By Kiko Miyasato
May 11, 2021
You’d never know it by looking at Hristian Iliev now, but when he was a teenager, he had a mohawk and played guitar for a hard-core punk band in his home country of Bulgaria. Iliev says he had a passion for music and the scene, and now he’s found that same passion in a career that’s nearly two decades long.
Iliev is the lead sommelier for Carbone at Aria. “One of the most exuberant, exciting feelings you can have is playing punk music onstage for people,” he says. “And for me if you find a wine that can give you that same experience, and I have, I’ve had those same experiences with wine that I used to feel onstage.”
Iliev first moved to Las Vegas in the late-’90s, and his first job working at a Caesars Palace restaurant helped spark his interest in becoming a sommelier. By 2004, he helped open Mix at Mandalay Bay, where he worked for eight years and ran a wine program that featured 2,500 labels. In 2012, Iliev joined Aria, working as a sommelier at restaurants like Bar Masa and Sage, and in 2015, he helped open and build the wine program for Carbone.
Today, Iliev is an advanced sommelier, but wine was in his life long before being certified. “I’ve been around grapes and vines since I was young,” he says, explaining that he grew up working in his family’s vineyards.
“I love to show the world where the wine comes from, who makes it,” he says. “It’s almost like the wine takes them to the place it comes from.” And that’s what Iliev is doing at Carbone, with the Italian restaurant’s more than 700 labels of Italian, French and American wines. “I’ve grown to really love Italian wines, he says. “What I really love about Carbone is it really is like a homemade meal executed at its best. It’s that simple. You leave the restaurant, and you’ll remember what you had.” And something tells us you’ll remember Iliev, too … even without the mohawk.
Libation: Emidio Pepe Pecorino
Iliev chose this white wine not only because of its rich flavor with slight floral notes, but because of the family behind the label. The vineyard is located in Italy, and Emidio Pepe, at more than 80 years old, along with his family, makes organic, natural wines with no pesticides used. “The family is an exciting one, and their love for wine and the process of making wine is exciting,” Iliev says. “To me it’s one of the most exciting pairings with our signature spicy rigatoni.”
Benefit: Carbone has an incredible rum selection, with classic offerings to rare finds such as the Appleton 50-Year and Black Tot British Royal Naval.
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