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Tasting tips: A Strip somm tells you how to maximize your UNLVino experience

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UNLVino’s Grand Tasting is this Saturday at the Paris.

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UNLVino Grand Tasting
April 20, 7-10 p.m., $125-$150
Paris Las Vegas, 777-7776

It might be a fancy fundraiser attracting the who’s who of Las Vegas, but the monumental wine tasting event that serves as the anchor of the four-day UNLVino is also known to become a big, drunken party. Get sloshed if you want, but a little restraint and strategy can turn Saturday’s Grand Tasting into an exceptional educational experience. The Weekly chatted up Evan Hufford, sommelier at L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon, to get you some top-flight tasting tips.

Plan your attack. The booths with the most popular labels and hottest bottles will be swarmed. Take a look at the list of producers (at UNLVino.com) and identify the ones you want to taste the most, and hit them up early. “Otherwise you’ll end up getting stuck at one booth,” Hufford says.

Swirl, sniff, sip ... then spit. Seriously. It might seem weird, but it’s not. “If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those things that might be awkward. But I assure you, to the professionals and those in the industry, you almost look silly not spitting.” Hufford recommends swallowing only a tiny amount of each wine you taste “to get the full finish.” But if you really want to maximize your experience, spit out the rest and move on.

Start with the light stuff. “Definitely start with sparkling and white wines, especially if you plan on tasting some bigger, heavier reds that can really dry your mouth out. Those can stick on your palate for quite some time, almost like eating spicy food builds up over time.”

Feel free to switch it up. Going back and forth between contrasting reds—for example, a bold cabernet to a lighter pinot noir—will display the wines’ differences and complexities in a delicious way. “It can be like a light bulb going off in your head. It’s actually a really useful way I train people, to blind taste two wines that are different in one key way. You really understand the difference in structure.”

Try something new. “Southern Italy is making interesting stuff these days, and the south of France is really coming along with people starting to look beyond the Bordeauxes and Burgundies. And in California, I would say the Rhône varieties from the central coast are definitely something to look out for. Their Rhône-style blends of grenache are starting to show really well.”

Save the booze for later. Make that whiskey your nightcap, unless you want to kill your tastebuds. “That fire will stay on your palate and definitely ruin experiencing any wine afterwards.”

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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