Full-flavored festival: UNLVino to feature Champagne, sake, wine and craft beer

The headliners of this month’s UNLVino wine and food festival are all heady, but that’s about all they have in common. The three-day benefit for students in the university’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality will launch like a runaway Champagne cork with Bubble-Licious on April 11 and take on a Japanese accent with Sake Fever on April 12. The April 13 culmination, the traditional Grand Tasting, will showcase wine along with spirits
and craft beer. UNLVino started in 1974 with a wine tasting in the warehouse of Southern Wine & Spirits (now Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits). Bubble-Licious, which this year will be at the Keep Memory Alive Events Center in Symphony Park, followed in 2004, and Sake Fever, at Red Rock Resort, about five years later. All of the events also have food components.

Joe Phillips, a master sommelier who is director of wine for Southern Glazer’s, said the first addition was a natural because “everybody likes sparkling wine.”

Sake Fever got its start because Southern Glazer’s senior managing director Larry Ruvo predicted
its increasing popularity.

“It’s been a growing category for a long time,” Phillips said. “It’s an opportunity for us to feature a lot of the really good Asian cuisine that’s available in our city, and to … partner with these places. And have a
chance to feature sake by itself.”

That’s only fitting, since sake is unlike wine, sparkling or otherwise, or beer, Phillips said. Beer is made with grains such as barley or wheat, which must be sprouted in order to ferment. Sake is made with rice that is polished in a process that prevents it from sprouting. After polishing, washing and soaking, the rice is steamed, then the mold spore koji-kin, or aspergillus, is added to release the enzymes and break down the starches.

While produced in different ways, sake and sparkling wines have some things in common.

“There are a lot of wine-based products with added fruit flavors,” he said. “It’s coming from all over the world. You see it from a producer from the prosecco region — moscato-based wines with added flavorings such as peach, mango, citrus — a lot of these beautiful tropical flavors.”

The sources of the fruits differ with some sourcing actual fruit and others relying on essences or flavorings. And
fruit-flavored sake is commonly found in Japan.

“There’s a whole section of it,” Phillips said. “It comes in everything from Japanese flavors like yuzu to things that
are more Western. The company Tyku has a whole line of flavorings. It’s a company that has a very long history of brewing in Japan.”

Phillips recently tasted Tyku cucumber and was impressed. “It’s gorgeous,” he said. “You pour it over ice, throw a
little mint in and it’s ready to go.”

Flavored wines have yet to make an appearance, but Phillips said there’s definitely a resurgence of sweet wines.

“That stuff’s on fire,” he said. “Everybody is making versions of it. It’s taking that crowd that loved the white Zinfandels.”

But while white Zinfandel has been considered in some quarters a beginners’ wine, Phillips said the appeal of the newer sweet wines is more widespread and even includes serious wine drinkers — such as a master sommelier.

“A nice moscato at the end of the day?” he said. “It’s pretty refreshing.” unlvino.com