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The Great One makes wine (though not while on skates), a movie about merlot, the Raiders invade Napa, fake foie gras and it's only human to be influenced by wine labels

Posted: August 8, 2007

• Hot on the heels of the announcement that Canadian funny man Dan Aykroyd is starting a winery comes news that the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, is doing the same. This summer, Wayne Gretzky Wine Estates has released a 2005 Meritage, a 2006 Chardonnay and a 2005 Vidal ice wine, all of which come from Canada's Niagara region in Ontario, and range in price from CAN$14 to CAN$45. For now, the wines are only available at Gretzky's Toronto restaurant, aptly named Wayne Gretzky's, as well as at the winery, but the ice wine and a 2005 Napa Cabernet ($30) will be available at U.S. retailers this fall. (The others will only be sold in Canada … pick us up some Cuban cigars while you're there, please.) The wines are made by Rob Power of Ontario's Creekside Estate, which is probably a good thing: At the press conference launching the wines, Gretzky started things off by saying, "Before anybody asks if I know anything about wine, the answer is, 'Not a whole lot.'" A portion of the proceeds from the new winery will go to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation, which provides underprivileged children with opportunities to play hockey. Unfiltered is already well-acquainted with Canadian Pam Anderson's love for bubbly, but we don't expect her to complete the hat trick of celebrity-owned wineries in Ontario. Our Canadian dollars are on Barenaked Ladies front man and former WineSpectator.com guest blogger Steven Page.

• Take this, Miles. Apparently, we at Unfiltered were not alone in thinking that the schlubby protagonist of Sideways, played by Paul Giamatti, was a little hard on Merlot: Napa filmmaker Rudy McClain is currently raising funds to produce a full-length documentary called Merlove. He's got an investor prospectus and already has a website (www.merlove.com) with video interviews of several of the beleaguered variety's champions and producers, including Jean-Claude Berrouet of Château Pétrus, Tom Rinaldi of Provenance and Andy Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards. There's certainly no disputing that the grape has gotten a bad rap. After all, it is the backbone of the great wines of Pomerol, the single most widely planted variety in Bordeaux, as well as a source of outstanding wines from Napa, Washington state and beyond. But what are the chances that McClain can film a surly Bordeaux vintner barking, "I'm not drinkin' any f****** Pinot Noir!"? Slim, but either way, it would probably sound better in French.

The Raiders aren't taking time out to taste, but sure seemed like they did during all of last season....
• If you happened to spot a large group of burly men clad in silver and black last weekend in Napa, they might have been headed to the semi-annual Silver Oak release party. Or maybe not. Since 1995, the Oakland Raiders have conducted their preseason training camp at the Redwood Middle School in Napa, where they run drills, compete for starting positions, and give locals fun celebrity sightings in popular Napa Valley restaurants. Raider Nation sets up headquarters at the Marriott hotel located along Highway 29, just north of downtown Napa. With new practice fields located next to the hotel, a short drive to Oakland and near perfect weather to boot, "There is no finer place than right here [in Napa]," said senior Raiders executive John Herrera. Festive as the Silver Oak bash was (drawing about 1,000 tourists), or as fun as tasting along Highway 29 might be, you probably won't see any Raiders sipping and swirling. Practices and meetings keep players busy from 6:45 a.m. until 11 p.m. So there have been no reports of guests showing up for a wine tasting and being sacked by a 350-pound lineman. And really, it's a shame the season starts as early as it does, since we bet a lineman would come in handy for those punchdowns in a few weeks.

• If something looks like an engorged duck liver and smells like an engorged duck liver, does it taste as good as foie gras? As the debate over whether foie gras production is inhumane continues to rage, some restaurateurs have responded by putting "faux gras" on the menu. Michel Richard, the chef at D.C. restaurants Central and Citronelle, offers a faux gras at Central for those who don't want foie. He also put a recipe in his latest cookbook, substituting chicken liver, heavy cream and butter for duck or goose foie gras. Chef Rick Tramonto of Tru in Chicago reluctantly took foie off his menu after the city council banned sales, but he offers a faux gras, also based on chicken liver (and he still offers the real thing at his other restaurant, Osteria di Tramonto, in a suburb to the north). Reviews on the faux foie are mixed, with some diners saying it's rich and creamy, but isn't quite the real thing. Meanwhile, the foie-gras-ban advocates at Farm Sanctuary suggest a faux gras made from either tofu or chicken substitutes made out of wheat. Mmmm…the perfect appetizer before your tofurkey.

• A new study that shows the label on a bottle of wine plays a significant factor in the enjoyment of the bottle's contents. For the study, diners at a restaurant were offered a free glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with their meal, but here's the catch: Half the diners saw a label indicating the wine was from California, while the other half thought the wine was from North Dakota. Everyone, though, was drinking Two Buck Chuck. "Wine labels can throw either a halo or a shadow over the entire dining experience," said Cornell professor Brian Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. In fact, those who saw the California label not only gave a higher approval of the wine itself, they rated the meal higher and actually consumed more of their food.

• The earliest wine grape harvest on record in France kicked off last week on Aug. 2 in Roussillon, a winegrowing area on the Mediterranean coast, just north of the Spanish Pyrenees. The parcel of Muscat à Petits Grains claiming the fame was handpicked a day earlier than the previous record, set in the same place in 1999 by 178-acre Domaine de Rombeau in Rivesaltes. The grapes harvested by the property will be used to produce 10,000 bottles of a Vin Nouveau (Vin de Pays Primeur), traditionally released on the third Thursday of October, so they had to yield an alcohol degree no higher than 12.4. Local winemaking consultant Laurent Duret said 2007 was an early-harvesting year due to the unusually warm weather throughout France. But Roussillon, he said, was spared from the excess rainfall that hit many French regions throughout much of the summer. "Vintners always say that years ending in 7 are bad for winegrowing, however Roussillon is shaping up to be the exception to the rule," Duret said. If only we could buy futures in early-harvest Muscat ….

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