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Best of Unfiltered 2013

Musical Moscato mania became an epidemic this year, with Nicki Minaj and Warren G leading the way, but disasters, from winery fires to shipwrecks to overturned trailers, kept readers coming back

Posted: December 26, 2013

Unless you've been living in a Champagne cellar without a radio tuned in to the Top 40 for the past few years (and if you have, bully for you!), you or someone you know has no doubt been touched by Moscato mania, an affliction by which young wine lovers are uncontrollably drawn to this inexpensive, semi-sweet gateway sparkler. The infection rate is especially high among pop stars. Unfiltered's ongoing coverage of Moscato and the celebrities who get paid to sell it was the top-drawing story here in 2013, led by Nicki Minaj and bolstered by Warren G and Christina Milian.

Looking behind the Moscato music, however, Unfiltered uncovered a new trend among its readers. After years of compiling data on which Unfiltered stories you're reading (and listening to NSA tape recordings of all your phone calls), we thought we'd figured out what you like by 2011: Beautiful women. In 2012, however, disasters dominated our most popular coverage, which included a burned-out California winery and a suspicious accidental demolition of a Bordeaux château. Your thirst for destruction was even more pronounced this year, with 60 percent of 2013's Top 10 Unfiltered items focusing on accidents or crimes, from the violent jack-knifing of a tractor trailer filled with Veuve Clicquot to fires at Bergström and Chez Panisse to wine shipments lost at sea and updates on the trial of recently convicted counterfeit wine peddler Rudy Kurniawan.

We still have some beautiful people for you, however. Wallflowers Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just barely made this year's list, coming in at No. 10 for their Provence rosé partnership with the Rhône's Perrin family. The times, they are a-changin'.

1. Nicki Minaj Gets into the Moscato Myx
"If I'm sippin' in the club, Myx Moscato," raps Nicki Minaj on the new Ciara song "I'm Out." And that's about all you need to know about the American Idol judge's new job as spokesperson for Myx Fusions, of which she is also a part owner. Myx is packaged in single-serve 6-ounce screw-capped bottles, and come in three iterations: Original Moscato, Coconut & Moscato and Peach & Moscato, each priced at $4 a bottle. "I am so excited to team with the Myx brand," Minaj said in a press release. "I have no doubt that it will be No. 1. It's a great-tasting, amazing product that people will love. It's not even a hard sell. Myx Fusions gives us an opportunity to revolutionize the wine industry." The Trinidad and Tobago-born, Queens, N.Y.-raised star is no stranger to sparkling wine. Champagne flutes and wineglasses make regular appearances in the pop star's music videos, from "Super Bass," where the stemware is filled with a very Ghostbusters II-looking evil pink ectoplasm, to "Right Thru Me," where Minaj hurls empty wineglasses at her disrespectful lover, presumably because they haven't been filled with Moscato. Posted June 6.

2. Champagne on the Skids
The quiet little town of Griswold, Conn., became the unlikely location of the Champagne event of the year this past week, if we calculated such things by sheer volume of wine “poured." A tractor trailer traveling along Interstate 395 carrying several hundred cases of Veuve Clicquot clipped a Department of Transportation vehicle that was acting as a protective barrier for workers who were conducting routine tree maintenance along the highway. Then, not unlike an agitated bottle of Champagne itself, the trailer swerved, capsized and spilled its contents all over everything in its path; hundreds of the trademark orange Veuve Clicquot cases and gift-boxed bottles (along with a handful of lavender Grande Dame rosé cases) were sent bursting through the front of the trailer and skidding several hundred feet ahead of the truck, blocking both northbound lanes for several hours. The drivers of the tractor trailer and the DOT vehicle were both treated for minor injuries and released. The Department of Consumer Protection was charged with the Champagne portion of the cleanup, with the not-so-delicate help of a bulldozer. Posted Sept. 26.

3. Sauvignon Blanc Lost at Sea
Aging wine under the sea has been a trending fad in recent years, but the ocean seems to be getting more than its intended share of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Last year, the 775-foot, 50,000-ton cargo ship the Rena wrecked off the coast of New Zealand, taking down 4,000 cases of Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc with it. Now an even larger cargo ship, the MOL Comfort, has broken in two off the coast of Yemen and sunk with thousands of cases of Saint Clair Family Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir aboard. The wine was being shipped to Sweden. "Unfortunately, two containers of our wine headed to our Swedish market were on the [MOL Comfort]," read a June 20 post on Saint Clair's blog. "That wine will never be seen again. Don’t fret you Swedish lovelies; we have more on the way." The 1,000-foot Comfort suffered a crack during rough weather in the Arabian Sea on June 17 and broke in two, with the 26-member crew safely rescued by another container ship. Both pieces of the ship remained afloat, and salvage operations commenced the following week. The stern section of the boat sank June 27, but the bow section was being towed to shore when it caught fire on July 6, destroying most of the remaining cargo containers before it, too, sank to the ocean floor this past Wednesday. While Saint Clair's staff may have given up on these wines, Unfiltered thinks these bottles are going to answer a lot of questions about aging screw-capped wines underwater in the year 2100. Posted July 18.

4. The 2013 Inauguration Wine Pairings (and Controversy)
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. 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. Posted Jan. 10.

5. Fire Destroys Bergström's Equipment, Wine Collection
An Aug. 27 fire damaged an equipment barn and wine-storage facility beyond repair at Bergström Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The flames were concentrated on the maintenance side of the building, where a tractor and vineyard-management equipment were stored. The Bergström family’s personal wine collection also sustained substantial heat and smoke damage. “We believe that more than 150 cases of wine were potentially ruined,” winemaker and co-owner Josh Bergström told Unfiltered via e-mail. “Fortunately, our main stock of current-release wines as well as our general wine library containing all of our wines going back to our first vintage in 1999 are safe and sound in a separate warehouse off-site.” The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but according to Dundee Fire District Chief John Stock, the combustion may have been a reaction between a leaking container of Stylet Oil, a mineral oil used to control pests and mildew, and copper hydroxide powder, which is used as a fungicide. Both products are commonly used in organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture. “Probably a lot of people in the wine industry use these and don’t realize that they are the last two chemicals that should be sitting next to one another,” said Stock. A Facebook posting by Bergström provoked an immediate outpouring from the Oregon wine community, with fellow winemakers offering to loan their tractors and equipment and, in one case, dropping off a case of wine to replenish the family’s lost collection. Posted Aug. 29.

6. Tina Fey's Deleted Wine Scene
Unfiltered favorite Tina Fey knows her way around a bottle of wine, cleverly linking herself with director Steven Spielberg on a 1929 bottle of Moët & Chandon at the 2009 Academy Awards, and showing up on the 2011 Screen Actors Guild Awards red carpet with Dry Creek Vineyard VP Kim Stare Wallace. Date Night Napa Cabernet even got a star turn when the Fey and Steve Carell flick of the same name started serving Date Night at press screenings. So we were disappointed to learn this past year that Fey's beloved 30 Rock on NBC would be coming to an end, but now, just a few months after the series finale, we have received a delightful little memento from the show's last episode: It turns out that Terlato had been providing the set of 30 Rock with its wines for the past four seasons, and the brand's recently launched Protea Chenin Blanc from South Africa was set to be included in a series finale montage in which Fey's character Liz Lemon, in her new role as stay-at-home mom, completes a dizzying array of household chores concluding with her reaching for a bottle of Protea, only to realize that it's just 10:45 a.m. With the scene left on the cutting-room floor, Fey kindly passed along the photo above to 30 Rock's friends at Terlato. You'll have to wait for the hopefully distant-future Unfiltered finale to find out how we got the photo … Posted April 11.

7. Will Rudy Kurniawan Find a New Lawyer?
Accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan and his lawyer may soon be parting ways. After meeting privately today with Kurniawan and defense attorney Michael Proctor, Judge Richard Berman returned to his lower Manhattan federal courtroom and set another conference for July 17, saying, "There may very well be a substitute counsel at that conference. That's my expectation." It was not revealed who will replace Proctor, a Los Angeles–based lawyer who has represented Kurniawan since shortly after his arrest by FBI agents on March 9, 2012, at his home in Arcadia, Calif. Tension between Kurniawan and Proctor has been brewing for at least a month. On Monday, Judge Berman noted that at a conference on June 11, there had been "some issues between Mr. Kurniawan and defense counsel," and asked Proctor where matters stood. "What I can say in open court is that it's unfortunate that facts and circumstances haven't changed," Proctor said. Asked if the issues with his client were strategic or financial, Proctor told Unfiltered, "If I answered you, I could be disbarred." At Monday's court session, the judge summoned a so-called "CJ" lawyer to possibly represent Kurniawan. Under the Criminal Justice Act of 1964, the federal courts can appoint a volunteer lawyer to represent a defendant who cannot afford private counsel. Looking sternly at Kurniawan, the judge said, "One has to swear under penalty of perjury that one doesn't have the resources to maintain one's own counsel [to obtain representation by a CJ attorney]. That's a serious commitment to make." Kurniawan apparently took that warning to heart, as the CJ lawyer designated by the judge, Dawn Cardi, will not be representing him at next week's conference.

Bringing on a new defense lawyer could imperil Kurniawan's trial date, set for Sept. 9. The prosecution is anxious to keep that date. It hopes to bring three top Burgundian winemakers to New York to testify at the trial. Due to a projected late harvest this year, the three—Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Christian Roumier of Domaine Roumier and Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot—have said they can be on hand to testify in early September, but their winemaking duties will likely not permit them to come later. In that case, video testimony would be substituted, which the prosecution prefers not to do. Lead prosecutor Jason Hernandez told the judge, "We encourage your honor to keep this [Sept. 9] trial date, because the alternatives are pretty grim." Posted July 11.

8. Fire Scorches Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse, the iconic Berkeley restaurant considered by many to be the spiritual home of California cuisine, is still recovering from an early morning fire that damaged a section of its main dining room March 8. The fire, which was reported just after 3 a.m., started under the restaurant's enclosed front porch, a small eating area on the first floor, burning the room and charring the front of the wooden building. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. "Luckily no one was hurt and the main structure of Chez Panisse [is] intact," reported famed chef and founder Alice Waters on her Twitter account the morning of the fire. The rest of the formal dining room, as well as the kitchen and upstairs café, were saved by the restaurant's sprinkler system, which kept the flames from spreading to the rest of the building. Chez Panisse staff informed Unfiltered that the fire did not directly affect an adjacent building that houses the wine cellar and the offices. Waters opened the restaurant in 1971, focusing on Mediterranean-style cuisine using organic and local ingredients. Chez Panisse is closed for repairs while the damage is addressed and, according to staff, no fixed date has been set for reopening. Posted March 14.

9. A Bitter Night for Château d'Yquem
On April 30, Bordeaux's Château d’Yquem tweeted: “Today, the first cases of 2010 #Yquem are leaving our cellar.” Alas, not all 2010 Yquem left in the usual way. At 3 a.m. this past Monday, an alarm rang at the estate, but the gendarmes speeding down the long gravel drive shortly thereafter were too late. Thieves had broken into the cellars, stolen 380 half-bottles of Château d’Yquem 2010, and disappeared into the Sauternes countryside. Yquem 2010 sells for $375 per half-bottle, making the loot worth $142,500. The wines were labeled, boxed and ready for shipment, though not all the boxes were sealed. The château’s cellars are currently under renovation, but the first-growth insists the construction work is not connected to the crime. “The investigation is under way,” a spokesperson for the Langon police told Unfiltered. Yquem has not had an easy time of late. The 2012 vintage failed the in-house tasting test following a difficult growing season, and CEO Pierre Lurton decided against releasing a 2012 vintage. At present, the barrels are being emptied into vats, in preparation for selling it off in bulk to négociants. And the week before, the local Bordeaux newspaper caught online wine retailer 1855.com, currently under attack for alleged non-delivery of futures orders, proposing to sell Yquem 2012 on futures. No price was given, but the château tweeted: “Reminder for scatterbrains: We are not producing Yquem 2012. Thus it’s useless to try to buy it or sell it.” Or steal it, we might add. Posted June 13.

10. The Rhône's Perrin Family Adopts Brad and Angelina
Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been summering at Provence's Château Miraval since 2008, though they were by no means the organic winery's first celebrity guests—Miraval's Pink Floyd rosé was named in honor of the band, who recorded The Wall at Le Studio de Miraval, the recording studio built at the winery after it was purchased by jazz pianist Jacques Loussier in 1970. Rock-star Tuscan vintner Sting, Sade, the Cranberries and the Gipsy Kings have recorded at Miraval as well. Pitt and Jolie, however, are now making their own mark on Miraval, literally, with a new Miraval Côtes de Provence 2012 rosé made in partnership with the Rhône Valley's Perrin Family of Château de Beaucastel, under the new Jolie-Pitt & Perrin brand. The Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Rolle blend with be available soon in the U.S. market for around $28. "Miraval is certainly one of the most impressive wine estates in Provence," said Perrin & Fils general manager Marc Perrin, who began working with the couple this past summer. "[Brad and Angelina] are involved. He is very interested in wine—he knows his wine very well … it is fantastic. He is an artist with a lot of dedication, so it could not be better," Perrin told Unfiltered. "It is not a celebrity wine—it is a great terroir and we produce a family wine, so that's why we are there." Posted Feb. 14.

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