The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 63 of 132

{ } 47 Carbone, Las Vegas, Nevada Hristian Iliev, Head Sommelier During Hristian Iliev's childhood in Varna, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea coast, his grand- father and father both made wine for home consumption. This gave the future somm an early impression that "wine makes people happy." But his journey to a career in the industry encountered some twists in the road. Iliev first came to Minnesota as a 16-year-old involved in Scouting and na - ture, and "got the idea that [he] wanted to move here." His chance came later when he was playing guitar in a hardcore band and a friend in the underground music scene invited him to Las Vegas. "I never thought I would stay here," admits Iliev. All of that changed when he was introduced to "a very charismatic" Italian Master Sommelier named Angelo Tavernaro, a lu - minary of the Vegas restaurant scene who had selected wines for the likes of legends like Frank Sinatra. "He brought the passion back into me," says Iliev. After feeling more firmly set on his career path, Iliev helped open restaurant and lounge miX by Alain Ducasse in 2004. "Wine is constant education, constant learning," says Iliev, "and at miX, I got the chance to work with some great som - meliers and with a great wine program of 2,500 labels." He stayed with Ducasse for eight years, then moved on to open Carbone in 2015. The New York–based concept by Mario Carbone and partners (with locations in Vegas, Manhattan, and Hong Kong) pays homage to the Italian-American restau - rants of the mid-20th century, showcasing 1950s and '60s classics complete with showmanship-driven tableside service. The wine list at Carbone Las Vegas, which is about 60 percent Italian, is entirely Iliev's creation. "I started with 550 labels; now I have 750," he notes. "It took me a year to grow to the level that I have now." GAJA, unsurprisingly, plays a huge role. "For me, GAJA was always the most important Italian wine producer," says the somm. "I remember having the 1982 GAJA Barbaresco and being amazed. GAJA is all over the list at Carbone—I have all their Italian whites. What I like about GAJA is the variety of formats available, from half bottles to 750s, from magnums to five-liter bottles." "When you put so much energy into building a list, you feel very attached to it," continues Iliev. "I'm happy with what has been created at Carbone, and I love being part of it." Grand Award of Excellence Winner: DA MARCO, TEXAS — Nominated by Blake Cooper (Republic National Distributing Company, TX) Award of Excellence Winners: CARBONE, NEVADA — Nominated by Stuart Roy (Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, NV) AMORE RISTORANTE, FLORIDA — Nominated by Francesco Balzano (Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, FL) ANGELINA'S KITCHEN, MINNESOTA — Nominated by Jari Kosola (Johnson Brothers, MN) CORDEVALLE, CALIFORNIA — Nominated by Joshua Mix (Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Northern California) THE ELBOW ROOM AT FIDDLER'S ELBOW COUNTRY CLUB, NEW JERSEY — Nominated by Michele Zuckerman (Fedway Associates, NJ) THE ITALIAN BARREL, LOUISIANA — Nominated by Karen Stone (Republic National Distributing Company, LA) Hristian Iliev shows off a variety of GAJA wines in different bottle formats. "GAJA is all over the list at Carbone," says the somm. PHOTO: MONA SHIELD PAYNE PHOTO: MONA SHIELD PAYNE "I love GAJA's straight- up Barbaresco," says Hristian Iliev. "A recent bottle of the 1997 showed elegant notes of dried strawberry and raspberry, as well as the pleasant and unique presence of truffles. Aromas of tree sap, dried sage, thyme, and savory create a complex picture of an amazing wine. The tannins were well-integrated and the acid was still vibrant in this elegant expression of Nebbiolo!"

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