I was reluctant to get too excited about dining out in Las Vegas. I mean, I knew I could definitely pick out a restaurant that had interesting food and a great wine list (I had volunteered for the task), but would the pretentiousness kill the experience? I am totally over the whole pretentious dining thing. I somehow managed to whittle down the choices to about five options. Then I found that one in my list was an Italian restaurant owned by the co-author (Joe Bastianich) of my very favorite book on Italian wine regions (Vino Italiano). So I decided to go with it, Enoteca San Marco. I have to say, I was not disappointed. I didn’t feel an air of pretension coming from anywhere.
About one kilometer deep into the Venetian in Las Vegas, sits Enoteca San Marco on the far edge of “Piazza San Marco,” a faux (Las Vegas-syle) plaza, suggested by: a gelato stand, a fountain, the leaning tower of Qualcosa, and! my favorite: a beautifully painted Roman sky.
The sky (while it’s true what my co-worker receptively pointed out, “It seems to be every time of day simultaneously in that sky,”) actually resembled the sky in Rome (wait, aren’t we supposed to be in Venice?), which (even today!) looks exactly like the skies depicted in all those Renaissance paintings…
I settled into my chair, opened the wine list, and while I might not have seemed relaxed, was totally at ease. And I was ready to sit there and make the waiter work. (Come on! They’ve got to justify their 300-400% of retail prices somehow! Someone’s got to impress me!)
Long story short, I finally chose a wine (after Mr. Waiter tried to enlighten me on the difference between a simple Dolcetto and a Langhe Nebbiolo… Please!? But I did appreciate the generosity of the samples so I played along). I decided on a 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria* called Pithos from Azienda Agricola COS.
[Note to self: do NOT try the most esoteric thing on the menu when picking out something everyone at the table will like.]
This wine smelled corked. But it wasn’t. That wasn’t exactly reassuring enough to me, however. The wine, the waiter had warned me, was aged inside terra cotta vats under the ground. He said it was floral and very interesting. All true. I had experience with this wine making method and seemed to enjoy its results in the past. But this one smelled like a dirty swimming pool! And while my cohorts said they loved it, I could not get past the aroma. There were some hints of flowers and spice with elegant red berry fruit. It had a pleasant refreshing finish so I knew it was not corked. But it just smelled plain bad…
I already had my heart set on ordering some cheese which I’ve never seen anywhere in the world but at the agriturismo I stay at in La Morra. The cheese is called Bozino something-or-other (which has since disappeared off their menu so I can’t remember the exact name but wow, was I lucky to be in the right place at the right time!?). Plus I added Bra Tenero and Burrata to the plate. I hadn’t ordered the cheese yet and I was trying to appreciate the COS but finally gave in to my usual Piemontese-preference and said to the waiter, “Just bring me a glass of that Produttori Langhe Nebbiolo 2007.” (An ol’ friend.) How could I NOT drink a Nebbiolo with my Bozino?
Oh lovely rose petals, smooth ripe red cherries, spicy fruitcake, all finishing up in a clean and refreshing way. Quite smooth for such a young Nebbiolo. Very well-made and ultimately approachable. ★
It couldn’t get any better really. Unless the waiter came by with some free wine…
And he did. He poured us each a glass out of a bottle that merely said Livio Felluga Vertigo.
He stood there proud of himself, looking at us intently, and my colleague said, “What is it!?” Meanwhile I was thinking, for some reason, Friuli (but then thought, “It’s too hot, too concentrated, but does remind me of Refosco…). He said, “Merlot,” so I said, “from Tuscany?” he said, “Yes! Wait, no, it’s from Friuli.” “Ha! I knew it!”
…Turns out the Livio Felluga Vertigo 2007, which he poured us is a Merlot (75%)-Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) blend from Friuli. This is an intense wine, full-bodied with aromas of currant, blackberries, and blueberries integrating those canonical Italian liquorice and herb flavors. Bellissimo! ★
I’d definitely go back to that restaurant if or when I find myself in Vegas again. But in the meantime will save my ca$h for the real place… where la dolce vita is guaranteed to be authentic.
* Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a wine from Sicily which gained DOCG status in 2005. This style is confirmed to have officially started in 1606 but has roots reaching farther back in history. Two amphorae were discovered in Pompeii during the last century with the initials ME and MES painted on them. This corresponds to an area in Siciliy between two rivers long used for wine production near the settlements of Kamarina and Siracusa. This area is where modern Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced. It is, by law, made of Nero d’Adola (50-70%) and Frappato nero (30-50%).