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Piero Selvaggio Valentino

In Las Vegas, a wine list holds a winning hand

Harvey Steiman
Posted: September 11, 2002

Piero Selvaggio
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Piero Selvaggio already has a full house at Valentino in California. Now he's holding four aces at his Las Vegas outpost, Piero Selvaggio Valentino, where the winning wine list stars Piedmont, Tuscany, Bordeaux and California Cabernet.

Valentino in Las Vegas has become an island of fine Italian cuisine and a joyous celebration of wine amid the exuberance of a crowded casino. That's essentially what Piero Selvaggio, whose Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since the program began in 1981, wanted when he launched the restaurant in The Venetian Resort in July 1999.

"I thought it would be easy," said Selvaggio, "but it wasn't." The Vegas Valentino has developed into a restaurant very different from the original. It's significantly larger and more opulent in design, including a large table set in a cosy wine cellar. And the menu is more adventurous. That's the influence of chef Luciano Pellegrini, who previously cooked at Posto, Selvaggio's restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.

"Luciano always was the wild child," says Selvaggio. "He's always pushing the envelope. Angelo [Auriana, the chef at Valentino] is more classical."

Pellegrini serves raw oysters with fresh grape puree, just the thing to match with prosecco, and piles fresh Australian crab on a warm artichoke salad, a lovely match with a little-known Radikon Oslavje (from Friuli). That extra razzmatazz seems just the thing for Las Vegas. "When I tell Luciano, maybe you ought to be a little less out there," Selvaggio shrugs, "he just responds, 'But everything sells!'"

However, considering that Selvaggio only spends a few days a month in Las Vegas, the continuities are also impressive, especially in the quality of the service. Chalk that up to Arturo Nieto, who has been with Valentino since the beginning. Nieto manages the Vegas restaurant, serves as maitre d' and oversees the wine program.

The Vegas list is not quite as comprehensive as the list at the Santa Monica restaurant, but it does feature the new wave and old guard in every important region. Italy, naturally, is its strong point. There are more than three dozen Gaja Barbarescos, back to 1978 ($600). Tuscany has all the super Tuscans, including Sassicaia 1985 ($2,235), Solaia '97 ($495), Ornellaia '98 ($295). But the real glories are the undiscovered wines of Italy. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations, and if you don't recognize the wine, just try it.

California is another strength. The Cabernet selections feature cult stars such as Araujo, Bryant, Colgin and Harlan to the early '90s, but also classics such as Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de la Tour Private Reserve (to '73), Caymus Special Selection, Diamond Creek (to '78) and Heitz Martha's Vineyard (to '82).

High rollers can find plenty of Burgundies, including more than four dozen from Domaine de la Romanûe-Conti, prominently displayed in one of the dining rooms. Bordeaux emphasizes verticals of top producers with good representation through the 1980s, plus a few older ones such as Latour 1953, Margaux 1961 and Pûtrus 1975.

Prices are high, a reflection of the high cost of doing business in Las Vegas. Selvaggio notes that the same wine can cost him 35 percent to 50 percent more in Las Vegas than it costs in Los Angeles. Besides, if Lady Luck smiles on you at the craps tables outside the door, what better to buy with your winnings?

Piero Selvaggio Valentino
The Venecian Resort, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV 89109
Telephone (702) 414-3000
Wine Selections 2,210
Number of Bottles 33,200

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