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Atlantis wine dinners are collaborative expressions of an award-winning culinary staff, wine program (sponsored)


By Nora Heston Tarte

Mediterranean beef tartare paired with a Cain Cuvée from Napa Valley, roasted Colorado lamb chops alongside a 2008 Cain Five vintage and ginger crème brulée for dessert. Where else can you eat like this?

The Atlantis has been hosting wine dinners since 1999, when the food and beverage team collaborated to create the first Silver Oak wine dinner. At the time, Christian O’Kuinghttons, sommelier d’hotel and cellar master at Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, said wine dinners were not prevalent in northern Nevada. 

“That wine dinner was an absolute success,” he said.

The well-attended and heralded 1999 event has lent itself to 24 years of now monthly wine and spirit dinners hosted at the Atlantis Steakhouse and Bistro Napa. Every January, a Silver Oak event is held, a nod to the event’s roots.

On Tuesday, July 25, the Atlantis will welcome Cain Vineyard & Winery to the property, sharing four wines, from 2008-2016, alongside a menu curated to both complement and contrast the wines.

If you ask O’Kuinghttons, the wine pairing dinners have continued in large part because there is a thirst for high-end pairings in the region, and also in part because the team has not allowed itself to get boring. You will, for example, never see a repeated dish, Atlantis Assistant Executive Chef David Holman, who works tirelessly with the culinary team to bring O’Kuinghttons’ visions to life, chimed in.

Every dinner is created for the wines O’Kuinghttons has chosen. And while O’Kuinghttons, a level-three, award-winning sommelier who has been with the Atlantis for 27 years, is the one making the tough decisions about which wineries and champagne houses are worthy of the Atlantis treatment, it is the culinary team, headed by Atlantis Executive Chef Dennis Hogue, that puts two and two together.

Wines for each dinner are chosen years in advance, and the wines are secured 1 to 1.5 years before the dinner. For the three months leading up to the event, the menu is created. This includes countless nights of tasting to choose the right proteins, seasonal ingredients of high quality that are readily available, cooking methods, textures and other nuances to truly impress the palate. 

“It happens because we have a group of people that absolutely trust that my decisions are correct,” O’Kuinghttons said. “When I curate wines, I try to bring something unique.”

While O’Kuinghttons may be the head of the award-winning wine program, which was honored in Wine Spectator’s 2023 Restaurant Awards for the 23rd year in a row, Chef Holman is a bit of a connoisseur himself. 

Not only did Chef Holman take wine classes at the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated, the California native has also continued his wine education both formally and informally. It’s the knowledge that aids him and the culinary team in curating a menu that delves into the minute details of a wine, promising to rock your world in ways you won’t even truly understand, unless you’re a sommelier yourself.

“It’s really, really fun to kind of showcase different things within the wine,” Chef Holman said. “We really play around whether it’s a high end [wine], or a little bit more approachable.”

For the July evening, guests will dine on six courses, including an amuse bouche and dessert. The other four courses boast the previously mentioned Mediterranean beef tartare and roasted Colorado lamb chop alongside ratatouille and rosemary jus and finished with a pistachio crust, as well as smoked coffee and cocoa crusted duck breast, a caviar canape and a duet of butter poached Maine lobster and prime striploin of beef with herbed potato pave, grilled baby vegetables, wild mushroom ragout and a cabernet demi-glace. 

The meals are not created just to wow guests, as a typical menu is made, but to wow guests while working their palates. “I want you to salivate,” O’Kuinghttons said. “I want to create that sensation of, ‘what’s next?’”

Getting to that final point typically includes seven to 10 menu drafts and 60-80 dishes. “It’s brutal, but it’s fun,” O’Kuinghttons laughed.

While the menus are published about one month in advance, available online the day after the previous wine dinner has wrapped, Chef Holman said the dishes are tweaked up until the night of the event. 

The menu itself won’t change after it’s been published but based on how the wine is tasting that day—the culinary team sips the wine throughout cooking to keep an eye on any subtle changes—Chef Holman may swap a thyme seasoning for lemon thyme or make other slight deviations to bring out the best flavors in the wine.

“I wanted Cain for the longest time,” O’Kuinghttons admitted. So much so, that he shook hands on this pairing deal back in 2019. Around 18 months ago, he secured the needed wines, featuring prominently the famous Cain Five, a blend of five varietals grown on a single vineyard. There is both a 2008 and a 2016 iteration on Tuesday’s menu.

This planning is par for the course. O’Kuinghttons usually knows years in advance what wines will appear on his lists for Atlantis Steakhouse and Bistro Napa, as well as which wineries he’ll be working with for dinners. If you ask him about his 2025 and 2026 wine lists, he could probably tell you what to expect.

In addition to the in-house team, O’Kuinghttons says the distributors and winemakers are another piece of the puzzle. He meets with countless winery owners and winemakers to come up with the best selections for the Atlantis audience—wine dinners that consistently sell out and often welcome repeat guests from month to month.

Often, O’Kuinghttons is tracking down the cases from companies like Breakthrough Beverage and Southern Wine & Spirits to ensure he has the two to three needed to host a dinner. Champagnes, he admits, are the hardest to secure.

In contrast, when he adds a bottle to the regular menu, he needs 20-30 cases.

Next month, guests can expect samplings from Prisoner Wine Company, a Paso Robles-based label that many are familiar with because of their affordable and accessible The Prisoner Red that’s mass produced.

O’Kuinghttons, however, will be featuring some of the label’s other wines—ones you can’t buy at Total Wine on South Virginia.

As for which wines you can expect, and the accompanying menu, it’ll be available online come July 26. And the dinner is set for Thursday, August 24. 

In October, Kermit Lynch Burgundy’s and Rhônes will be on display, while December will see the Steakhouses’ annual champagne dinner, this time with Tête de Cuvée. 

For more information on these distinctive dining events, visit www.atlantiscasino.com.

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