Finding the best wine and dine value in Vegas

Sure it’s a tough economy and no tougher than for the upscale restaurant business. I get an outpouring of e-mails and coupons promoting special pricing and credits to attract the shrinking consumer discretionary dollar.
Many of these restaurants tell me “the bar is keeping us alive,” and that’s where a lot of the deals and “small-portion with wine flights” marketing is going.
Wine/dine linkups are an added value restaurant perk not to be missed.
No better example of this strategy is the Las Vegas Strip and the palatial newer hotels: Wynn Resorts and Encore, the side-by-side gleaming beauties built by Steve Wynn; and Palazzo and the five-diamond Venetian, owned by Sheldon Adelson. I wanted to find out how a well-known dining establishment of some 10 years is able to hold its own with the newcomers, so I called on The Venetian’s Canaletto, the largest restaurant at the hotel.
Canaletto is part of the Il Fornaio chain and has an old world sophisticated charm about it. It is a favorite of the Hollywood set, with recent guests that included Sean Connery and Goldie Hawn. The view from some window tables is that of the Venetian’s Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square. Multiple small dining rooms, with old world décor, enhance the Italian experience.
I asked how business was after all the stories that Las Vegas has endured a severe drop in tourism. Chef Pittia, who was carefully crafting a wine/food pairing of popular elements of the “primi” portion of the menu, answered, “Canaletto gets better with age, just like good wine. We provide a reasonably priced homemade menu with old world Italian artistry.” Indeed the two menu items — Risotto Funghi with oysters, mushrooms and beef tenderloin, and the Gnocchi Castra with potato dumplings, lamb ragu, pecorino cheese and red wine — both matched up remarkably with the Machievelli 2003 Chianto Classico.
“This is the atmosphere of Venice like nowhere else in the world except for the city itself,” declared Darren Chini, the on-duty manager. “Please tell your readers we have just opened the newest Canaletto in Newport Beach at Fashion Island in Southern California.” By keeping the quality consistently high along with surprisingly reasonable pricing for such a spectacular location, Caneletto is not only surviving, it’s thriving as the Venetian experience.
For a special occasion, consider the selection of four complete group menus, all artfully blended in five courses, from “anti pasti” (appetizers) to “dolci” (dessert).
There is more to the story and you can get it at www.ilfornaio.com.
German Rieslings flourish in the New World
Warm weather is just about here, so it isn’t too soon to begin the search for the ultimate cool-down white wine that still tastes like wine. Many of the refreshing thirst-quenching whites are just pale images of their heavier bodied cousins, like Chardonnay and Viognier.
For a garden variety white that makes a statement, I go to a few favorite varietals, and Riesling is at the top of my list. Riesling is the national wine of Germany. Its Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region has the steepest vineyards in the world along the Mosel River, which cuts through the German hillsides until it gets to the Rhine River near the town of Koblenz. Climate conditions are rough on the grapes as it is the most northern of the growing grounds in Germany, so most vineyards are planted facing south. The Riesling is a naturally sweet grape with its own mineral taste. Alcohol content is a low 8 percent to 12 percent.
If you are looking for a German native Riesling, look no further than Dr. Loosen with its citrus flavor accenting the stone and slate sleekness that has made this name famous. Closer to home, Chateau St. Michelle and Dr. Loosen collaborated to fashion a “new world” Riesling from western Washington’s Columbia Valley which is the envy of most old world types. The wine, Eroica, named for Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, has Germany’s Ernst Loosen and St. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau creating a best-of-class example of top shelf Riesling at a winery price of $25 for the 2007.
An even more exciting piece of Riesling news is the success of Falkner Winery in Temecula with its 2007 Riesling. It took a gold medal in the most recent San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. Price is just $16.95. Find out more at www.falknerwinery.com.
Wine Bytes
— A barbecue and blessing of the vines will take place at South Coast Winery Resort and Spa from 4 to 7 p.m. April 19. Live jazz music accompanies. Take the processional tour through the vines. The cost is $40 per person. RSVP is required. Call (951) 587-9463, ext. 7210 for details.
— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road will be offering its Top Ten Tastings for under $10 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 pm. April 25. The cost is just $5. Find out more at (858) 586-WINE.
— A music and wine festival in North County featuring a Neil Diamond tribute band, great wines, a silent auction and culinary stars is set for 6 to 9 p.m. April 25 at North County Fair Shopping Center in Escondido. The cost is $75 and it benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego. At last count there were 50 wineries and 30 restaurants committed. Optional VIP favors available. Call (858) 578-9463 or visit www.rhythmandvine.org for tickets and information.
— Wine Vault near Little Italy in San Diego presents an Andrew Geoffrey Winery six-year “vertical” with a six-course dinner beginning with a reception at 4 p.m. and a dinner at 5 p.m. April 26. The cost is $59.50 per person. Call (619) 295-3939 to RSVP.
— The Palmina Winery of Santa Barbara County and its winemaker owners will be spotlighted at Vivace at Four Seasons Resort Aviara starting at 6:30 p.m. May 1. Palmina celebrates the Italian style of rustic small lot winemaking and food. A five-course dinner by Chef Bryant Wigger will cost $85 per person. Call (760) 603-3773 to RSVP.

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