Updated: March 2, 2017
"I consider fast food 'hospitality' just as much as three Michelin–star restaurants," says Harley Carbery, director of wine for iconic Las Vegas Strip hotels Mandalay Bay and Delano Las Vegas. "It doesn’t matter how much the guest is paying for something, they want the same thing: They want to be fed, and drink something good, and be happy when they leave."
Carbery’s philosophy reflects his humble beginnings in the food-and-beverage industry, working at the local Dairy Queen in his native British Columbia, but his résumé quickly took him well beyond fast food. After studying hospitality in college, Carbery, now 38, began working with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts across Canada, where his passion for wine took off.
But it was the lights and action of Sin City that really fired Carbery up: He would soon be named wine director for L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant at the MGM Grand. In 2013, he crossed the street to manage the wine programs for both Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Delano Las Vegas, including Grand Award–winning restaurant Aureole Las Vegas and Best of Award of Excellence winners Fleur by Hubert Keller, RIVEA Las Vegas and Stripsteak. Carbery spoke with Wine Spectator assistant editor Sara Heegaard about Canadian wine favorites, his proudest moment as a mentor, and why Las Vegas is one of the most underrated food-and-wine cities.
Wine Spectator: From Canada, what drew you to Las Vegas?
Harley Carbery: A very good friend of mine was working here at the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay, actually, and I came down to visit him, and he really talked me into it. I had been here once before, and I just fell in love with the dining scene and the massive buildings and restaurants, and then of course the wine—that was the biggest thing. Vegas, to me, was the epicenter of the wine world, and I wanted to be part of that.
WS: Many people think of Vegas as more flash than substance. What makes the Las Vegas wine-and-dining scene serious and special?
HC: There’s nowhere else in the world where, on a few-mile stretch, you can dine at restaurants headed by Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, Michael Mina, Charlie Palmer—you could just go on and on with all the celebrity chefs. Everybody wants to be here, and I think that says something about Las Vegas just as a dining hub, and sometimes I don’t think we get the credit. It’s always in discussion behind New York and San Francisco and even Los Angeles, but when it comes down to it, I think we offer just as much, if not more, than those cities.
WS: Do any wine memories stick out in your mind as being particularly life-changing for you?
HC: I know the moment when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in wine. When I was in Whistler, the sommelier sold two of the best wines I had ever had at that point to the same table: a 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild and a 1982 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. He saved a little of both, and I tasted them at the end of the night with him. They both just blew me away. I wanted to know more about why I enjoyed them so much, how they were so good and what made them what they are. That was sort of the turning point in my food-and-beverage career, to sort of take me out of the restaurant management side and direct me toward wine more specifically.
WS: Have you ever been a mentor to someone pursuing a path in the wine world?
HC: I think I am a mentor to a number, but the one that I’m most proud of is my wife, actually. When we started dating she was a server at a restaurant here in Vegas, and that was about six years ago. Throughout the years, she’s studied. [She was previously] a sommelier at one of our sister restaurants here in Las Vegas, [Best of Award of Excellence winner] Julian Serrano at Aria, and she is now a wine broker for JC Boisset, Domaine Select Wines and Hudson Wine Brokers. There's a lot of wine at our house, and we’re constantly pushing each other, which is fun.
WS: What is your favorite food-and-wine pairing from the menu at Aureole Las Vegas?
HC: Being from the West Coast, I’m a big salmon fan, and a dish that’s been on the menu for as long as I’ve been here is a cedar plank Ora King salmon—delicious—[with] red wine, butter crust, carrots, polenta. That with a great red Burgundy is fantastic.
The ahi tuna tartare with the quail egg and a watermelon ponzu dressing, with a glass of Bruno Paillard Premier Cuvée Brut Champagne, is also pretty exceptional.
WS: The Las Vegas dining scene is very dynamic. What was the process like for selecting the wines at the new restaurants at Delano, Rivea and Skyfall Lounge?
HC: At the top of Delano Las Vegas, we just recently renovated what was formerly [Best of Award of Excellence winner] Mix by Alain Ducasse. Now it is RIVEA. It’s a Mediterranean theme—French, Italian Riviera—so a lot of seafood and very fresh ingredients and flavors. Myself and the Ducasse team, we sourced out a number of wines from that area of course, but also, to put a little twist on it, a lot of coastal American wines—we thought we’d tie in sort of an "American Riviera" portion as well: some great rosés, Italian and French varietals from California alongside their French and Italian counterparts.
WS: You’ve been with Aureole Las Vegas since April 2013. How has the wine program at the restaurant evolved since you arrived?
HC: With a lot of French dining in my background with Joël Robuchon, I’ve grown the French selections quite a bit. Austrian and German wines: some great Grüner Vetliners; Rieslings, from the sweetest of the sweet to the driest of the dry and everything in between. This is probably one of the best selections of those in the country, if not in the world. It’s pretty fantastic. It’s also a great place to go for the people celebrating birthdays, because we have so many different vintages.
I’ve added a number of Canadian wines—not necessarily the biggest seller down here—but for those visiting from up north and people wanting to try something a little different, they’re definitely a hit.
WS: Are there any particular Canadian wines that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
HC: Mission Hill, the winery in general but [particularly] the Oculus, their top red, is great. The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, all their wines are fun. I actually bring more Canadian wine into Nevada than anybody else, that’s for sure. I’m pretty proud of that, being a proud Canadian.