Christophe Tassan: 17 restaurants; 150,000 bottles of wine; 3,000 labels
Sun, Jul 29, 2012 (10:01 p.m.)
Photo: Leila Navidi
While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las Vegas personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue today with Christophe Tassan, a man who takes drinking very seriously as director of wine at Mandalay Bay. You have to when you have 150,000 bottles to look after in your hotel’s 17 restaurants!
I came to the United States from Avignon in Rhone Valley, a beautiful and unique wine-producing region in France. I am very passionate about wine and hold the distinguished title of MOF sommelier.
You might wonder how a recognized sommelier from the heart of a wine-producing region ended up in Las Vegas. Well, I’d be honored to tell you a little about the prestigious title and why I think Las Vegas is an excellent place to discover wine from around the world.
MOF stands for Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, which means “best craftsman in a profession.” This title originated in the 1920s and is bestowed by the French government every four years to individuals who demonstrate certain skills in a competition.
It allows people who are outstanding in their field to be recognized even if they weren’t able to graduate from school because they jumped right into the workforce. Today, it applies to more than 100 professions including carpentry, engineering, gardening, cooking and of course sommelier. I am thrilled to say that I was a finalist in 2000 and won the title in 2004.
The competition consists of four days of displaying specific skills and conquering service-related traps set by judges. Challenges include blind tastings and historical, geographical and chemical questions. In one of the blind tastings, we had 10 minutes to identify 10 vintages of the same wine, suggest what to do with it and determine whether it is able to age. Another test was to organize bottles in a wine cellar.
I love this one: They introduced us to a great chef who wanted to order a wine that doesn’t pair well with the meal he was eating. He wanted to order Sauternes, a sweet dessert wine, to go with oysters. We couldn’t tell him that the wine is too sweet and doesn’t go with oysters. We had to serve him the wine he wanted even though we knew it wasn’t the best choice.
Being a sommelier is about managing the guest’s preference and not judging what the guest wants. We are not there to educate our guests unless they ask for it. We are there to make them happy.
It might seem strange that after earning this distinction in France, I had my sights set on moving elsewhere, but working in France can have some cultural limitations. We are not curious enough about what’s going on in other production areas of the world. The customers in the U.S. are ready to discover new wines. When I moved here, I realized that it really is a window to the world.
I started at chef Alain Ducasse’s Mix in the Hotel at Mandalay Bay and am now director of wine for the resort. I’m really in love with Mandalay Bay because I’ve never had so many wines to play with -- we have about 150,000 bottles on property representing 3,000 labels. It’s a great setup for a resort with 17 restaurants that specialize in different cuisines.
I think what makes Las Vegas, and Mandalay Bay in particular, unique is adaptability. Las Vegas attracts about 3 million people per month, and at some point they all need to eat and drink. We adapt to the customer and will bring our guests what they expect, and even sometimes what they don’t expect, in wine. For example, we’ve brought in wine from China, and I’m currently working on bringing in wine from Mexico made from vines that are more than 20 years old.
My name is Christophe, I was born in October around Columbus Day, and I discovered something in America, as well: the diversity of wines!
Our thanks to Christophe, who obviously enjoyed his own champagne wishes and saw his fine-wine dreams come true. Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from former UNLV student turned HGTV star Alison Victoria and nightlife czar Jack Colton. Join us Monday with “Jersey Boys” at the Paris cast members, Ron Randazzo’s amazing 30-year run as the manager of a landmark Las Vegas restaurant and the high-powered female executive of a Las Vegas entertainment and sports conglomerate.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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