Best of Unfiltered 2018

Your favorite wine and pop culture moments of the year, starring Prince Harry, Duchess Meghan, King James, Pope Francis and an unknown Frenchman who grooved to cannabis wine 2,000 years before it was cool
Best of Unfiltered 2018
Geoff Pugh - WPA Pool/Getty Images They may be sixth in succession, but Meghan and Harry proved they rule when they tied the knot with West Coast wine toasts.
Dec 27, 2018

If you were a pop culture vulture on the lookout for wine in the wild in 2018, your cup runneth over. It was a year of action amidst the wines for our favorite A-listers: 50 Cent popped a spritz, Adam Rippon did the twist, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union found their bliss, and excavators working on a London-area church wine cellar found … Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose remains had been misplaced there).

The stars of stage and screen made appearances on the rouge carpet, from Kyle MacLachlan in the role of rosé raconteur to 2017 Unfiltered queen Jennifer Lawrence’s wine-balancing act at the Oscars, but 2018 saw wine itself playing the leading part as well. Guitar-shredding, tractor-surfing natural wine mavericks in France stormed the screen, as did #SonomaStrong vintners in Tyler Florence’s Uncrushable wildfires documentary.

And in an all-around weird year, wine flew its freak flag too: Bordeaux vin headquarters sprouted giant tentacles, frog juice stewed at the Disgusting Food Museum, Napa vintners rose from the dead and the saga of the lost sword of the Sonoma Samurai unfolded.

You laughed, you cried, you voted for Gov. Wine Guy, but in the end, when 2018’s decanter had emptied, these 10 stories were your favorite Unfiltered scoops of the year.

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10. Francis' In-Flight Wine on Air Pope One

TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images / Enrico Serafino
Pope Francis raised a glass ... 35,000 feet up.

Pope Francis last week flew to Geneva to ring in the 70th birthday of the World Council of Churches, but as a cool guy who knows wine is essential to any celebration, he got the party started early, popping bottles on the plane before he'd even touched down in Switzerland!

Unfiltered got word that Francesco sipped an appropriately Piedmontese pour on his flight over the Alps last Thursday: the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa Brut Spumante Metodo Classico 2013, a tasteful traditional-method sparkler of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay aged on the lees at least 36 months. According to Nico Conta, president of the winery, the bubbly was specifically selected by the Pope’s sommelier and served on the Alitalia flight to Francis and his whole entourage. It was the first time Serafino had been anointed in-flight wine on the papal plane.

"The Pope’s team informed us that the Alta Langa Enrico Serafino was very appreciated onboard," Conta told Unfiltered via email, hopefully "opening the doors to future presences."

Given Francis' reputation as a particularly worldly man of God, Serafino is an aptly international choice: The winery has a 140-year history in the hills of Piedmont, but was purchased from Gruppo Campari in 2015 by American businessman Kyle Krause and his family. But it was not, as Unfiltered readers know, Pontifex's first flight of American vintners' wine. Posted June 28.


9. Mariah Carey 'Might as Well Down this Caymus Bottle' in New Song 'GTFO'

Mariah Carey / Vevo
Get The French Oak?

Mariah Carey is coming out with her first new album in four years, and it might be an ode to wine. The first song released, sassy break-up ballad "GTFO," describes Carey ditching a zero to get with a hero—a bottle of Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, specifically. In the song and accompanying video, the diva legend trills, wineglass in hand, that she "could've sworn you loved me harder / Might as well down this Caymus bottle" to help put her no-good ex in the rearview.

Reference to the Napa winery didn’t go unnoticed by fans, many of whom took to social media to share videos and memes of themselves with a glass (or bottle) of Caymus, and a number of whom have called the source in Napa looking to buy their own bottles of heartbreak salve, the winery told us. Carey herself tweeted this week, "Caymus 2014 is one of my favorite wines ever!" to which the vineyard's social media account swooned, "Mariah + Caymus = We Belong Together," a nod to another of Carey's hit singles.

But the history is undeniable: "Mariah came to Caymus Vineyards some years ago, and I was pleased to personally taste and tour her and a guest," vintner Chuck Wagner told Unfiltered. "Of course we would love for her to make a return visit any time she is in the area." (A little more history: With the fruits of one specific vintage, Carey and Caymus would reach their respective fields' top spots, with her debut album eventually topping the music charts and their Cabernet snagging Wine of the Year—that was 1990.)

"We’re appreciative that Mariah thought of Caymus during her creative process," added Wagner. "We can only imagine what goes into writing a song, but we can relate to the work and even the struggle behind it. Probably not so different from creating a great bottle of wine."

In the brief time since "GTFO" dropped, Carey released another new song—today—"With You," which is more Cognac-flavored: Rémy Martin gets the mention. Onetime Carey favorite Champagne, alas, has evidently been sent TFO. Posted Oct. 4.


8. Royal Wedding Winemakers Speak; Honeymoon at a 'Wine Spectator' Award–Winning Castle?

Noam Galai/GC Images/Getty Images
"We crave a different kind of buzz." (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Harry and Meghan.)

As the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Sussex decamp from wedding to honeymoon, our Royals-crazed realm remains thirsty for royal wedding (and honeymoon) wine gossip. We've got you covered: A guest who attended Meghan and Harry's wild nighttime reception apparently revealed wine details from the evening to U.K. tabloid the Daily Express. Naturally, we grabbed our deerstalker cap and magnifying glass to sleuth out the regal revelry rumors of an Old World white, Olivier Leflaive's Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles 2016, and a New World red, Mount Eden Vineyards' Domaine Eden Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. And though Kensington Palace has yet to confirm these vinous reports, both producers seem confident in the leaked details; each took to their respective social media accounts to declare the glad tidings.

For Mount Eden, it adds up. "An online customer placed a surprisingly large order of Domaine Eden Pinot Noir [2014] with us earlier in the year," Peter Gordon-Smith, operations manager for Mount Eden's U.K. distributor, Roberson Wine, said via email that the winery passed to Unfiltered. "Apparently, the customer did say it was for a wedding, but didn’t specify which one."

"Having our Domaine Eden Pinot Noir chosen as one of the wines for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding came as a complete surprise," Ellie Patterson, co-owner of Mount Eden Vineyards, told us.

Across the pond, Olivier Leflaive president Jean Soubeyrand also weighed in: "Unfortunately, I can’t confirm the information," he told Unfiltered, explaining that Les Sétilles is sold in the U.K. at such a high volume that even if a large quantity of it was ordered, it wouldn't show up as significant in shipping records. But, he added, "if newspapers are talking about, I can’t imagine that’s fake news … Anyway, if Les Sétilles was poured at such an event, I can only say we are very proud of that and honored. You know, my personal feeling, the most important is not to be under the spotlights, but to know we did a good job. Last point, I would say, the royal family has really great taste."

Indeed: Harry and Meghan are rumored to be honeymooning at Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland, whose dining room holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence for its wine list. While a rep from the castle kept mum, the castle sent out a cheeky tweet this morn to tout a cottage on the premises that "sits discreetly on the shores of Lough Corrib and is surrounded by ancient woodland—perfect for guests seeking a secluded romantic break." Posted June 7.


7. In the Red Zone: Drew Bledsoe Builds New Walla Walla Winery

Courtesy of Doubleback
Drew Bledsoe escaped coverage for cover crops in eastern Washington. Pictured with his wife, Maura.

For much of his NFL career, Drew Bledsoe's turf was Foxboro, but the All-Pro New England Patriots quarterback actually got his start under center at Walla Walla High School, in the heart of Washington wine country. When he decided to trade his football gloves for pruning ones, to Walla Walla he returned, buying a vineyard and starting Doubleback winery with the 2007 vintage. Now, after a decade of wine wins, Bledsoe has built a home stadium for Doubleback, and 2018 marks the first season crushed at the svelte new 14,000-square-foot winery.

It all started when Doubleback winemaker Josh McDaniels stumbled upon a piece of land along Walla Walla's Powerline Road during a jog; he immediately snapped a picture and sent it to Bledsoe. The pair had been scouting sites for the winery to find a permanent home, and this property looked golden. "The location is exceptional due to its proximity to downtown, A+ grapegrowing potential and also for the outstanding views of our beautiful valley," Bledsoe explained to Unfiltered via email. Indeed, the 45-acre property neighbors Charles Smith's Powerline Vineyard, which yielded the K Syrah that earned Wine Spectator's No. 2 spot in the Top 100 Wines of 2017; Smith was its previous owner. When Bledsoe and McDaniels broke ground, they also planted 8 acres, mostly to Syrah, and named the vineyard Flying B.

Richard Duval Images / Courtesy of Doubleback Winery
Doubleback now has home-terroir advantage.

The new facility houses tasting rooms, offices, fermentation and lab rooms and a barrel cellar for both Doubleback wines and sister label Bledsoe Family Winery. Among the bells and whistles are a gravity-flow fermentation system and concrete fermentors to massage Cabernet tannins. But despite the new state-of-the art tech, "we [also] went back to my roots to give the functional facility a sense of history," Bledsoe emphasized, repurposing wood for its siding from two 100-year-old barns where he grew up in Ellensburg, Wash.

The first wines made here will be released next spring (Bledsoe Family's Healy Rosé), and 2019 will bring the first harvest from the young vineyard. Doubleback also acquired a 30-acre vineyard in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA last year, but for now the excitement is on the 2018 vintage. "This first harvest has been incredible," McDaniels told Unfiltered. "The new winery really allowed us to focus on our winemaking more than we have been able to in prior years." Posted Nov. 15.


6. Pearl Jam's Big Return to Seattle—with Washington Wine

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder maintains an even flow of wine throughout his concerts.

Well before it was considered rock 'n' roll to own a wine collection, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder proudly popped and partook of Pinot right there on stage during concerts. And in the years since the band's breakout 1991 album Ten, the Seattle area has become as famous for its winemaking scene as its grunge scene. No surprise then that the band has tuned up a new charity label with winemakers in Woodinville, Wash.'s eno-punk Warehouse District to celebrate next month's Home x Away concerts and raise money for the Vitalogy Foundation, Pearl Jam's Seattle homelessness awareness and relief charity.

Colby D. Kuschatka
Home (left, Seattle) and Away (from second-to-left, Missoula, Mont., Chicago and Boston)

The Home x Away limited-edition box set of reds is a release from the Underground Wine Project, a collaboration between Washington winemakers Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery and Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars; each bottle of the Idle Hands Syrah/Cabernet cuvée sports a label design by Pearl Jam depicting a retro-futuristic skyline silhouette of one of the four cities along the Home x Away tour kicking off next month, including Seattle, where the Aug. 8 and 10 "Home Shows" mark the band's homecoming after five years since last playing Jet City—and, reportedly, the biggest concert series the city has seen in more than three decades.

"We have been longtime fans," McNeilly told Unfiltered of the project. "Trey and I have met [Pearl Jam] band members over the years at different things, and we have worked with them a little bit with some of their charities, but it’s just fun to be pulled in a little bit closer for a great cause. I think that if we can work with Pearl Jam and find some new arenas to talk about philanthropy and talk about people’s responsibilities toward charity, you can kind of open people’s eyes and let them know everybody has a responsibility to help everybody else."

All the proceeds of the 450 cases sold went to the Vitalogy Foundation. That's right, the new wine, alas, has already sold out—within 15 minutes of the band announcing the project via its email newsletter. But for the homers in the Seattle area, 10 of chef Ethan Stowell's restaurants that snapped up some of the wine will be selling it by the glass, with further proceeds going to charity, starting Aug. 1, in the lead-up to the Seattle gigs. Pearl Jam's partnership with the Underground Wine Project is one of many surrounding the Home Shows with a goal of raising $960,000, with each donation made to the Vitalogy Foundation to be matched by the band. Posted July 26.


5. Conan Conquers Italy

Courtesy of Team Coco
Fèlsina's Chiara Leonini attempts to referee a tasting with Conan O'Brien and Jordan Schlansky.

"The most beautiful place on earth, dimly seen through the clouded lens of imbeciles." That's how Conan O'Brien's recent trip to Italy was billed in a mock trailer titled Due Buffoni (Two Buffoons). In February, the camera crew from Conan tagged along as the late-night TV star and his associate producer-cum-nemesis Jordan Schlansky explored the latter's favorite destinations in Italy, the footage of which began airing this month on TBS. "Jordan started babbling so much about Italy that we had this thought: Let's take Jordan to Italy and see this weird monster in his natural habitat," O'Brien says. "Let's take Spock back to the planet Vulcan."

Throughout their trip together, Schlansky attempts to introduce and explain to O'Brien all of his most treasured Italian indulgences, namely wine, coffee and Italian cuisine, from Florence to Cortona to Naples. They hunt for truffles, appear on an Italian soap opera, visit Schlansky's favorite restaurants and, in Unfiltered's favorite highlights (lowlights?), visit Fattoria di Fèlsina for a tasting of the Berardenga Chianti Classico 2016, Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 and Fontalloro 2015 with export manager Chiara Leonini.

While millions have now witnessed Team Coco's experiences in Italy, Unfiltered has secured the exclusive tale of Conan in Italy … from the perspective of Fèlsina's Leonini:

"I must say that, from my side, it was the most crazy thing I have ever done. I am here at Fèlsina since 2001. In all these years I met the most different people but I never imagined to find myself in a situation like that—definitely fun, formative, but at the same time really stressful. Like so many beautiful things, this happened by chance and was completely unexpected …"

Leonini continues: "I knew who Conan was; I watched the program a couple of times in U.S.A., one of those nights with jet lag … I knew he was very famous, but I really would not have expected people loved him in such a way! Jordan, I did not know him, but I immediately understood that the two together were great and that they were 'completing' each other. Giving me a lot of troubles of course!"

"They both are true professionals. As far as the sketch is concerned, nothing was prepared before, only pure improvisation. Immediately after starting the dialogue with them—the scene of the finger behind the glass—I made the recording stop and I asked everyone: 'But are you kidding me?' I wanted to make sure they understood I was representing a brand with history and reputation!!! [But] they made me immediately feel comfortable. Jordan knew a lot [about wine] and was familiar with Fèlsina wines, especially Fontalloro. Conan … well … it was a wonderful experience, different without doubt from all that you normally find in the world of wine. I'm happy to have lived it … I think it's very important to be able not to take yourself too seriously." Posted April 26.


4. 2,000-Year-Old Cannabis Wine Discovered

Hervé Delhoofs, Evéha
The ancient partaker (right) and his pot, in situ

If you listen to all the talk in California nowadays about the myriad intersections of wine and weed, you'd think they invented the stuff. But actually (if unsurprisingly) the TTB is well behind the curve—more than 2,000 years behind, according to a remarkable new archaeological discovery. Long before the Mendocinian culture disrupted the marijuana-wine space, the ancient Gauls were spiking their own vinum with a substance we still call by its Latin name: Cannabis sativa.

A 2015 excavation near the town of Cébazat in the heart of France (about 100 miles west of Lyon) of a tomb dating to the 2nd century B.C., led by researcher Hervé Delhoofs, yielded an earthenware vessel that once held a most potent potable: Analysis of plant material confirmed the presence of "biomarkers" for wine, resin and THC. Did the Gauls simply like the taste, or were they interested in a more, well, holistic experience? Researcher Nicolas Garnier told Unfiltered both "medicinal use or recreational use" were possible, and that the ethanol in wine made it a more efficient substance for infusion than water. "The wine-based medicinal preparations are common," he explained via email. "Different recipes of many plants have been identified in tombs."

The jar is on display at the Bargoin Museum, in Clermont-Ferrand, through May 20, alongside other paraphernalia found in the tomb, and the remains of the unknown bon vivant. Posted April 19.


3. LeBron James Drafts Another All-Star Wine Team

Gregory Shamus/Pool Photo/AP Photo
The Golden State Warriors appreciating a flight of LeBron James

The NBA season is over—which means soiree season is in full swing for frequent Most Valuable/Most Vinous Player LeBron James. On Monday night, after a few months' hiatus from posting favorite bottle shots on social media, @KingJames took to Instagram Stories to show off his most recent wine wins scored with his friend and business manager Maverick Carter, putting up epic vintages from hall-of-famers like Sassicaia, Screaming Eagle, Guigal Côte-Rôtie and Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée da Capo (x2).

"I welcome him to Châteauneuf any time," Pégaü's Laurence Féraud declared to Unfiltered on hearing of the selection. "I will cook and pair with Mediterranean food my best cuvées for him."

Instagram/@kingjames
LeBron plays with a new lineup.

The evening's star lineup (left to right):

The new Los Angeles Laker may have been inspired by all the attention his buddy and fellow erstwhile Cleveland Cabernier Dywane Wade has been getting with his wine ventures, but we already knew that James loves the wine world, and isn't afraid to show it. And after asking around, we discovered that the wine world loves him right back.

"We are extremely pleased and honored that Sassicaia is among the wines he prefers!" Tenuta San Guido's Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta told us. "And while he is a fan of Sassicaia, we are in return all fans of LeBron at Tenuta San Guido!"

"A taste of La Landonne 2000 these days is a good move, because this wine is coming to a great maturity," Philippe Guigal commended James. "We feel honored about his choice … Good move and a long life to 'King James,' considering that La Landonne might be a 'buzzer-beater.'" (Guigal did note, however, that it is fellow baller and compatriot Tony Parker who built a basketball school not far from the winery.)

Closer to home, Caymus owner Chuck Wagner is also thrilled. "Of course I am a big fan of LeBron and overwhelmed with happiness that he likes Caymus."

Where in the world of wine will the benevolent King James conquer next? Posted Aug. 16.


2. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph Making 'Wine Country' Movie; Filming Starts Today

Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Tina Fey (L) and Amy Poehler are NOT drinking any Merlot, right guys?! (Just kidding, no, the movie will have its own original jokes.)

News of what will likely be the biggest wine movie since Somm 2 Sideways broke this week when Netflix announced the upcoming Wine Country, starring Parks and Rec lead Amy Poehler (who's also directing and producing) and featuring an absolute murderers' row of comedy talent: Fellow Saturday Night Live alums Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey are all involved. The announcement came in the form of Poehler iPhone-filming her possibly-already-wine-practicing friends as they belt out a moving rendition of the Kenny Loggins/Stevie Nicks soft-rock staple "Whenever I Call You 'Friend.'" A rep for Netflix told Unfiltered filming started today, with a likely release in early 2019.

"Wine Country tells the story of old friends who go to Napa for a weekend of wine tastings to celebrate a 50th birthday," Netflix told us via email. And if the Neflix’s Twitter "preview" is any indication, the film will be "your new favorite movie," which, well, you may have heard Unfiltered is indeed pretty into the whole wine and comedy thing. While it is certainly not too early to start making your wine-and-viewing party preparations, we'll keep you posted as we get more details. Posted March 22.


1. A California Pinot Noir for the British Royal Wedding?

Geoff Pugh - WPA Pool/Getty Images
A surprise wine invited to the Royal Wedding?

The Royal Wedding is mere hours away, and anticipation over which wines the couple will serve is at an all-time high. Has Prince Harry chosen another California beauty? Will British fizz sparkle for Meghan Markle? The secrecy surrounding the final wine list is intense, so even the chosen wineries may not even know that they’ve been tapped for the special honor—or so they tell us. Still, Unfiltered has some leads on the likely candidates.

California girl Markle has been vocal about her wine preferences in the past, and a betting person would say her home state will likely be on display on her big day (and believe us, people are betting on this stuff). From our investigations, Sonoma's Flowers Vineyards & Winery is looking like the top contender: General manager Troy Watters told Unfiltered that Markle reached out to the winery about two years ago via Instagram to say she was a fan, and the winery and the royal-to-be have kept in contact since. "We are flattered that Meghan enjoys our Flowers Pinot Noir and would be honored if she does in fact select this to be the wine for her special day, thereby bringing a little bit of the Sonoma Coast and California with her," Watters told Unfiltered via email.

But sometimes it takes more than just a social media follow to score a wedding invite. Luckily, Agustin Huneeus, owner of Flowers' parent company Huneeus Vintners, is a friend of the British wine consultant who a Huneeus rep told us advised the wedding coordinators—and "thought it would be a good idea to include Flowers as a consideration for the wedding," Watters relayed; Huneeus himself also mentioned a large order of Flowers placed by prominent London wine merchant Corney & Barrow about a month ago.

Super Tuscan Tignanello is another Markle favorite, so much so that she named her now-defunct lifestyle blog, the Tig, after it—but the Antinori family went with a demure demurral: "The truth is that we have never had any official confirmation and have no hints, but, in case it would be served, that would be such a wonderful surprise."

Jordan, another Sonoma winery that Markle has praised in the past, is not expecting to make an appearance, but they hope to help her celebrate nonetheless: A winery rep told us vintner John Jordan wants to send etched magnums from the couple's birth years as a wedding gift.

Across the pond, Britons are rooting for representation from one of their own. One would be remiss to rule out Queen Elizabeth's bubbly, Windsor Park. Chapel Down, another Brit fizz, is known to pop up at Buckingham.

Perhaps highest in the running is Camel Valley Vineyard, a still and sparkling producer based in Cornwall, England, that just last month became the first wine producer in the United Kingdom to be granted a royal warrant, a prestigious mark of official recognition for companies that provide goods and services to the royal court. According to Camel Valley founder Bob Lindo, royal warrant protocol restrains warrant holders from commenting on these matters. Lindo also said that even if Camel Valley were to be poured at the wedding, he likely wouldn't know one way or the other, as the winery supplies the royals so frequently. As we wrote previously, nine Champagne houses also hold such warrants, with various royals each having their own preferences.

So despite our best Sherlocking, the crown is historically tight-lipped about these matters, and the suppliers that want to continue to be suppliers tend to follow suit. However, if some lucky Unfiltered reader (Pippa?) scored an invite to the reception, send us a tip (and a piece of that elderflower cake)! Posted May 18.


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Dec 28, 2018

Dr. Vinny's Weirdest Wine Questions of 2018

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Top New Wine Videos of 2018

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