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Will Downton Abbey's Claret Be a Hit?

Plus, a Napa wine executive is on the lam after a $900,000 embezzlement indictment and Unfiltered's dispatches from Vinexpo, including a new twist-off cork

Posted: June 27, 2013

• You need not worry anymore whether the Dowager Countess would approve of your wine selection. Wines That Rock, the company responsible for Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot and Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet, has announced that it will release Downton Abbey-branded wines in partnership with Dulong Grand Vins de Bordeaux. According to Bill Zysblat, co-owner of Wines That Rock, “these are wines the Crawley family would have been proud to serve at Downton.” We won’t know details on the blend or the AOCs of the wines until later in the summer, but you can bet that the red and white wines will likely be, respectively, a “claret,” as the Crawleys would have referred to a red Bordeaux blend, and a Bordeaux Blanc—traditionally Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and perhaps a little Muscadelle. Under-butler Thomas Barrow caused quite the stir in season 1 when he purloined a bottle of claret from the estate’s meticulously managed cellar, and Unfiltered is keeping its fingers crossed that the series’ fourth season brings some more nail-biting wine drama. Incidentally, we hear that Paul Giamatti will be joining the cast of Downton as Lady Grantham’s philandering brother Harold. Let’s hope Harold shares an affinity for wine with the infamous Miles, Giamatti’s Merlot-disparaging character in the 2004 film Sideways.

Unfiltered's regular pairing of wine and crime this week isn't as cut and dry as a simple Château Yquem smash and grab, and in today's installment, the stakes are considerably heftier than usual: Chris Edwards, a former vice president at online retailer the Wine Tasting Network, has been indicted by the U.S. Attorney's office on charges of embezzling $900,000 to the tune of 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Edwards allegedly created a fictitious company, Dufrane Compliance Trust, and directed Wine Tasting Network invoices into the Dufrane account, from which he purportedly made withdrawals to pay for, among other things, a BMW. Having failed to appear in court earlier this month, Edwards is now missing and presumed on the run. The Wine Tasting Network (a subsidiary of 1-800-Flowers.com) recently moved its operations out of Napa and to Chicago, and the company declined to comment on the charges. This was not Edwards' first brush with the law. His 2005 run for Napa City Council was derailed when the Napa Valley Register reported that he had been convicted of two misdemeanor counts of larceny in Cabarrus County, N.C., for passing bad checks. If caught and convicted, Edwards faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines plus restitution.

• Vinexpo—the massive, global wine and spirits trade show that alternates between France and Asia (with Beijing and Tokyo being added to Hong Kong in 2014)—returned to Bordeaux last week under gray skies and often drenching rain. While the weather apparently didn't dampen attendees' enthusiasm to do business and the cool temperatures were welcomed in the wine-tasting halls after the heat waves of recent years, it did pose some challenges for the lavish château parties that surround the biannual event. At the Commanderie du Bontemps' Fête de la Fleur, held at Château Lagrange in St.-Julien, a downpour forced the 1,500 black tie–clad guests to cluster under one large tent to stay dry, but gave them a chance to admire the estate's amazingly well-drained soils. “That’s terroir,” more than one guest was heard to quip. Fortunately, the €500-a-plate dinner was held in the cellars, emptied of barrels and transformed with flooring, lighting, heating, Japanese flower arrangements, with a stunningly beautiful menu by Paris chef Frédéric Simonin. Among the political, business and wine luminaries inducted into the Commanderie this year were two former Bond girls—Carole Bouquet, now making wine on the Italian island of Pantelleria, and action-movie heroine Michelle Yeoh, best known for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—along with French actress Anna Mouglalis, who starred in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.

The only contretemps: Commanderie member Bernard Pujol, CEO of négociant Bordeaux Vins Sélection (BVS), is suing Emmanuel Cruse of Château d'Issan, in his role as Commanderie grand maître, for €500,000 in damages because he was not allowed to buy a table for Fête de la Fleur. With 320 Commanderie members and only 150 tables, competition for a table during Vinexpo years is so brutal that as soon as reservations open, members lay siege to the Commanderie office, racing to be first with their order, some dashing up the stairs to beat people taking the elevator.

• Unfiltered loves wine innovations, so we were very curious when we heard that a never-before-seen new wine closure would be debuting at Vinexpo. The thing about wine closures is, like people, none of them are perfect. Corks are traditional, classy, romantic, even recyclable, but they sure end up ruining a lot of wine thanks to the numerous weaknesses of a natural product that contribute to cork taint. Screw caps are even better (we think), because they don't require a fancy tool to open, they're cheaper than corks, also recyclable, and they eliminate the possibility of cork taint, but some people think that the act of twisting off an aluminum cap somehow cheapens the experience of wine consumption. Wouldn't it be great if we could somehow combine the best of both closures into some kind of perfect wine seal? It sure would! Unfortunately, we think some wires must have gotten crossed during the four-year development of the Helix, a new wine closure from cork goliath Amorim and bottle supplier O-I: The Helix is a twist-off made of cork. "We are delighted to offer the market not only a 100 percent renewable, modern product, but also a solution that enhances the wine-drinking experience through opening and resealing convenience," said chairman and CEO Antonio Amorim in a press release. Well, at least it's sustainable, and it's made from Amorim's patented Neutrocork, in which the cork particles are treated with steam before being molded together in an effort to reduce instances of cork taint. It even makes that beloved "pop" sound when you untwist it! Nevertheless, we can't help but be reminded there's a reason that bottles of wine that smell like mold are referred to as "corked."

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