• Listening to depressing country music has occasionally made Unfiltered want to drink kerosene, and one entrepreneurial young country music star is hoping the wine drinkers of Texas feel the same way. Grammy Award-nominated Miranda Lambert, an alum of Country Music Television's reality competition show Nashville Star, has started her own line of wines, one of which is a Blanc du Bois called Kerosene, which is also the title of her debut album. Lambert's other white wine, a Muscat, is named for her follow-up album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Unfiltered has been around both kerosene and crazy ex-girlfriends, and neither left a good taste in our mouth (and heaven forbid you get the two of them together), but who are we to question the business model? Lambert's other wines, made in partnership with LouViney Vineyards and Winery of Sulphur Springs, Texas, are a Merlot named County Road 233, a Cabernet-Merlot blend named Red 55, a "sweet" Cabernet called Belle, and a rosé named for the country star's favorite guitar, Electric Pink. They're all available from the singer's website, where you can also pick up your official Miranda Lambert t-shirts, baby onesies, hats, key chains and beer koozies. And the next time one of those weepy country ballads gets us down, we really will try drowning our sorrows in a glass of Kerosene.
Daniel Sobolevskiy shows that his dedication to fine wine is more than skin-deep.
• Unfiltered doesn't get a lot of "snail mail," but when we do, it's generally not of the coupons-and-catalogs variety. Case in point: a sheaf of photos recently landed on our desk in which Daniel Sobolevskiy of Brooklyn, N.Y., proudly models his brand-new Château Pétrus tattoo. When asked about the inspiration for his unusual body art, Sobolevskiy said simply, "Maybe it's a little crazy, but I am a wine lover." The design, implemented by tattoo artist Alexander Mikhailin, was completed in parts over the course of several weeks. Although Sobolevskiy says that he's a big fan of Pétrus, especially the 2000 vintage, he admits that his favorite Bordeaux is actually Château Lafite Rothschild, "but the bottle doesn't look as good as the Pétrus bottle." Considering that it's something as permanent as a tattoo, we'll forgive Sobolevskiy this time for choosing a wine based on its label.
• One hundred sixty-two pages on how to open a bottle and pour wine into a glass? Well, no. That only accounts for about 10 pages in Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter (Ten Speed Press), the new book by Edmund O. Lawler, about leading restaurateur Charlie Trotter and his wine service team. And while some of it is obvious or self-congratulatory by turns, it also provides a look behind the curtain of the Great Oz of Chicago—that is, Trotter's self-named, Grand Award-winning restaurant. The book may read like a training manual, but there are also sections that diners will enjoy and learn from. We particularly like the chapter called Intuitive Service. Turns out that the restaurant staff are constantly scanning the room—Trotter compares it to court vision in basketball—and listening to your conversations, the better to appear intuitive. The book has some great anecdotes, too. In filling out his post-meal diner's survey, one guest called the sommelier "pretentious and arrogant." The manager and sommelier called to apologize, all the while knowing that this guest was simply angry at having been prohibited from bringing home an unfinished large-format bottle, as at the time, wine "doggy bags" were not yet legal in Chicago. Also, Trotter's does not have a bar, or serve liquor, but the book tells the story of the one time in which they made an exception: A guest claimed that he'd started every meal for 25 years with a vodka martini.
Tawny, one of the 50 alpacas on Tim Maxwell's farm.
• Unfiltered recently came across a note for a Marsanne described as "a delightful girl with very fine fiber," and one for a Syrah that has "radiant color, high density and consistently crimpy fleece." If those notes look odd to you, don't worry—those aren't newfangled tasting terms. In this case, Marsanne and Syrah are actually alpacas being raised by former Lauber Imports employee Tim Maxwell and his wife, Sandra, who retired to a farm in Quakertown, N.J., in 2000. They began breeding and boarding alpacas, and now, with 50 alpacas and one llama, Maxwell says, "I'm working harder than ever." They sell the animals and also shear them once a year for their fleece. As a nod to Maxwell's former wine career, many of the alpacas are named after grapes or wineries. We're no expert on alpacas, to be sure, but to our untrained eye, this little brown youngster with "butter soft" fleece is the most lovable Tawny Port we've ever come across.
If you're serving it to a TTB official, don't call it Port.
• Speaking of Port, what's a California winery to do when it has barrels and barrels of fortified wine but can't legally call it Port anymore? Get creative. Peltier Station Winery in Lodi named its red dessert wine USB, a sly allusion to those ubiquitous plug-in "ports" on computers. "It doesn't say the word Port anywhere on the label," says winery owner Rodney Schatz, who had a long list of creative names rejected before the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) finally gave him the thumbs-up. "We tried calling it Xport, but they said no." As you can see, the USB label itself gets in on the fun, showing the image of a grapevine with the USB symbol as its roots. The wine is 100 percent Zinfandel from the Lodi region, contains 18.8 percent alcohol and is being sold through the winery's website, a fitting venue for the high-tech naming concept.
• Watermelon seed-spitting competitions tend to be informal, outdoor events, but we imagine that a wine-spitting contest, dreamt up by the Independent Winegrowers Association of France, is a slightly more dignified affair. Also setting it apart from other contests is the fact that the "Golden Spitter" competition, held during each of the association's 12 nationwide wine shows, isn't about who can spit the furthest. Instead, "a dozen or so competitors are judged on their ability to recognize the grape varieties, the aromas and the appellation of the wine they are tasting, and on the most elegant spitting style," explained Florence Corre, spokesperson for the association, who assures us that this is serious stuff. Indeed, the association hopes that the contests will remind spectators that tasting is also about spitting, and that wine should be enjoyed in moderation.