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The 2013 Inauguration Wine Pairings (and Controversy)

Plus, a slap on the wrist for Champagne fraudsters, a new wine supports marriage equality, and why professional athletes may want to hide their wine collections

Posted: January 10, 2013

• In just 10 days, President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term as Commander in Chief, meaning we at Unfiltered have four more years of executive wine pairings to look forward to reporting on. (Check out the sidebar for some of the many wine stories featuring Pres. Obama that we've run in the past five years.) The 57th Inaugural Ceremonies are taking place Jan. 21, and the wine-and-food pairings have been announced. Korbel will be there, for the eighth time, with a special Inaugural-labeled edition of Korbel's Natural Russian River Valley. "Such a historic celebration deserves to be toasted with American champagne with roots in our country's most memorable occasions," said Korbel president and owner Gary Heck in a press release, "We are honored." Also on hand in Statuary Hall for the luncheon will be two New York state wines, Bedell Cellars Merlot 2009 from Long Island and Tierce Dry Riesling 2010 from the Finger Lakes. Tierce is a collaborative effort between three of the Finger Lakes' top winemakers, Peter Bell of Fox Run, Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road and David Whiting of Red Newt Cellars. The lunch menu will begin with lobster tails and New England clam chowder, to be followed by hickory-grilled bison with a huckleberry reduction sauce. Dessert is a Hudson Valley apple pie with New York maple syrup-caramel sauce accompanied by cheeses and honey also native to the Empire State. Recipes for all the 2013 Inaugural Luncheon dishes are available online at inaugural.senate.gov/luncheon. So how did New York wine and food earn such a prominent spot at the Inaugural table, aside from their Unfiltered-attestable excellence, of course? New York's own Sen. Chuck Schumer is chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and wasn't shy about cheering for the home team during the menu-selection tastings. "I was hopeful of having Long Island duck, but … the dish [didn't] quite work," Schumer told the New York Times. "The duck was not at fault."

Despite the festive Inauguration atmosphere, it's not all lobster tails and apple pie on Capitol Hill. Sam Heitner, the director of Washington, D.C.'s Champagne Bureau, has taken issue with the Inaugural menu's use of the term Champagne as it applies to Korbel. The menu's dessert pairing reads "Korbel Natural, Special Inauguration Cuvée Champagne, California," but Heitner told the Hill that "under the law, the label for this wine would state 'California champagne.' While we do not support this practice … we would urge the Inaugural Committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is Champagne. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France." Never ones to miss a good frog-bashing opportunity, members of congress were quick to retort. "The Champagne lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax," Matt House, a spokesman for the Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, told the Hill, "We are proud to be serving American champagne at the Inauguration." California Rep. Jared Huffman wasn't shy, either. "With all due respect to the fame and heritage of French wine, this smells like sour grapes from the French about the superiority of our California champagnes," Huffman told the Daily News. "Only the finest champagne should be served at Pres. Obama's Inauguration celebrations, and in my opinion, the Inaugural Committee made the right call." We expect Korbel to name Rep. Huffman the World's Finest Wine Critic at any moment.

• What motivates bad apples to commit wine fraud? Is it that it's an extremely easy crime to commit, it generates a ton of money in an industry where that's usually hard to do, consumers and professionals alike rarely seem to be any the wiser and the punishment is generally a slap on the wrist? One might conclude that from the outcome of a recent trial in Chalons-en-Champagne, which was decided last month a mere seven years after the fraudsters were indicted. (It's that whole "slow justice" movement that's all the rage in gourmet circles these days.) On the stand were three former top brass of Epernay-based Champagne Esterlin, president Patrick Jean, commercial director Lysiane Géraudel and winemaker Franck Zehner. The trio was found guilty of selling 426,000 bottles of fake vintage Champagne to British supermarket chain Ed between 2002 and 2005, e.g. non-vintage juice labeled as much pricier vintage stuff. The original indictment also included charges of illegal chaptalization. According to courtroom testimony published by France's L'Union, Zehner was pretty straight-up about it with the court: "From the time I arrived in 2000, a true vintage was never sold in the supermarket Ed, never." Géraudel protested, "I did not deal with the cellar," and Jean, who was president of the company, remember, actually had the couilles to tell the judge, "I was too trusting, and then I wasn't at the house all the time. I didn't truly concern myself with the cellar."

They could have saved their breath: Each guilty party was hit with a brutalizing $2,600 fine and an eight-month suspended prison sentence. Ed, which sought $2.6 million in damages got a pat on the back and a settlement of $6,600. Esterlin does have to pony up $26,000 in court fees and $3.75 million to the real victim, French customs and excise, but hey, that's not the problem of Jean, Géraudel and Zehner. Still, hard to feel too bad for current Esterlin president Eric Potié who, when asked by the judge if the malfeasance had been put to an end, responded, "In my position, I am unable to know exactly what is in the cellar, but it seems acceptable to me," L'Union reported. Unfiltered will do Potié the favor of pointing him to his house's website, where it is evident that the lineup no longer includes "vintage" cuvées.

• Of course, the wine world has its kind souls alongside its scoundrels. Charity cuvées are all over store shelves, with wine and food concerns joining the Sandy relief effort, the fight against breast cancer and the uphill battle to save the planet. A new wine, Égalité, is one of the first releases in the service and celebration of gay rights. The cuvée, a crémant de Bourgogne sparkler, and the label were designed with input from the gay community, and it shows: festive, yet understated, with a heart outline and just a splash of color. It's a creation of importer Biagio Cru & Estate Wines, which is donating $1,000 each to five different LGBTQ charities at the launch and will give a portion of proceeds on every bottle to causes helping LGBTQ youth.

• Professional athletes may stop drinking red wine in public, for fear of what it could imply. Researchers at London's Kingston University think they may have found a way for professional athletes to beat doping tests—by drinking red wine. Testosterone is key to building muscle and stamina, and doping tests measure testosterone levels in urine samples. However, Declan Naughton, a researcher at the University's School of Life Sciences, has reported that the red-wine compound quercetin blocks the enzyme that regulates testosterone secretion, reducing the amount of testosterone that would be detectable in urine. Whether it could really work to beat doping tests is theoretical, as clinical trials are still needed. What is real is that the results are published in the journal Nutrition, and Naughton forwarded his findings to the World Anti-Doping Agency. Last year the same researchers found similar results with green tea consumption. It seems everywhere we go we hear, "Don't drink the water." Mayor Bloomberg is taking away our large sodas. Sooner or later we're all going to die of thirst.

Maurice Powers
Niceville, FL, USA —  January 10, 2013 10:52pm ET
What's the matter with this White House? It's Schramsberg, Schramsber man! History.
Ron Brooks
Alexandria VA —  January 12, 2013 10:28am ET
Wasn't Korbel grandfathered in so they could continue to use the term Champagne under one of our trade agreements with the EU?
Kc Tucker
San Diego, CA —  January 14, 2013 3:47pm ET
POTUS may have to go on an apology tour for using the word "Champagne" to describe California Sparkling.

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