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Chinese Wine in the Voice of Russell Crowe

Plus, Burgundy and Champagne struggle for world heritage site recognition, get amped with Motörhead's new Shiraz in a box and Oregon gets a new AVA

Posted: February 7, 2013

• Unfiltered was given an exclusive sneak preview of Red Obsession this week, a new documentary film about China’s fixation on Bordeaux as a symbol of wealth and power, which premieres at the Berlin Film Festival Feb. 13. The all-Australian production by Warwick Ross and David Roach scores for high production value and casting Russell Crowe as the narrator (we would listen to that sexy, rumbling voice describe wine labels drying). On screen, the Aussies filmed thoroughly engaging interviews with négociant and grower Christian Moueix and Château Palmer's Thomas Duroux, as well as cameos by Francis Ford Coppola, Lafite's Charles Chevallier, Margaux's Corinne Mentzelopoulos and Latour's Frédéric Engerer. Overall, the film is a good primer on a swiftly evolving relationship, but it’s already dated. The scope is narrow, focusing on first-growths Margaux, Lafite, Latour and third-growth Palmer, with noticeable no-shows by Mouton and Haut-Brion. Moueix holds up his end representing the Right Bank, but there’s no real exploration of the négociants that actually sell the wine to the Chinese, and very little input from Lafite, even though the wine gets a lot of screen time. Of course, it wouldn’t be about Bordeaux if there wasn’t some wince-inducing hyperbole, and the clichés about ultrarich Chinese wine investors titillate then tire—an interview segment with highly regarded wine collector Peter Tseng is intercut with clips of the sex toys on which he made his fortune coming off the production line, and the oversimplified depiction of Chinese collector George Tong, interviewed standing next to boxes of head-bobbing plastic dolls made by his company and comparing Bordeaux to Disneyland, borders on insulting. "It is an interview-based film," Tong told Unfiltered. "I may not agree to everything the interviewees said. I know some of them. They said things maybe because of his or her profession or maybe she or he wanted to exaggerate things." But there are some really worthwhile moments in Red Obsession, particularly the images from China and the interview with Fongyee Walker, an English-Chinese consultant who offers insight into the complex East-West dynamic that is changing the wine world.

In other wine documentary news, filmmaker Jason Wise's Somm, which follows four Master Sommelier candidates through their preparation for the big exam, has been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films for a national release this summer. Somm was the opening film at this past November's Napa Valley Film Festival and played to a standing ovation at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in January.

• What does a guy have to do to get a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List designation around here? Surely that's what the Burgundians and Champenois have been asking themselves, as both the climats of the Côte d'Or and the caves of Champagne were nixed in their bids for the coveted U.N. laurel for the world's most important historical, cultural and natural landmarks. Instead, at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in July 2014, France will submit for consideration a bunch of animal pictures (painted on a cave wall 30,000 years ago in Chauvet) and a hill with the top cut off (the volcanoes at Auvergne). Unfortunately for Burgundy and Champagne, new rules allow each country only one natural and one cultural landmark submission per year, so the fabled Moldovan vineyards of the noble Rara Neagra grape could potentially join the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Giza and the city of Liverpool, U.K. (?) on The List before Montrachet and Epernay do. Already, there are reports of the Douro, St.-Emilion, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and Tokaj-Hegyalja sticking their tongues out and going "nyah-nyah-nyah" at Burgundy and Champagne—these regions have all Made It. But there's still a shot: The two slighted soils will be up for consideration again next year. The organizing groups behind the two applications, Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne and Paysages du Champagne, can take comfort in the fact that even the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem did not get inducted by UNESCO until this past year.

Leave it to a band called Motörhead to produce a wine in uniquely portable packaging. As Unfiltered first noted in 2011, the British metal band joined the ever-expanding ranks of heavy metal winemakers (including Slayer, Whitesnake and Queensrÿche's Geoff Tate) with Sacrifice, their Shiraz from Southeastern Australia, and have since added a rosé and a beer, Bastard's Lager, brewed in Sweden, with plans for a vodka in the works. Now, for the European fans, the band has made their Shiraz available in a bag in a box that's been designed to look like an electric guitar amplifier. Motörhead has a large fan base in Sweden, and indeed the decision to offer the wine in portable packaging reflects the fact that Swedes consume more than half their wine in the bag-in-box format, according to Yvonne Wener of Brands for Fans, which distributes the wine. We'll report back as soon as the first overambitious Motörhead fans get busted sneaking backstage with a few boxes of Sacrifice in an attempt to pass for roadies.

• The Oregon Wine Center announced today that the Beaver State has had its 17th American Viticultural Area approved by the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau. The Elkton Oregon AVA (alternately named Elkton OR) is located in the Umpqua Valley AVA between Eugene and Roseburg. Winemaker Ken Thomason was the pioneering grapegrower in the area, planting Pinot Noir there in 1972 on the site which is now Rivers Edge Winery, owned by Mike and Vonnie Landt. Southern Oregon University environmental studies professor Dr. Gregory Jones prepared and submitted Elkton's petition. Elkton Oregon's AVA status becomes effective March 7.

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