• In a salon with high coffered ceilings, silk damask drapes and a chandelier a gorilla could swing on, a panel of judges in burgundy robes and hats looking a bit like cream tartlets presided over a roomful of college students with booze on the brain. This wasn't a session of Mock Trial: Vatican Rules, but rather the second American coming of the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup, a contest of wits and palates hosted by the Commanderie du Bontemps, a society of vintners from top crus in the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes. Last night, at the French Consulate in Manhattan, eight teams from American business and law schools talked and tasted their way through challenges of red wine, white wine and gray matter. The top two teams will go on to an international final at Château Lafite Rothschild, where they'll face the collective Bordeaux savvy of France, Britain, continental Europe, Hong Kong and, for the first time this year, China. Last year's was the first bowl that extended bids to American and Asian teams, and in June, Harvard and Wharton barreled to first and third place, respectively.
Like last year's contest, this one was weighted half to an oral quiz of wine knowledge, mostly Bordeaux-related: How many fourth-growths are there in the 1855 classification? (10.) What is found at the tip of the Médoc peninsula? (La Pointe de Grave.) The second round of competition took the teams into the glass, as they were asked to identify vintages and appellations blind for sets of three wines. Flying in the dark is something even the pros sweat, but nothing takes the edge off like a glass of Pichon-Lalande 1990, Calon-Ségur 1998 or Doisy-Védrines 2005, three of the revealed pours.
All eight teams put in months of practice leading up to the Cup. Most held near-weekly Bordeaux tastings to sharpen their tongues. Columbia Law retained a coach, and Harvard Business and Chicago's Booth School of Business told Unfiltered they auditioned wine club members for team spots; Booth whittled 30 hopefuls down to four. Teams financed "practice" through sponsorships, club funds, rainy-day money and, as one business student joked, "cauterizing equity capital arbitrage" (or some combination of words like that; Unfiltered nodded knowingly). The contestants had come to wine from all corners: One had worked a summer in Napa at Sullivan Vineyards, another immersed himself in Oregon's Pinot country, a third's family grew Norton grapes in Kansas and a fourth did a consulting project with supernova chef Ferran Adrià. In the end, Chicago's rigor and Wharton's momentum prevailed: They'll be flying our flag in Pauillac come June.
• Unfiltered knows how tough it is to be an actor during awards season. There are extra wrinkles and facial expressions to shed, competitively ridiculous outfits to choose, assistants to berate—not to mention that killer Los Angeles traffic, what with caravans of limos ferrying so many attractive and talented people from their enormous homes to their enormous parties. Good news, then, that a few big-hearted wineries have stepped up and made sure the famous people have enough to drink at this Sunday's 18th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Starting things off with a toast on the red carpet will be The Good Wife actor Matt Czuchry, hoisting a glass of Champagne Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV. This is the 12th time the Champagne house has quenched famous thirsts on the red carpet, and it's also the 12th year that Dry Creek Vineyard will pour its wines for the likes of Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Julianna Margulies, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Williams, Kevin Bacon and Dick Van Dyke. Each table inside the Shrine Exhibition Center will have a magnum of Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley Endeavor 2006. Wine Spectator's James Laube called it “firm and structured,” not unlike many of the surgically enhanced bodies sure to be on display Sunday.
• This week we followed Ben Flajnik, owner of Sonoma's Envolve winery and star of this season of ABC's The Bachelor, from San Francisco to Park City, Utah. As always, the ladies of the Bachelor had plenty of sparkling wine on hand as they prepared for this week's dates. First up was Rachel the fashion sales rep from New York, who Ben took helicoptering, canoeing and dining, each of which seemed awkwardly quiet, but not awkward enough to merit dismissal. For his group date, Ben took the girls fly fishing. Courtney the model (and brilliant strategist) lured our hero upstream, where she caught the day's only fish, as well as the group-date rose after some petting and pouting during one-on-one time. For the final date, he took Jennifer past a "no trespassing" sign to a condemned-looking hole in the ground and dropped the bikini-clad accountant down the bat cave, all in the name of adventure and trust. (After last week's scaling of the Bay Bridge and this week's cavern plummet, we're starting to understand why the ladies feel compelled to steel themselves with wine at all times.) After earlier sending home Samantha the ad sales manager during her ill-fated demand for a one-on-one date, Ben needed to eliminate just one more lady at the rose ceremony—so long, Monica. Next week: More bikini photo ops in Puerto Rico! So what's our Bachelor going to be opening when that episode airs? "For my red, I am going with Brittan Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley," he told Unfiltered today. "[For whites,] Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, Christian Moreau Chablis Valmur, [and a] rosé, Envolve 2011 Sonoma Mountain Rosé."
Marianne Mcgarry Wolf — Shell Beach, CA — January 27, 2012 1:09pm ET
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