• Andy Williams couldn't have sung it better: It is the most wonderful time of the year. There's a holiday feast around every corner, bottles popping left and right and, to the great chagrin of Mrs. Unfiltered, a seemingly never-ending supply of televised sports. OK, yes, we're missing hockey, but every Christmas needs a Grinch … Cough! Gary Bettman! Cough! On the bright side, Buffalo Sabres fans hopefully stocked up on Hockey Nights New York table wine to get them through the void, Mark Recchi will have more time to spend in the cellar, and Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette is probably fielding plenty of wine advice requests now that his preferred gift wine has been named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. Even better, without hockey, we've got more time to focus on soccer (and the wines we pair with the beautiful game). While we turn to the U.S National Team or MLS Commissioner Don Garber for American soccer wine advice, our eyes looked to Spain (and China) this month with the introduction of F.C. Barcelona's Players' Collection Tempranillo Rioja 2009 ($29) and Reserva 2008 ($135). The wines are distributed by Wine Hut and made at Bodegas Altanza, where team members helped select the barrels. Unfortunately for fans here and in Europe, the production has been earmarked for the Chinese market, where F.C. Barcelona is immensely popular.
Don't fret, American and Spanish fans of Barça: Superstar forward Lionel Messi released a wine of his own this past summer, Leo, from Valentin Bianchi in Messi's native Argentina, and proceeds from the $12 per bottle wines benefit the Leo Messi Foundation for at-risk children. So how has all this attention to wine affected Barcelona's play this season? After finishing second in La Liga this past year, Messi and team now hold a commanding 11-point lead over defending champs Real Madrid and stand three points clear of second place Atletico Madrid. To bend the team's slogan, that must be més que un vino.
• Unfiltered is a great lover of the visual arts, be they Mouton labels or batik portraits stained with wine, but like many connoisseurs, we all too often bump against the prejudices of the uninitiated masses. "It's erotica, not 'filthy pornography,' Mom!" At last, we've found in Conrad Engelhardt a wine artist who understands us. Engelhardt began creating pointillistic works, so far mostly tasteful female nudes, from wine bottle corks in 2011, using the different shades of stain to achieve contrast. Engelhardt told Unfiltered via e-mail that the corkage restrictions are part of the appeal. "I select images that would both appeal to the observer and prove a challenge for me to recreate with just corks. For example, could I create shading effects? Then I took it further, could I created the effect of a folded blanket with just a few shades of purple, or the appearance of a woman's legs in stockings, or show the definition of a woman's back?" He's made six pieces so far, but has more in the works. The numbers impress: for a typical 3.5' by 2.5' canvas, Engelhardt puts in about 3,000 staples as attachment points for 1,800 to 2,300 corks. Like many of us, he's a cork saver, but 2,300 bottles of wine is a tall order even for a Friday night, so he began by collecting corks from local restaurants (he is based in London) Les Trois Garçon and the Boundary, and now sources from about a dozen dining spots. Engelhardt is particularly proud of a recent masterwork, a Marilyn Monroe portrait that actually required red corks (for the lips, of course) and yellow (for the hair). He described his method: "I begin with a single cork and start at a critical point in an image, something that has to appear in proportion and be absolutely accurate. In the case of Marilyn Monroe, it was her beauty mark and her mouth. I then continue from that first cork outward until it is complete." While Marilyn would set you back $25,000 because it would be difficult to replicate, most of the Engelhardt oeuvre goes for $4,000 to $6,000. And so aficionados of the finer things are forced into the difficult position of hard choices: a unique work of art or a bottle of Romanée-Conti. It's a dilemma Unfiltered faces all too never.
• In June 2011, we brought you news of the wild mustang rescue efforts being led by vintner Ellie Price of Dunstan Wines and Durell Vineyard. At the time, Price had put up much of the $30,000 needed to rescue a group of wild horses that had been rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management and were slated to be sold for slaughter, but once the horses were purchased, they needed homes—Price was only able to take three to be pastured at Durell Vineyard. Price, who works closely with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, announced recently that a 2,000-acre wildlife refuge had been established as a new permanent home for the rescued wild horses. Montgomery Creek Ranch, just outside Willows, Calif., will eventually take in all 115 wild mustangs that were purchased from a Nevada livestock auction. "These wonderful horses have brought great joy to my life, and the experience of releasing them into the wild was deeply gratifying," Price said in a statement. For more on the plight of America's wild horses, stay tuned for Price's upcoming IMAX documentary, American Mustang 3D, scheduled for a spring 2013 release.