Monday, August 27, 2012

Escape from Douchebaggery, Part 27: Rio Wine Cellar and Tasting Room

Despite the fact that if you drink enough of it, it will get you just as messed up any other beverage out there, wine has been romanticized as the classiest, most worldly, most gosh-darned civilized of all alcoholic substances.

Critically acclaimed and Oscar winning movies like Sideways (which is essentially about a sad and pathetic drunk) keep the perception that wine is for smart and informed drinkers going strong. Knowing a lot about wine makes you sophisticated, as opposed to a pretentious alcoholic.

This, by the way, is not a criticism of wine or the way it's perceived. I just find the perception interesting. But I love a good Red and I enjoy wine tasting at lovely vineyards in the beautiful Napa or Santa Barbara Valleys. I'll admit to swishing the wine glass around and smelling it before sipping even though I don't really know what I'm talking about. We're all "that guy" sometimes.

The best place to be "that guy" in Las Vegas is in Rio's Wine Cellar and Tasting Room, a hidden mecca for Oenophiles. I'd heard that the off-Strip resort historically had a great reputation with wine lovers as one of the first Las Vegas hotels to stockpile an impressive wine cellar in the 90's. But I'd also heard that reputation came from the days when the Marnell family (who now run the boutique M Resort south of The Strip) owned the place, before selling it off to Harrah's in 1999.

But I was tipped off by a recent piece in one of my favorite Sin City travel sites, VegasChatter, that the resort's semi-secret Wine Cellar was worth a visit. And as is often the case with the snarky but never mean blog, the recommendation was right on the money.

The place pulls off the look and feel of a real old timey cellar perfectly, with cave-like stone walls, wood paneling, and leather seats to sink into as you sip on offerings on hand. And offerings they have aplenty, as the Cellar and tasting room carries over 50,000 bottles valued at a total of $10 million. Some of these bottles are hundreds of years old and costs tens of thousands of dollars. They even feature a Madeira owned from 1800 owned by Thomas Jefferson (which leads me to question why T.J. never popped the cork and drank it, but I digress, as is my style), valued at... a lot more money than you can afford. So don't knock it over if you don't want to be sentenced to 40 years hard labor washing dishes in the back of The Rio.

While all of these fancy schmancy bottles sound intimidating, they also sell plenty of great varieties for $10 or less. The place offers reasonably priced tastings where you can sample some interesting vintages from all over the globe, which can be paired with cheese and cured meat platters if you're feeling fancy (and trying to impress a girl, which I may or may not have been during my visit). Their selection was deep, as I found a few bottles from Napa wineries I love like Duckhorn and Artesa . (I'm not name-dropping to show off my Wine knowledge. The fact that they had Wines I recognized is a testament to their depth of selection, not to my depth of knowledge. I don't know much about how to choose a wine beyond the "this tastes good in my mouth" test.)

The extremely friendly staff also pours over 100 wines by the glass, so you can enjoy a full serving of anything that really blows your mind. The girl who poured our drinks was knowledgeable without being pretentious and made us feel welcome, where I've felt intimidated in some tasting rooms in the past. I basically considered her to be my wing-lady and tipped her generously.

There are a whole lot of nooks and crannies in the place where you can get lost and have a deep conversation with a special someone before browsing the aisles of bottles you'll never be able to afford. But you can joke about coming back one day to buy a $30,000 Cabernet once you're married and have made your millions. Believe me, it's a good strategy. Call it wine porn.

If you're looking to find a hidden and romantic spot off the beaten Strip path, Rio's Wine Cellar and Tasting Room is a classy choice. Even if you get wasted there. Just try not to break Thomas Jefferson's 200 year old Wine when you do.

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