It’s become an annual tradition that we at Unfiltered revisit the most popular items of the year as December’s end nears. Both in 2009 and 2008, the lists were topped by items focused on beautiful women. Shockingly, in 2010, your most viewed Unfiltered column of the year was led by the lovely Sheryl Crow (followed closely by the lovely Julia Roberts, Chelsea Clinton, Margrit Mondavi and Mariah Carey). Some things never change. At least the most popular feature article of 2010 was about alcohol-shipping legislation only a true wine nerd would love (or, more accurately, hate).
As we look forward to 2011, we also look back on the stories that made us smile this year, but didn’t have the legs to crack our top 10. We’ll never forget running into former Brand Nubians hip-hop star Sadat X hanging out with Siduri winemaker Adam Lee in New York. We laughed as Hugh Jackman donned the toque of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and our bemused sympathy went out to South African grapegrowers beset by baboons. And we anticipate just as much wine-fueled entertainment in the year to come; check back next week for our predictions …
• When Unfiltered heard that Sheryl Crow has a guest-starring arc as a Florida wine sales rep on the ABC comedy Cougar Town, we were pleased but not surprised, given that the singer-songwriter-actress includes "good Australian Cabernet" and "good Merlot" on her list of backstage requirements when performing her music live. We tuned in eagerly to see Crow's first episode on the show, in which her character, Sarah, tries to sell bar owner Grayson a few cases of Hurpes, a French Merlot ("It's pronounced 'hur-pay,'") and later goes on a date with him. We were pleased to note Crow’s entire first episode of Cougar Town revolved almost entirely around wine (though not always in the fashion Unfiltered would recommend), from the way in which Jules, played by series star Courtney Cox (a big Rioja fan in real life) fills her wineglass straight up to the rim and always opens bottles to entertain her guests to the other characters' staging of an intervention when Jules decides to stop drinking wine. We were puzzled, then, when the following week’s episode featured almost no wine at all, with a bizarre Japanese talking toilet getting far more airtime than the characters' vino. There's no new episode this week, so we’ll have to wait until next week to find out whether Crow can get her costars away from the bidet and back to the bottle. Posted April 8.
• Unfiltered has covered its share of thefts in the wine world, but this is a first: an estimated 1.25 tons of Mourvèdre grapes were recently stolen off the vine at Grand Rêve Vineyard in Kirkland, Wash. According to vineyard owner and partner Paul McBride, the theft took place sometime between Sept. 15 and 20, less than two weeks before the grapes were slated to be harvested. McBride explained to Unfiltered, “James Mantone of Syncline Winery, who was scheduled to receive the fruit, inspected the vineyard on Sept. 21 and noticed that the crop loads were exceptionally light. The vines were found to have been cleanly and completely harvested. The outermost row was left unpicked to mask that the inside fruit had all been taken.” This was Grand Rêve’s first planting of Mourvèdre, a red Rhône variety that’s an unusual sight in Washington’s Red Mountain region, where Cabernet and Syrah dominate. McBride, who has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of anyone involved in the theft, told MSNBC that the thieves ignored the other grape varieties growing nearby, indicating that the perpetrator could have been a “wine geek—the sort of person who lies in bed at night thinking, ‘I’ve just got to have this vine-grown Mourvèdre.’” Unfiltered has to wonder how well the thieves really know their stuff, however, as they picked the grapes too early. As vineyard manager and partner Ryan Johnson told KNDO/KNDU, a local NBC affiliate, "If these guys would have waited 10 more days, the flavors would have been more developed, richer, riper, and they would have made a better wine from it. So if you're going to steal my fruit, at least do it at the right time." Posted Sept. 30.
• Unfiltered attended the New York premiere of Blood Into Wine, the documentary (and part mockumentary) about the efforts of rocker/vintner Maynard James Keenan’s and his vineyard partner Eric Glomski’s efforts to promote northern Arizona’s winemaking potential. As well-documented in Keenan’s former WineSpectator.com guest blog, the Tool and Perfect Circle front man has been making wine and establishing vineyards in northern Arizona for about five years with his Caduceus label. The film features no shortage of celebrity cameos, among them actress Milla Jovovich and comedian Patton Oswalt. Levity was provided in the form of several mock interview segments with comedians Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and Bob Odenkirk. “Now tell me about the audacity where you would think that someone would want to see a documentary about you and the process to make this poison?” Heidecker deadpanned to audience laughter. After the screening, Keenan and Glomski were on hand to take questions, and Keenan also made a special announcement: Earlier that day, he proposed to his girlfriend, Lei Li, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. She said yes, and we say salud! Posted June 3.
Julia Roberts cashed in on the foodie-film trend with a bevy of California wineries vying for placement at the Eat, Pray, Love parties.
• The cast and crew of Eat, Pray, Love, the upcoming film based on the memoir of the same name written by Elizabeth Gilbert, spent this past week wrapping up their press junkets in Napa Valley, and numerous California wines were on hand for the celebrations. Both the press junket and the after-party were held in Napa at the foot of Mount St. Jean at the estate of John and Barbara Witt. The Witts were thrilled to host the stars of the foodie film and pulled from their cellars some bottles of the Witt Estate Repartie Merlot 2004 made with grapes from their 6-acre vineyard. The events at the rustic modern rammed-earth estate were organized by Napa-based location and production company Scout Napa Valley, which tapped numerous California wineries to provide the libations. Our West Coast spies tell us the stars in attendance—Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins and director Ryan Murphy—were treated to Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé and Brut, Mumm Brut Prestige, Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc 2008, Lail Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Spring Mountain Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Del Dotto Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2007, Roundpond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and a Hill Family Estate dessert wine. “[Eat, Pray, Love] is a celebration for the world of the senses and emotions; the wine’s presence [at the events] this past Friday continues Mr. Mondavi’s legacy for celebrating food, wine and the arts as an integral part of gracious living,” said Robert Mondavi Winery winemaker Rich Arnold. Posted Aug. 5.
• It helps to be named Clinton, as in Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. It also helps to be named Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Corners, N.Y., sited almost within cork-popping distance of New York’s wedding of the century this weekend. The fortuitously named local wine was an obvious choice to be uncorked at the first Clinton inaugural dinner in 1993 and now, 17 years later, it will play a part in the festivities surrounding the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky Saturday. Wedding guests staying at inns and hotels in the region will find a bottle of Clinton Vineyards Tribute, a Seyval Blanc, in their rooms. There’s been no word yet on any further participation in the event by the local producer. If the local vineyard contributes a dessert wine for the reception, it could be any of a trio of fruit wines—Embrace, Romance or Desire—all appropriately named for a wedding gift. Although she would not comment officially on the presence of her wines at the wedding, Phyllis Feder, proprietor of Clinton Vineyards and a major player in Democratic party circles, observed that “Clinton Vineyards has had a long and warm friendship with the Clintons, dating back to when our wines were served at the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1992, the subsequent serving of a Victory White honoring Clinton’s elections and, most recently, a Victory White for the Obama celebrations. We are honored to be part of the wedding celebration and we rejoice in our longtime affection for the Clinton family,” she said. Posted July 29.
The Giants' Cody Ross celebrates San Francisco's first World Series Championship with a bottle of Mumm.
• It’s been a difficult 2010 for Northern California vintners, who have dealt with one of the coldest vintages on record. But the San Francisco Giants’ remarkable run to the World Series championship has been lifting winemaker spirits across the valleys, and one Napa estate actually got to participate in the team’s festivities. After clinching the National League West division, winning the National League Division Series, N.L. Championship Series and the World Series, the Giants players and coaches celebrated each time with some liberally sprayed and specially labeled Mumm Napa Brut Prestige. “We were delighted to work with the San Francisco Giants to provide our Mumm Napa Brut Prestige as their celebration wine for the World Series,” said Mumm VP of winemaking operations Rob McNeill. “They were very pleased too. We were cheering for the Giants the entire way, and having our wine inside the locker room embellishing their victory celebration made it a little more special.” Posted Nov. 4.
Margrit Mondavi kept warm at the Giants game with her grandson and her favorite Buster Posey jersey.
• The cold Northern California October also gave Margrit Mondavi good reason to wear her Giants scarf around the Robert Mondavi Winery pretty much every day, and she took her grandson to Game 1 of the World Series, where she wore her bright orange Buster Posey jersey. (What does the matriarch of a famous wine family order at the ballpark? A beer and a hot dog of course, just like the rest of us.) Elsewhere, former Giants Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts showed up in Las Vegas during the World Series, where they chatted baseball with Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman at the New World Wine Experience. Readers of their blogs will know that Steiman and senior editor James Laube are both avid Giants fans, and Steiman was even able to bring support the Giants’ way from the Pacific Northwest. He and Seattle Mariners fan Hugh Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville chat regularly on the subject of baseball, and when the M’s season ended, Shiels threw his support behind the Giants. “Since Buster came up, every pitch of every inning has significance,” Shiels e-mailed last week. “[Sitting] in the candlelit sunroom with a glass of wine was special for the last couple of innings.” No matter how the 2010 vintage turns out, the wine community will always have the San Francisco Giants’ first World Series to bring them a smile. Posted Nov. 4.
• The South Australian wine industry got a boost last week when American cyclist Lance Armstrong roared through five of its regions on the International Cyclist Union ProTour. Television coverage, viewed by an estimated 200 million around the world, included shots of South Australia’s vineyards and wineries. Armstrong Tweeted from the road “wine’s flowin’ …” as he passed through McClaren Vale Jan. 23. The Tour Down Under is the first event of the year on the ProTour calendar, and winds its way through Clare and Barossa Valleys, Adelaide Hills, Langhorn Creek and McLaren Vale. Barossa Valley Estate winemaker and former Wine Spectator guest blogger Stuart Bourne told Unfiltered via e-mail that “the Tour Down Under was a massive success for all of South Australia … All of our crew ambled up to the winery gate to watch them all come past. It really is such a great thing for our region, to host such a world-class event, with the eyes of the world watching from so many countries.” As Armstrong boarded his private jet in Adelaide to return home to Austin, Texas, however, he had already shifted his gaze to another cycling race known to pass through a few vineyards, announcing that he thought he could win the Tour de France for an eighth time this year. Posted Jan. 28.
Song bird Mariah Carey swings into action with Angel Champagne—it's only $1,000 a pop!
• You may recall that Unfiltered debunked the myth of Mariah Carey “launching” her own new Champagne brand earlier this year. Now that the re-branded Angel has just been released in the U.K., we have some more insight into the union between an Italian Champagne producer eager to break into the lucrative world of nightclub bottle service and an American singer who insists she doesn’t drink Champagne because it hurts her throat. Call it “how your $1,000, crystal-encrusted bottle of Champagne gets made.” In an interview earlier this week with U.K. trade publication the Drinks Business, Angel founder Stefano Zagni said that, after finding celebrity endorsements too pricey, he paid record label Island Def Jam for access to celebrity events. Those events included an anniversary party in Las Vegas for Carey and her husband, actor and musician Nick Cannon, at which Angel was poured. Zagni made Carey the new brand ambassador of Angel, which is now featured in several of Carey’s music videos, as well as those by fellow Def Jam artists Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Fabolous. In her role as ambassador, Carey herself appeared on the U.K. television show Chatty Man, on which she stated that she crushed the grapes herself while wearing brand-new Jimmy Choo shoes. Chatty Man host Alan Carr joked about the black condom-like seal at the top of the bottle, and was liberally sprayed with Champagne (which she pronounced “Sham-PAG-nee”) upon opening it. Carey then helped dab off the host with a newspaper while shouting “Stylist!” In the diva's own words, "Classy!" Posted Sept. 23
Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton had the same expression after securing Jerry Jones' prized Caymus.
• The New Orleans Saints have pulled off another interception. The reigning NFL Super Bowl champions were known for forcing turnovers last season, most famously picking off Peyton Manning for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to clench the victory. Apparently head coach Sean Payton knows how to steal a prize too. Last weekend, Payton and his coaching staff were in Indianapolis for the annual NFL scouting combine. Friday night, they dined at the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winning St. Elmo Steak House. When Payton found out that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had reserved the same private room for dinner the following night and asked for a magnum of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 to be put aside, the Saints coach decided he also wanted the Caymus. The staff told him it was the last bottle. Payton, the same man who inspired his underdogs to a Super Bowl win and then took the Lombardi trophy to bed that night, would not be refused. After some cajoling, the staff brought him the magnum. After the Saints enjoyed their dinner and wine, Payton left the bottle for Jones, with the inscription: "Who Dat! World Champions XLIV, Sean Payton." Reached in Napa, Caymus proprietor Chuck Wagner told Unfiltered, "I'm glad to hear people were enjoying the wine, especially since the ’07s are drinking well." Both Payton and Jones insisted afterward that it was all in good fun—Payton was an assistant coach for the Cowboys from 2003 to 2005. But the two teams are both contenders for the NFC championship in 2010 and will meet in Dallas during the regular season. Unfiltered wonders which wine the winner will enjoy? Posted March 4.
• It was Sideways meets Big Wednesday at the inaugural Central Coast Longboard Surf Classic this past Sunday, as local winemakers and brewers paddled out at Pismo Beach for an exhibition match. A sunny day with surf in the three- to four-foot range set the stage for the vintners, including Mike Chase of Denner Vineyards and Terry Culton of Adelaida Cellars, to face off in 15-minute heats. Josh Beckett, winemaker at Peachy Canyon and Chronic Cellars, took top honors in the finals. "I got really lucky," Beckett said. "It was hit or miss on the wave selection." He gained an edge when the leash-less runner-up, Aaron Jackson of Aaron Wines (“an exceptional surfer” according to Beckett), lost his board after a wave. "I got a few more waves while he was chasing his board.” The event capped off the first Wine, Waves and Beyond, a four-day festival celebrating two of the Central Coast’s most enticing assets, its surfing scene and its wineries. Proceeds go to the non-profit Association of Amputee Surfers, which promotes the inspiration, education and rehabilitation of the disabled, with a focus on veterans. Beckett, a surfer since the age of 15, was also one of the organizers. Plans are already underway for next year’s event, and Beckett hopes to expand the competition to winemakers from beyond the Central Coast. “It's amazing how many people in the wine industry surf,” Beckett said. “They just started coming out of the woodwork.” Posted June 10.
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