• Sir Winston Churchill was a famously ardent lover of Champagne and perhaps its poet laureate, too: "A single glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble." Though we prefer his more quippy stuff: "Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for: It's Champagne!" And like the British Bulldog, we too are "easily satisfied with the best." So it's only proper that his family's ancestral home and his birthplace, Blenheim Palace, has become the first such residence in the U.K. to open a Champagne bar (the grandiose 18th-century monument to Baroque excess is a tourist attraction, though the Duke of Marlborough still lives there). Though the royals prefer Bollinger, Blenheim serves Besserat, Lanson, a Blenheim label made by Baron-Fuenté, a selection of "savoury plates" and "afternoon tea bonbon trays" and-—of course—the Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill. Meanwhile, at the recently opened Barclay's Center stadium for the Brooklyn Nets, the Duke of Brooklyn, Jay-Z, has his Champagne of choice flowing at both the Vault, which is a private VIP club, and an outlet of his 40/40 sports bar/nightclub hybrid. As regular readers of our Unfiltered column know, that tipple is Armand de Brignac's Ace of Spades, whose gold-plated bottles are stacked floor to ceiling in the Vault, where the likes of us will never see them.
• You won't see any construction cranes hovering over Sauternes first-growth Château d'Yquem, but significant renovations are under way. Its dry white wine Y (pronounced "ygrec") has a new, state-of-the-art micro-cellar with 10 small vats custom-designed and made in Italy for Yquem. On the outside, the vats are swank—"to avoid looking like a dairy," said general manager Pierre Lurton—but on the inside they are all business, designed for fermenting the wine in small batches, with two different temperature-controlled zones: the sides and the bottom, in ultra-smooth stainless steel. Y has often seemed like an afterthought. But since Lurton arrived in 2004, this wine has taken on a fresh direction. "It's made from the best terroir, the heart of Yquem," says Lurton of the 70-30 Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blend. Yquem picks the Sauvignon Blanc at optimal ripeness for a dry wine, intense and naturally plump with sugar, and then waits for the initial onset of botrytis on the thicker-skinned Sémillon.
Beginning with the 2011 vintage, arriving in stores in early 2013, Y has a new, très classy silver-and-white label and wooden case, though there will only be 830 cases (of 12) going around. "Distribution remains fairly confidential," admitted Lurton. Next up, the estate's main event, Château d'Yquem Sauternes, is also getting a renovated cellar. Due to be finished before the 2013 harvest, the cellar will have four separate temperature zones, giving winemaker Sandrine Garbay optimal conditions for fermenting and aging the successive waves of grapes brought in.
• While we ride out the effects of Hurricane Sandy this week stuck at home for… indefinitely, at least we have our Scotch (we love our wine, but warm Chardonnay is cold comfort in a Frankenstorm). The residents of Pennsylvania had recourse to no such restorative, as the state-owned Liquor Control Board decided to lock the doors on all 600-plus wine and liquor stores in the state Monday afternoon and all through Tuesday (no doubt to the special consternation of Pittsburgh and other western Pa. drinkers, who mostly just had a bit of rain). As they often do in such situations, Pennsylvanians sought refreshment across state lines, in New Jersey and Delaware; while transporting liquor back into the state is illegal, many residents have no qualms about circumventing the state monopoly, generally a favorite source of local griping, in a pinch. Stores that were able opened again Wednesday, but as of yesterday, half a million Pennsylvanians were still without power, leaving them still thirsty for a pour of something cold and dark as the hearts of the LCB.