My flight of Pinot Noir at the RioWe Las Vegas locals as a group rarely go to the Strip. Unless we’re there for business, have an overwhelming need to spend too much money on restaurant food, have relatives in town, or want to hit one of the buffets, we just stay away. For the most part, we can find just as good a quality of items at some of the “locals” or “off-Strip” properties as on the megaresorts on the Strip. The official name of the Strip, by the way, is Las Vegas Blvd. And I’m not a “Stripper.”  Get it?

To make up for the Caesar’s Palace fiasco of a few weeks ago, The Fam and I decided to go to the Rio for the Village Seafood Buffet. If you love everything that’s swum in water at some time, this is the place to be.

The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino is located west of the Strip on Flamingo Road. While not exactly a locals casino, it is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The food offerings are good, the rooms are reasonable – they don’t call it “All Suites” for nothing – and the entertainment is top-notch. Go see Penn & Teller. Bring your brain.

After greedily inhaling all things swimmy, we left the buffet to decide what to do next. The Fam wanted to go play some slots. Well, the last time I played slots, I ended up giving about forty of my hard-earned dollars to Caesar’s with absolutely no winning occurring. At all. So I decided to go to The Wine Cellar instead.

It was the perfect thing for me to do. First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s located just steps from the Buffet; its wrought-iron façade lending a bit of sophistication to the casino floor.Walking down the curved wrought iron and brass staircase is almost like taking a trip to the Old World. The “Cellar” itself has stone-clad walls, lots of wood furniture, and a very long tasting bar. There are bottles of wine for sale, and some of the prices are quite reasonable, especially for being such a “high end” place. I didn’t have my “good” camera with me, so I took photos with my iPhone. Not as good as the $$$ camera, but not too bad. Take a look at the YouTube video that I uploaded just for this visit.

I took at seat at the wine bar, but I really hadn’t planned on doing much other than looking through the menu. I figured the prices would be outrageous and I’d settle for a glass of something inexpensive. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had flights of wine, and the flights ranged from about $22 (wine of the day) to $70.00 (Silver Oak, Caymus, etc.)

I decided on the $40 Pinot Noir flight. The Zinfandel flight didn’t have a single wine from Paso, so I passed.

With that being said, Hung Nguyen, the Wine Manager at The Wine Cellar, said that the menu changes according to the availability of the wine. One of the wines on the Pinot Noir list, for example, only sent about four cases to the Rio. Next month, it probably won’t be on the menu, but it will be replaced by something else equally delicious.

In addition to the variety of wine flights, which include whites, sparkling wines, and reds, there is also a category called Wood-Aged Spirits. A relatively recent offering of flights of Scotch and flights of Cognacs, they will be offering Bourbon and artisan Whiskey in the near future. Can’t wait!  Flights are wonderful ways to spend a little time tasting wines – or spirits – that are new to you without purchasing a bottle of something unknown.

Each wine flight is accompanied by a basket of mixed breads and water, a welcome addition to the taster for cleansing the palate between wines.

The Flight

Rio wine flight menuThe Pinot Flight 9 is called “Strawberry Fields…Forever.” There were four wines poured.

1. 2009 Sherwood Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand

Beautiful legs. Huge cherries, raspberries, smoke, dust. Intense, mouthwatering acidity, cigar smoke, cherries, allspice. Medium, drooly finish. About a half hour later with some air, the true Pinot nose suddenly came through and the acidity was tamed quite a bit. I went from not sure if I liked it to really liking it. I’d give it a year to settle. 13% Alc.

2. 2011 Evening Land, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Much more subdued nose than the NZ. Raspberries, some black cherries, white pepper, spice box. Good acidity, not so punishing to my tongue as the Sherwood. Dark berry fruit, pepper, earth. Very, very young and needs time. About a half hour after opening, not a lot of changes. Very typical of an Oregon Pinot. 12.6% Alc.

3. 2009 Emeritus, Halberg Ranch

Black cherries, tobacco, earth elements, allspice. Gentle acidity, elicited a “yum.” The palate reflected the nose. After about a half hour, a bit of cream developed on the nose, along with a touch of marzipan. This is a beautiful food wine. Think pan-seared, wild-caught salmon with capers. 14.1% Alc.

4. 2009 Louis Latour, Pommard

OMG. I’m such an Old World junkie, and this didn’t disappoint. With that being said, this does seem to be more of the “new style” of Old World wines that have as many fruit characteristics as they do earth characteristics. Nose of dust, earth, cherries, leather, and memories. Softer and with less acidity than the other wines, it’s gentler on the tongue and brings the silkiness that is the hallmark of Pinot Noir. After about a half hour, “warmth” developed on the nose (is that a descriptor?) This wine would pair beautifully with a romantic evening and pan-seared duck breast. Almost an Eddie. Definitely a George. If it’d had a bit more Old World funkiness and barnyard, an Eddie it would have been! By the way, this was the last wine poured, but was the first wine finished. 13.5% Alc.

I had the opportunity to have a small taste of a 2008 Altus/Altvs Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lots of sediment! In the glass, its dark color was similar to a Petit Sirah, almost a purpley-black. Beautiful sexy legs, good viscosity. On the nose, there was lots of Cabernet going on – dark fruit, cassis, cherries, cigar box, and some definite dust.


Dark fruit, plums, leather, and a touch of sweet fruit and a sweet earthiness. Gentle but nonetheless assertive tannins; even I would know that this is a Cab! Delicious wine.

My opinion of The Wine Cellar? I will be back again. I liked the low-key, laid-back atmosphere, the beautiful surroundings, and the delicious wines. It does not feel like it’s in a casino in Las Vegas once you’re downstairs and seated at the bar or at a tasting table with friends. What’s more, I would be able to have a nice flight of wine even during my wallet-challenged times.

It was a nice afternoon – the Village Seafood Buffet and Pinot Noir. The only missing element was The Wineaux Guy. Guess where we’re going the next time he’s in town!

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