Kester Masias got his start in New York, at Marseille in Hell’s Kitchen, going on to direct the beverage programs at the Megu Group. After a stint at the NoMad Hotel in New York, he was recruited to join the opening team for the NoMad Las Vegas, where he served as wine director. In 2021 he was approached by the Lev Group. “Initially, it was to pen the list for Harlo,” Masias recalls, “and, you know, selfishly, I live five minutes away, in Summerlin.” It’s a suburb of Las Vegas where the Lev Group is bringing A-level dining to what once was (as they say) a desert. Now the Beverage Director for the group, Masias says that the team hopes to have nine concepts up and running by the end of the year.
He initially set out to start small, with the goal of building a steakhouse wine list of 400 selections, based on the classics. “As we swung the doors open, we started to see, much to my personal surprise, the amount of fine and rare Burgundy and Bordeaux that was being consumed. We had to quickly change gears; we continue to grow that list and currently have 1,100 SKUs.
An admitted Francophile, Masias gravitates toward the wines of Champagne and the Rhône—where he name checks the classics, “Jamet and Chave, but also some really fun wines from producers like Hervé Souhaut have really tugged on my heartstrings.” Here in the States, it’s the West Sonoma Coast that has caught his attention.
Masias describes the list at Harlo as “classically minded,” looking to West Sonoma Coast pinot noir producers, from Ted Lemon, “one of the godfathers,” to John Raytek at Ceritas—and “the new sort of breath behind producers like Kosta Browne, since Julien Howsepian has been making the wines there now.”
Masias reports that pinot noir, whether from the West Coast or Burgundy, makes up about one-third of his wine sales at Harlo. Cabernet-based wines from Bordeaux and Napa Valley make up another third. “I have to give a shout out to Kashi Khaledi from Ashes and Diamonds. I think those wines are singular, the way they are made, and the rockstar winemakers behind them. And on the blue-chip cult spectrum, I’ve always been a huge fan of Schrader—we’re pouring Double Diamond by the glass on our Coravin program. Their managing director now—Jason Smith, MS— is a Las Vegas native; he used to run the wine programs for MGM. And so that partnership is growing.”
The other category that makes up a large percentage of sales is Champagne. “It accounts for about 20 percent of our overall wine sales, which is massive. An affinity for Champagne really parlayed into the way the food menu was developed,” Masias explains. “Chef Gina [Marinelli] loves caviar—we have a caviar program with three different caviars you can get individually. We have caviar bites, and we also have our shellfish towers and plateaux. If you look at Las Vegas in general, it is one of the largest Champagne consumers domestically because of the nightclub scene on the Strip. Off the Strip, we don’t have a nightlife component. So, our Champagne sales are really more geared towards the gastronomic pleasures of pairing.”
Last year, the big surprise for Masias were some old Portuguese wines gaining traction and spurring interest among his guests. “We were looking for wines that we could list from the eighties. There was this one particular producer, Caves São João from Bairrada; we brought in bottles from 1985, and some others from the late eighties, and they’re in the low three-digits [on the list]. They deliver incredible amounts of drinking pleasure and everyone who’s had them has always been shocked because A) they have hardly ever seen wines of that age on a list in this area. And B) no one ever thought they’d come from Portugal right? So those wines have done really well.
Recalling two standouts from the past year, Masias says he was most excited to sell a bottle of 1990 Roumier Bonnes-Mares. “It was just in its perfect spot; it was just singing, you know? And a wine that just knocked my socks off for value was one that Thomas Pico makes for Domaine Pattes Loup label in Chablis. I opened up a recent release of AC Chablis and that thing is like electric it’s got so much energy and it’s just so awesome with oysters.”
While Masias says some of the other restaurants in the Lev Group are more skewed toward spirits, at Harlo, his beverage sales are 60 percent wine, 40 percent spirits. “We always try to cultivate the experience by starting with a cocktail or a glass of Champagne; hopefully with your meat course you’ll have a half-bottle or a bottle of wine. You’ll finish with either a dessert wine or maybe one of the amarI and then, maybe, a Scotch or whiskey. I joke with the owners—from a team dynamic, it’s almost as if you’re on an F1 team: Your biggest competitor is the car beside you. So as the Wine Director I was always competing [with the bar program], until I became Beverage Director. Now, I’m competing against myself, but I always win.
“I was just diving into the numbers to close out the year: Brown spirits have gone down in relation to wine in the last year. Agave spirits have gone up—mezcal and tequila. I think it has some something to do with a few notable brands popping up in the market from famous people who happen to be local. Your applications for tequila mezcal or raicilla in a cocktail are a lot easier for lighter, sort of crushable drinks in the summer. That’s really where we saw the category take off in 2023.
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