The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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I t's no surprise that Vegas is a big wine town—in fact, the bigger, the better, especially when it comes to Napa Valley Cabs. But The Strip doesn't have the corner on quality wines, as evidenced by the extensive wine list at Grape Street, an off-Strip Italian restaurant that offers over 100 wines by the bottle, and 50 to 60 by the glass. THE TASTING PANEL wanted to see how one winery in particular is stealing the show in Vegas, so we invited a veritable Vegas vino expert to be our guide: After 14 years working at the Bellagio, including a five-year stint as the Lead Sommelier at Michael Mina, and as Director of Wine for MGM Grand Resort and Casino, Joseph Phillips is now the Director of Wine Education at Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, where Levendi wines are among his most successful sellers. Now, with experience on both the buying and selling side of wine, Phillips can offer a unique perspective as to how a portfolio like Levendi's is a good fit for Vegas. As a buyer, Levendi was a blind-tasting winner for Phillips: "I would sit down with my sommelier team at Craft Steak and we would brown-bag wines, go through blind tastings," Phillips said. "They over-deliver for their price range, to where they are 'glassable' for many restaurants on The Strip, which is really nice." As an educator presenting Levendi to accounts, Phillips is quick to tell the brand's story to accounts. "Levendi is a very versatile brand," says Phillips, pointing to winemaker Alison Green-Doran's blending techniques as a particular boon for the brand. Green-Doran has made a name for herself in Napa for more than 30 years, but at Levendi, she's honed her craft into a style all her own, harvesting at optimum ripeness and working to get "pop and jump" out of every grape. Despite Levendi's powerhouse abilities, it isn't just for the Big Name Strip joints: At family-owned and -operated Grape Street, Wine Buyer Bobby Merfy finds that Levendi fits his goal of creating a "Strip-quality wine list without Strip-pricing" perfectly. "These are great wines," he says earnestly. "They over- deliver on the price point and offer our clientele the chance to taste something they maybe haven't had before." Phillips and Merfy sat down to taste the Levendi 2009 Sweetwater Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, made from 100% barrel-select Cab from Rutherford and Oak Knoll–sourced grapes. "It is a very meat-driven, robust wine and pairs very well with many dishes." While the wine is well-served with many of the pasta dishes at Grape Street, Phillips points to steaks, braised shortribs and lamb as epic pairings at Craft Steak and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon on the strip. Phillips was also happy to see the Levendi 2010 Symphonia on the list at Grape Street, an offering Merfy was particularly pleased to share with his guests. "It's a very rich and well- balanced wine," he said, "and I love that they hold their wines back before release. I'm a huge fan of that practice, and it gives great quality control to the end result." But ultimately for Merfy, Levendi's big on over-delivering. "The fact that I can pour a 2009 Napa Cab of that quality for my guests by the glass is incredible," he says. "For that price, it's one of the best Napa Cabs out there." Lift a Glass for Levendi Anyone who's ever been to an art museum knows that the Greeks had a thing for good wine. This tradition has lived on in the Gianulias family for decades, but has taken root in Napa since 1926. The winery's name refers to a classic Greek toast celebrating life and a day's hard labor achieved. It is an homage to the fields, the rain and the sun, all of which bring forth the beauty of Levendi's grapes. Southern Wine & Spirits Director of Wine Education Joseph Phillips enjoys a glass of Levendi wine with Bobby Merfy, Wine Buyer at Grape Street in Las Vegas.

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