LAS VEGAS – Only one question remains following The 44th Annual UNLVino: How do you top that?

From the 1,926 red, white, and blue balloons released into the sky honoring “Chef of the Century” Paul Bocuse to the presentation of the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence and the final pour of the evening, Las Vegas’ original wine and food festival will be remembered as one of 2018’s most talked about entertainment experiences. 

Reimagined as a one-night-only affair for its 44th year, the event drew longtime fans and first timers eager to experience UNLVino’s unprecedented lineup of more than 130 world-class wines, spirits, and beers, along with 50 of Las Vegas’ most acclaimed chefs and restaurants, staged inside and outdoors at the stunning, Frank Gehry-designed Keep Memory Alive Event Center at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in downtown’s Symphony Park.

The Center proved to be the perfect setting for this year’s festival, allowing guests to “Take a Sip for Scholarship” while getting their fill of everything from Chef Rick Moonen’s Yellowtail Poke to Paid In Full’s addictive street corn and Chef Joe Isidori’s Cookie ‘N Cream Supreme Oreo Shake from the Venetian’s Black Tap restaurant. 

Among the celebrated chefs also participating in the evening were: Brian Howard (Sparrow + Wolf), Scott Conant (Masso Osteria), Brigette Contreras (STK), Charles Phan (The Slanted Door), Kaoru Azeuchi (Kaiseki Yuzu), Saipin Chutima (Lotus of Siam), Hubert Keller (Burger Bar), Terence Fong (Zenshin), and Paul Bartolotta (RISTORANTE BARTOLOTTA, dal 1993).

Throughout the evening, guests marveled at UNLVino’s most indulgent and Instagram-worthy experiences, such as America’s Got Talent winner Michael Grimm’s headlining performance, the thrilling sake barrel ceremony, Deep Eddy Vodka’s decorative mobile bar, Naked Fish’s 300-pound tuna, The Palazzo’s Aquatic Club “Treat Trike,” and the newest Palms offerings: Scotch 80 Prime and Intoxicologist Eric Hobbie’s S’Mores-scented libation “The Hef” from the soon-to-debut Camden Cocktail Lounge.  

UNLVino has always been an event “for the students, by the students” of UNLV’s renowned William F. Harrah College of Hospitality – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary – with all proceeds funding student scholarships. To honor the tradition, the evening’s festivities included several ceremonies to celebrate industry titans. 

“We’re looking into the future while paying tribute to the past and present role models who have inspired our students,” said Michael Severino, Senior Director of Special Events and Marketing for UNLVino’s first and largest sponsor, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada.

As the festivities began, participating chefs gathered with students from the school’s UNLVino class to honor the late Chef Paul Bocuse, famously celebrated as the “Pope of French Cuisine.” The 1,926 balloons released in his honor paid tribute to the year he was born, and were accompanied by the playing of the French national anthem. 

After sunset, guests gathered in front of the stage for a 21-cork salute celebrating longtime Las Vegas journalist and Cleveland Clinic supporter Robin Leach. The popping of the corks gave way to the presentation of the annual Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence to UNLV alum and pioneering gaming executive and Excalibur President and Chief Operating Officer Ann Hoff, who received a signed and framed chef’s jacket and a commemorative paver that will be placed in front of the hospitality college.

Minutes later, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada Senior Managing Director and Lou Ruvo Center founder Larry Ruvo took the stage to introduce the family of Nevada hospitality and business icon Donald Carano, recipient of the inaugural Dom Pérignon Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Beloved as a man whose name was synonymous with “taste, persistence, and excellence,” Ruvo paid tribute to Carano – who passed away in 2017 – as a man who “was never without family, friends, a lot of wine, good food, and a checkbook to help anybody. That’s what he did.”

Ruvo introduced Carano’s family – which included his wife Rhonda and granddaughter, actress and fitness model Gina Carano – before presenting them the award and a commemorative paver, ensuring the late businessman’s legacy will be enshrined for all time. 

Highlights of the evening can be seen at the Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada Instagram page, and more information on participants and honorees can be found at the UNLVino website. 

About UNLVino

From its humble beginnings in the Southern Wine & Spirits warehouse, the annual UNLVino has grown into Las Vegas’ premier wine tasting event with an emphasis on all aspects of the hospitality industry, and serves as the year’s largest scholarship fundraiser for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ William F. Harrah College of Hospitality students. Founded in 1974 by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits Senior Managing Director Larry Ruvo and former College of Hospitality dean Jerry Vallen, UNLVino began as a small wine tasting, with proceeds going to UNLV’s hotel college fund. Throughout its history, it has remained an event “by the students, for the students.” As UNLVino’s popularity grew, so too did its hosting venues, moving from the warehouse into UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, and eventually expanding to numerous Las Vegas resorts as fans and community sponsors took notice. Entering its 44th year, UNLVino has raised millions of dollars in scholarships and become one of the city’s must-attend events.   

About Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada is the state’s leading beverage distribution company. Founded in 1968 as Southern Wine & Spirits and headquartered in Miami, Florida, the organization later expanded to Nevada, where it operates in Las Vegas and Reno – strategic positioning that allows the distributor to meet customer demand statewide. In 2016, Southern Wine & Spirits completed its merger with Glazer’s, becoming North America’s largest wine and spirits distributor and the preeminent data insights company for alcoholic beverages.