The Coast News Group
Keith Rolle, right, of Gianni Buonomo winery in Ocean Beach, introduced the latest Blaufrankisch, 2015, with a gourmet three-course dinner catered by Zafferano with chef/owner Max Farina pairing perfect cuisine. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: In Sin City, wine prices are a sin

It had been four years since I set foot on the strip in Las Vegas … Disneyland for Adults, Sin City and all that. It’s the city that never sleeps. I can vouch for that, I am still getting over the Vegas hangover. Each year, over 40 million people visit this pleasure mecca.  A cabbie told me this: about 8,000 cabs and ride-share vehicles are on the street on a given Saturday night. I checked in at the Venetian-Palazzo hotel combo and snagged a spacious two-level suite with a view of the strip on the 43rd floor for just a few bucks more than the basic suite. But like most hotels in Vegas, the recently enforced “resort fee” with amenities that I never used, shot up the cost of the room so there was no bargain to smile about.

A personal five-day direct check of who is coming to Vegas, breaks down to a huge number of Millennials and Baby Boomers. Boomers flock to the casinos, concerts and buffet restaurants, Millennials in large groups soiree over to the lounges and revealing parties.

It was quickly apparent that the restaurant scene was showing some wear, at least at the Palazzo. A once-excellent steak house, Delmonico’s, owned by celebrity chef Emeril LaGasse, was fading into oblivion. Sure, I could if I had countless hours to spare, find the latest and gaudiest restaurants with their over-the-top wine prices, which leads me to the point of this column. Restaurant wine prices in Vegas restaurants are shocking. Would you pay $375 for a nondescript 2013 bottle of Napa Valley wine? 

With frustration building at these 400% to 500% markups, I asked a Palazzo service employee where she would go for a fairly priced bottle of wine, and her answer surprised me. So here is your key to value wines on the Las Vegas strip.

Next to the Palazzo and just about all the hotels on the strip are drug stores like Walgreen and CVS.  Each of these drug stores has a wine department with a world of choices, especially in the $15 to $30 range. After several choices, my favorite was the Sonoma Rodney Strong 2014 Merlot for $20. Party in your room, or take it to a restaurant for an acceptable corkage fee. I found that $20 is the going rate to open the bottle, refill the glass as needed and chat with the Sommelier about wine. Next time you’re in Vegas, play it smart and walk into a restaurant with your own wine.

Blaufrankisch easier to love than pronounce

Alright, first thing to know is the name.

So here it is broken down by sound: Blou-frank-ish. You are now qualified to purchase and enjoy this fascinating red wine with smooth tannins, an earthy old world quality on the nose and bright fruit forward flavor, all the way to the finish. This grape originated in Austria and grows nicely in the state of Washington where Keith Rolle discovered its virtues and brought it to his winery in the Ocean Beach district of San Diego.

A few weeks ago he staged a 2015 Blaufrankisch Appreciation Day Party and Dinner that sold out!

“This is a rare varietal from Austria and we’re the only producer of Blaufrankisch in Southern California,” Rolle pointed out. “You may know that this same grape in Washington is called Lemberger but that sounded like stinky cheese so we stayed with Blaufrankisch. After a few practice pronunciations, you’ll get it right, then you’ll buy it.” ($39)

Wine Bytes

• West End Bar & Kitchen in Del Mar presents A Tuscan Night with Banfi Wines on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. Banfi is the most award-winning wine in Italy, a legend. Here you enjoy a five-course dinner with some of the latest-release great wines from Banfi, including Brunello di Montalcino. An added attraction is the humor and charm of Banfi’s Ambassador, Luciano Castiello. Cost is $70 per person. Call now at (858) 259-5878.

• Banfi wines continue the next day, Friday Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. with a Super Tuscan wine dinner at Villa Capri in Carmel Valley. A five-course dinner awaits you with a unique Italian style dinner and Banfi Ambassador Luciano Castiello. Cost is $65 per person. Reserve your seats by calling (858) 720-8777 for full details.

• A DAOU six-course wine dinner is being planned by Oceanside’s 333 Pacific Restaurant, Friday Sept. 13 with reds and whites from the leading winery in Paso Robles. Enjoy cuisine from surf to turf highlighted by a dry aged New York strip steak. Tickets are $90 each and available at

• South Coast Winery Resort & Spa has their annual Grape Stomp Sun. Sept. 15 from 5 to 9 p.m. Winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores will appear and offer top quality wines with a gourmet buffet with the friendly competition of the Grape Stomp. Prizes for the best stomp team. Live music and a Harvest Blessing are planned. General admission ticket is $85 and can be purchased at You can also call in at (866) 204-5896.

• Missed out on last weekend’s Orfila Grape Stomp and feeling left out? Check out their ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Oceanside location at 221 N. Cleveland St.  Festivities are Sept. 7 from noon to 9 p.m., with a grape stomp competition from 2 to 2:30 p.m. and ribbon cutting ceremony at 3 p.m. Premium wines will be available for purchase by glass, tastings and bottles. This is a free of charge event. Details at (760) 755-7040.