpost outside Paris for the Michelin three-star chef, and it may be the most expensive room in town: The Prestige tasting menu starts at $290, and that's without wine. Savoy's modern French menu includes classics like his indulgent artichoke-and-black-truffle soup; the wine list is massive and French-dominated, with splurges like the 2001 Henri Jayer Cros-Parantoux ($4,055) as well as deals like the 2002 Vincent Girardin Corton-Perrières ($113). The new Champagne bar offers the opportunity to try the little-known Louis de Sacy Grand Cru. Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-731-7286.
Lotus of Siam
Set in a dingy strip mall, this no-frills joint consistently gets raves for Saipin Chutima's cooking, often called the best Thai in the country. It's also popular with wine lovers (like critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.), who stop by for the 350-bottle list by Bank Atcharawan, with its endless pages of hard-to-get German Rieslings. One exceptional pairing: Emrich-Schönleber Kabinett and nam kao tod, crispy rice with chile and minced sausage. 953 E. Sahara Ave.; 702-735-3033.
The draw at Marché Bacchus is $10 corkage—with bottles like the 2003 Marcassin Three Sisters Chardonnay ($167) in the cooler, that means some of the best deals in town. The quirky bistro and wine store specializes in classic French dishes like cassoulet packed with pork, duck and sausage, as well as smoked-salmon crêpes, excellent with the 1997 Leroy Bourgogne Blanc ($33). 2620 Reggata Dr.; 702-804-8008.
On Sundays, the bottles at this low-key storefront are half-price, making cult choices like the 2004 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir a veritable steal at $62. Sundays are also the unofficial industry night: Local sommeliers line up at the bar for chef-owner Michael Jordan's New Orleans–inspired dishes, like striped bass with andouille-and-potato hash. 8125 W. Sahara Ave.; 702-869-2251.
Not many steak house wine lists devote more pages to white Burgundy than California Cabernet. But Stripsteak's does, thanks to Rajat Parr, wine director for chef Michael Mina's restaurant group, who helped sommelier Bernabe De Luna Lopez assemble the wide-ranging cellar. To match the steaks, which are slow-poached in butter before being seared over a wood flame, there are familiar names like Napa's Caymus Cabernet, while aromatic whites like the 2005 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés from Argentina are ideal with fresh oysters and grilled lobster. Don't miss the "Secrets" section, with sommelier picks like the 2002 Schubert Syrah from Martinborough, New Zealand. Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-632-7414.
Valley Cheese & Wine
This cozy new store, located some 12 miles southeast of the Strip in Henderson, is owned by Kristin Sande and Bob Howald, who met at a cheese conference. Sande stocks rarities like the Wisconsin cave-aged Italian country–style cheese Trumpeter Meadow; Howald oversees a well-edited selection of wines, including Sine Qua Non's The Rejuvenators, a 1994 Kalin Chardonnay and an entire aisle of dry rosés ("perfect for this area," he says, because they're so refreshing in the desert heat). 1770 W. Horizon Ridge Pwky., Henderson; 702-341-8191.