Chicago’s Douglas Kim is MGM sommelier overseeing 350,000 bottles of wine at Las Vegas resorts

MGM Resorts International recently announced the promotion of Kim, a master sommelier, to the role of director of wine for its Las Vegas resorts.

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Kim, a South Korea native who grew up in Chicago, now oversees close to 50 sommeliers at MGM bars and restaurants along the Las Vegas Strip.

Kim, a South Korea native who grew up in Chicago, now oversees close to 50 sommeliers at MGM bars and restaurants along the Las Vegas Strip.

Corutesy MGM Resorts International

LAS VEGAS — When he started at the Culinary Institute of America in 2004, Douglas Kim had every intention of becoming a chef.

That was before he discovered how fascinating the study of wine could be through a mandatory three-week course that put his career on a new trajectory.

MGM Resorts International recently announced the promotion of Kim, a master sommelier, to the role of director of wine for its Las Vegas resorts.

Kim, a South Korea native who grew up in Chicago, now oversees close to 50 sommeliers and about 350,000 bottles of wine at MGM bars and restaurants along the Strip.

“Initially, I thought cooking would be really fun,” Kim said. “After I took that [wine] course, though, I started to think that wine would be more fun than cooking, so that’s the route I went. There’s so much when it comes to wine — history, geography, so many great stories.”

The wine collection at Jean Georges Steakhouse at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, is among those under the purview of master sommelier and director of wine for MGM Resorts, Douglas Kim.

The wine collection at Jean Georges Steakhouse at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, is among those under the purview of master sommelier and director of wine for MGM Resorts, Douglas Kim.

Courtesy MGM Resorts International

Born in Korea, Kim’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was two years old. They moved to Chicago and settled on the North Side. By the time he entered second grade, the family had moved to suburban Lincolnwood, where Kim would graduate from Lincoln Hall Middle School and later Niles West High School. He had an interest in the culinary world at an early age.

“My grandma was a great cook, and growing up in the ’90s, [my two sisters and I] were latchkey kids trying to create after-school snacks. Nothing gourmet, just stuff learned in home economics classes. We’d make breadsticks and it was like, wow!,” Kim told the Chicago Sun-Times in a separate interview.

Douglas would go on to the CIA in New York, where his interest in wine, specifically, took hold.

“Wine is not a big part of my Korean background,” he said. “We drank [Korean] soju and beer, but not wine. But at CIA you have to take a mandatory three-week wine course. I got second [place] in the class.”

The first in class was fellow Chicago sommelier Robert Mosher, currently the managing partner at Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in the West Loop. The two would also work for a time at Chicago’s iconic Spiaggia restaurant.

After he graduated from the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York, Kim wanted to earn his bachelor’s degree, and decided to move to Las Vegas to attend UNLV.

“For any food and beverage professional, Las Vegas is one of the best places to learn about food and wine very quickly,” Kim told the Las Vegas Sun. “We see crazy bottles being opened every night and inexpensive bottles opened every night.”

Kim started his professional culinary career in Las Vegas at Restaurant Charlie (the namesake of legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter) before eventually moving to roles as wine director for the Picasso restaurant at the Bellagio and as sommelier at Mandalay Bay.

It was the late chef Trotter who, at the urging of Kim’s mom, helped open one or two doors for her son in Vegas, he told the Sun-Times. “My parents had a dry cleaners a block and a half away from Charlie Trotter [restaurant] and so they cleaned the [chefs’] coats all the time. So my mom had an in with chef Trotter and she called him to ask his help in getting me a job in Vegas,” Kim said, with a chuckle.

The most expensive bottle of wine a guest can order at an MGM property on the Strip is a premier French pinot noir that goes for about $70,000, Kim said.

“The prices can get pretty insane,” Kim said. “You’re kind of thinking, ‘OK, how much is this per sip?’ A great bottle of wine, you can get into descriptors, but it’s really more about the overall experience.”

It’s not every day a guest will pay that much for a bottle of wine, but bottles that go for $10,000 to $20,000 are sold on the Strip “pretty regularly,” he said.

Kim is one of fewer than 200 master sommeliers in North and South America as designated by an organization called the Court of Master Sommeliers. He earned the title in 2018 after trudging through a process that took about a decade and included multiple exams.

“It’s a pretty intense process,” Kim said. “It’s a full-time job when you’re going through it. There are a lot of great somms who don’t have that certification, so it’s not a be-all, end-all. It’s a way to show a guest that you’re an expert in the field.”

The multi-story wine tower at Aureole at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is among the collections curated by MGM director of wine, Douglas Kim.

The multi-story wine tower at Aureole at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is among the collections curated by MGM director of wine Douglas Kim.

Courtesy MGM Resorts International

Dominique Bertolone, senior vice president of food and beverage strategy for MGM Resorts, said the company is lucky to have Kim.

“Douglas has been a first-class hospitality professional throughout his career,” Bertolone said. “His guest-centric approach and willingness to always go above and beyond to create memorable moments are key to his success.”

A typical day for Kim includes coordinating with wine suppliers and vendors as he works to create and maintain the wine programs for establishments at 13 MGM resorts and hotels on the Strip and eight more properties regionally.

“There are a lot of administrative things to do, so it’s not always glamorous,” Kim said. “I send a lot of emails every day. At the end of the day, I like to go to the different restaurants themselves and talk to the sommeliers to see what they need and how best I can help them. My job is different every day.”

He said his favorite part of the job is putting a new wine on a restaurant’s list. “I like to say that I don’t have a personal wine cellar, I have MGM as my wine cellar,” he said.

Kim said he enjoys a good glass of wine but doesn’t have a favorite. In fact, if he has a drink at home, it’s often a bourbon on the rocks or a Japanese beer, he said.

And it’s perfectly fine to store an unfinished bottle of wine for a few days, if done correctly, Kim told the Sun-Times.

“If you plan on drinking it in the next couple of days just cork the bottle and put it in the fridge,” he said. “Or pour it into a half bottle; the less air it has, the better. And if you’re not going to finish it ever, use it in ice cube [trays]. The next time you make a sauce, you can just drop in a cube or two.”

Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter

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