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In its 35th year, the Eldorado Great Italian Festival is officially a long weekend.

Vintage Eldorado, the Italian food and wine event introduced a few years ago, has always been held on the Thursday before the Italian Festival. But this year, the tasting is Friday, Oct. 7, in the Reno Ballroom, the event joining with the main festival running Oct. 8-9 to make for three consecutive days of pasta and wine and revelry. (Scroll to bottom of page for event details.)

“Vintage Eldorado on Friday is going to be the opening to the Italian Festival from now on," said Rick Murdock, vice president of sales and marketing for the Eldorado Reno properties.

“October is National Pasta Month — this is a great way to celebrate. And in case you miss Vintage Eldorado, all the wines from the event will be served the next two days at the festival’s wine walk.”

It’s always good to have a back-up plan.

First pairings

The other afternoon, the Eldorado’s food and beverage team tasted Food & Drink through some of the Vintage Eldorado offerings. (For all Italian Festival details, scroll to bottom of page.)

A cavalcade of crostini rounds are topped with olive tapenade, tomato relish, and cannellini all’olio, a spread made by straining the cooked white beans, then adding garlic and good-quality olive oil.

The match? Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina, a sangiovese-based wine “that’s very food friendly and balanced,” said Amanda Wilner, manager and certified sommelier of La Strada, the Eldorado’s flagship Italian restaurant.

“The tomato and olive acids in the crostini round out the tannins and acids in the wine.”

For one of the Vintage Eldorado salads, peppery arugula joins forces with crisp moments of prosciutto, pops of sweet grape tomato, and fior di latte mozzarella.

“It’s called fior di latte” — flower of the milk — “because they use the best part of the milk to make that type of mozzarella,” said Ivano Centemeri, chef of La Strada. “This is an essential end-of-summer, early-fall Mediterranean salad.”

For the pairing, Wilner the sommelier chose Principessa Gavia Gavi, a crisp, high-acid white wine “It’s easy to drink and goes well with arugula and the creaminess of the fresh mozzarella,” she said. “It also gives people an Italian white wine to talk about that’s not pinot grigio.”

New wine, familiar grape

The property’s famed mushroom ravioli were up next at the Vintage Eldorado preview.

“What else is there to say?” asked Centemeri. “It’s still our winning dish. In the last three months, I had guests who hate mushrooms, and they said, ‘You made me rethink mushrooms.’ That happens a lot.”

But if mushroom ravioli will be an exceedingly familiar dish to many Vintage Eldorado goers, its wine partner will not be. To wit: Travaglini Gattinara, a wine made from nebbiolo, the same grape used to produce Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s greatest wines.

“With mushroom ravioli, people would typically go with a white wine every time, but this wine speaks to the woodsiness of the mushrooms,” Wilner said.

“Gattinara is one of my favorite wines to introduce people to. It has some of the feminine qualities of Barbaresco and the masculine qualities of Barolo fused together.”

Finally, Vintage Eldorado is setting out sweets like rich wedges of chocolate hazelnut torte and cannoli cylinders filled with sheep’s milk ricotta and sprinkled with pistachio dust.

“I use real, $70-per-pound Sicilian pistachios,” chef Centemeri said. “In La Strada, we make our own dough — we don’t buy the shells. We roll the dough around brass rods and fry it.”

Or as Murdock, the Eldorado executive, put it: “We don’t do anything lightly with our food.”

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35TH ANNUAL ELDORADO GREAT ITALIAN FESTIVAL

VINTAGE ELDORADO

What: Italian food and wine pairing event

When: Beginning 5 p.m. Oct. 7

Where: Reno Ballroom, 401 N. Center St.

Why: To benefit Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows

Cost: $55 in advance from www.eldoradoreno.com/entertainment/events, $65 at door

MAIN FESTIVAL

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 8 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 9

Where: In and around the Eldorado Resort Casino, 345 N. Virginia St.

Highlights:

• Street food booths offering flatbreads, garlic bread, calamari, chicken Parmesan, Italian sausage sandwiches, panini, pastas in various styles, Nutella ricotta crêpes and more;

• Pasta sauce cook-off featuring dozens of entrants, plus sauce and pasta tasting bowls served noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9 at Fourth and North Virginia streets;

• Italian dinner buffet served from 4 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Eldorado Convention Center and from 4 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9 in the Buffet, for $27.99 adults and $14.99 children 10 and younger;

• Grape stomping contests From 10 a.m. Oct. 8 (public) and 9 (local media);

• Wine walk running noon to 4 p.m. Oct 8 and 9 for $30 per day or $50 both days;

• Children’s gelato eating contest beginning 3 p.m Oct. 9 at the grape stomp stage;

• Italian farmers market Oct. 8 and 9; and

• Live music Oct. 8 and 9.

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