Best of Unfiltered 2019

From Pitt to Picard and tiny wine windows to giant barrel hotel rooms, 2019 was a real mood for wine and culture

Best of Unfiltered 2019
That new oak smell: Quinta da Pacheca is open for stavecations. And in 2019, you readers wanted nothing more than to be in there. (Courtesy of Quinta da Pacheca)
Dec 23, 2019

You couldn't escape wine in 2019: It was everywhere. You could find it on a boat, you could find it with the pope. It was on prestige TV and at the house of da Vinci. From wrestling rings to football bars, wine even boldly went up to the stars. (One of wine's epic journeys this year made it to the space station; another ended in flames somewhere outside Detroit.)

Sharp-eyed viewers caught Reese Witherspoon sipping Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot in Big Little Lies, De Niro and Pesci breaking bread with Chianti in The Irishman, Tyrion Lannister hoisting Dornish wine (or was it St.-Emilion?) in Game of Thrones and … whatever was going on with that Champagne bottle in Cats.

Our celebrity winemaker friends had a busy year as well. Retired NFL guys Drew Bledsoe and Charles Woodson made big plays on the grape field, Dave Matthews debuted a new hue, Sarah Jessica Parker premiered a Sauvignon Blanc and even Grapes guy John Steinbeck showed up in these pages.

But outdrawing them all was our biggest Unfiltered story ever: Where were you when you found out you could spend the night in a giant wine barrel? Here are your top wine and culture items of the year: us in 2019. If you missed any along the way, sign up for our Unfiltered email newsletter, and you'll be on top of it in 2020.

12. #RoséRoadTrip Hits Speed Bump

RoseRoadTrip fire
*Record scratch* *Freeze frame* You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation... (Courtesy of Charles Bieler)

When we last checked in with Charles Bieler, the vintner was just embarking on a 60-day, cross-country tour in his bright pink 1966 Cadillac to promote his rosé wines. If you've been following along his journey on Instagram, you know that the trip was an #AllDay adventure 24/7, filled with good friends, great food, tons of wine and cool cruising. Until Sunday.

"I was in my room and heard a boom; then our tour manager came yelling down the hallway," Bieler told Unfiltered via email. "I rushed outside, and saw flames engulfing the front of the car. The fire department came, the whole front half is melted and charred—it’s totaled." Bieler was just days from the finish line.

…and unto Detroit shalt thou return. (Courtesy of Charles Bieler)

Bieler and his travel companions had taken the car in to get detailed earlier that fateful day; they were in Detroit, the same city that birthed the car 53 years ago. "The best we can figure is that we’d had the fuel filter swapped out, and that maybe it wasn’t properly attached," Bieler said. Luckily, nobody was harmed in the explosion, but Bieler is pained by the loss of his trusty travel companion. "At first, I couldn’t believe it—just shock," he said. "You know, that car meant a lot, represented a lot to me."

The car certainly held a lot of memories from the past few weeks and 30-plus states through which it was driven. "There have been so many highlights, but real standout moments include cruising the California coast, meeting [rapper] Paul Wall in Houston, an all-out party at a crawfish boil after Jazz Fest in New Orleans, partying with drag queens in South Boston," Bieler said. But the best part was seeing reactions to the Caddy: "Everywhere we went, people waved and smiled. In divisive times, I really think this car was something that helped bring people together." It is not salvageable.

In more innocent times (Courtesy of Charles Bieler)

Bieler and company will finish the tour, which culminates next week in Aspen, in "a much less-inspiring rental car," he said. "But we carry the Caddy with us in spirit." Posted June 6.

11. Very Good Dogs Sniff Out TCA Taint, Rescue Wine

Odysé, a Natinga project dog identifying TCA taint
Odysé loves identifying barrel wood sources that have been contaminated by the compound TCA, and belly rubs! (Courtesy of TN Coopers)

Cork taint is going to the dogs—literally. Chile-based cooperage TN Coopers has enlisted the help of our furry best friends to track down TCA, TBA (2,4,6-tribromoanisole) and other harmful compounds that make wine unpleasant or even undrinkable, and plans to bring its highly trained team of wet noses and wagging tails to the greater wine world.

Dubbed "the Natinga Project," the program was inspired by airport canine security units. "The underlying principle is that dogs have a much wider olfactory threshold than humans, and thus can detect very small concentrations of specific compounds just by their sense of smell," Guillermo Calderón, the cooperage's marketing manager, told Unfiltered. Except instead of drugs and internationally-smuggled sausages, the Natinga dogs have been trained to search for compounds that create those unmistakable aromas of wet cardboard, damp newspaper or moldy basement that ruin the flavor of wine (for humans, anyway).

Moro, a Natinga project dog identifying TCA taint
Moro's favorite treat is the knowledge that his work saved wine lovers from purchasing tainted bottles! (Courtesy of TN Coopers)

While corks get all the condemnation, there are other steps in the winemaking process that are vulnerable to contamination, including barreling. Cooperages have some tech to detect the presence of airborne chemicals, but it's not so easy to find the source of them. That's where the pups come in: "Natinga" translates to “search of origin” in the Zulu language. The project now employs five pollutant-detection experts, otherwise known as Labrador retrievers. Ambrosia, Odysé, Moro, Mamba and Zamba patrol the TN Coopers property near the town of Curacaví in Chile and also provide their services for wineries, with plenty of success stories to boast about, if they could talk.

Take, for example, this story of a winery experiencing problems with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) at its facility: "After a morning of checking every corner, one of [the dogs] found the source and pinpointed an old hose that was contaminated. The winery removed it and replaced it with a clean one, and we thought that the problem had been solved," Calderón said. But not long after, the winery called again. There was still TCA. "We brought the dogs yet again, and again the dog pinpointed the exact same spot. It was then that we realized that the dog was not only pointing at the hose, but at a very small rubber ring located where the hose was plugged." Once that part was removed and cleaned, the TCA was gone. "The interesting thing is that the dogs were not wrong; it was a human mistake in terms of interpreting what the dog was trying to say," Calderón said. "Their sense of smell is extremely reliable and rarely ever misses."

TN Coopers hopes to bring the four-legged friends and their hyper-sensitive snoots up to California and other parts of the U.S. "We have received a lot of positive feedback from Californian winemakers who come to visit us at the cooperage in Chile," Calderón said. "I can say for now that we are training a new generation of puppies that will be able to carry on with this initiative for many years to come." Posted Feb. 14.

10. Post Malone, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dropping New Wines

Post Malone (right) samples France with Zane Lowe.
Stemwares & Citroëns: Post Malone (right) samples France with Zane Lowe. (YouTube / Apple Music Beats 1)

Post Malone has become infamous for his choice of accessories—namely tattoos and on-stage PJs—but this month, the multiplatinum-selling rapper announced plans to add a wineglass to his repertoire. The onetime Austin Richard Post, of Grapevine, Texas, natch, recently appeared in a château-side video interview with DJ Zane Lowe in Provence, where he's making a rosé he's calling Maison No. 9.

"I wanted to make something that after a long, anxious day, and you're just working your ass off and nothing seems to be going right, you can just sit at home and relax a little bit," Malone said about his wine, which he announced following the Sept. 6 release of his new album, Hollywood's Bleeding.

The working label design depicts the Nine of Swords tarot card, which portends anxiety and doubt, frequent subjects of Malone's music—as are hedonism and spendthriftry. "I worked at Chicken Express in Dallas, and the first thing I bought was $800 Versace loafers," Malone said. The self-professed connoisseur of Bud Light and Olive Garden breadsticks is now dabbling in more grown-up tastes, in the footsteps of his elders like 50 Cent, Raekwon and of course, Jay Z. "Now I'm trying to take a second and look and put this money in wine or weed or clothes." No word yet on the Maison No. 9 release date. Posted Sept. 19.

9. The 10K Race Through the World's Largest Wine Cellar

Runners in the Moldovan cellars
In (post-)Soviet Moldova, wine cellar swallows YOU! (Courtesy of Sporter)

We're plenty familiar with the urge to run to the wine cellar, but what about running inside of one—for miles? On Jan. 20, more than 350 wine-loving runners (or fitness-crazed enophiles?) flocked to Mileștii Mici winery in Moldova to do just that, part of the massive historic cellar's first-annual 10K race.

Spanning more than 124 miles of subterranean wine catacombs, the state-owned Mileștii Mici certainly has plenty of room to host such an event. The cellar, which boasts nearly 2 million bottles, holds the Guinness World Record for "largest wine cellar by number of bottles"; the Soviet Union once got much of its red from Moldovan cellars like these. In partnership with sports organization Sporter and communications firm Simpals, the winery welcomed guests from more than 15 different countries, including the U.S., Canada, Romania, Russia and more, to go high-speed spelunking in what they call their "underground kingdom."

"The purpose of our event was promotion of amateur sports and tourism in the Republic of Moldova, as well as … [to] show tourists the culture and traditions of our country," a representative from Sporter told Unfiltered.

Runners donned mandatory headlamps and used maps labeled with the cellar's "streets," named for different wine varieties, to navigate the course, which was mapped out more than 300 feet below ground. Along the way, they enjoyed views of Moldovan art, and sounds of the country's traditional music. "In the cellars, we specially placed folk musicians, so that participants would not be bored," the rep said. "But some runners were so happy when they met our artists that they stopped running and started dancing and having fun with them!"

Runners in the Mileștii Mici cellars
On your marks, get set—GULP! (Courtesy of Sporter)

At the finish line, all the runners were greeted with Moldovan food and wine, so in true retro-communist fashion, they shared in the win no matter where they finished. Posted Jan. 31.

8. Deep Space Wine: 'Star Trek' Château Picard Is Now a Reality

Jean-Luc Picard abd bottles of Special Reserve United Federation of Planets Zinfandel and Château Picard's Star Trek cuvée
Jean-Luc Picard, extremely flying winemaker. Left, bottles of Special Reserve United Federation of Planets Zinfandel and Château Picard's Star Trek cuvée (RGR Collection / Alamy / Courtesy of Wines that Rock)

It's a story as old as the wine biz: Young next-generation member of a winemaking family has supposedly greater aspirations than running the family business, leaves town and makes a different life but eventually becomes disaffected and returns to the farm after his starship is badly damaged, his android friend Data is killed and the planet Romulus is destroyed by a supernova. That's how it went for one Jean-Luc Picard, native of France, Earth, captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and long-lived-but-dubiously-prosperous vigneron protagonist of the upcoming Star Trek: Picard. In the teaser released in May, we see the vines and wines of Château Picard where the Starfleet ace seems to have retired in disillusionment. And this week brings news that fans down here in the 21st century will be able to drink bona fide Château Picard wine from the real-life Château Picard.

According to Spencer Brewer, COO of Wines that Rock, which facilitated the project, Star Trek producers had been trying for years to make a Château Picard wine. The problem and solution turned out to be the same: There already is a Château Picard, in Bordeaux's St.-Estèphe region, with its own centuries-old reputation. Earlier this year, Wines that Rock and Mähler-Besse, the company that owns the cru Bourgeois estate, finally got the ball rolling together. As they pored over what labels for a Star Trek cuvée might look like, CBS had news: A new Star Trek series was about to be shot, prominently featuring bottles of Picard's wine (e.g. Picard). Now, after a few months of wrangling with the various agencies that regulate intraplanetary alcohol trade on Earth, the Château Picard bottles with the Captain Picard labels are available to buy this week, along with a Special Reserve United Federation of Planets Zinfandel.

"We released the collector's set [of both bottles] at 10:00 [Tuesday] morning, and all 1,700 sold out by 9:00 that night," Brewer told Unfiltered from a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. "The reaction [from fans] is instant: 'Wow, you've got to be kidding me, that really is the Château Picard from the Château Picard in Bordeaux?'" Indeed it is: the same 85/15 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2016 Château Picard bottled under the château's normal label, though the Jean-Luc label bears the vintage 2386. "It is quite fun to work on such a project, since this is not necessarily what we are used to in the industry," Mähler-Besse rep Patrick De Abreu told Unfiltered via email.

For making the Zin, Brewer also had a vision: "If you're going to go to a Federation dinner or a representative meeting of all the planets 200 years in the future, what would people be proud of to serve on the table?" he explained, ultimately deciding it would be a three-vineyard Dry Creek Valley old-vine blend. The bottle, a tapered cuboid that stands two inches taller than its Bordeaux counterpart, had to be filled and corked by hand, as 21st-century technology has not produced a bottling line advanced enough to process it. That wine hasn't gotten any screen time—yet. Picard is still filming, and, Brewer told us, the series prop director has a few bottles to use on set. As the good captain himself once said, things are only impossible until they're not. Posted Aug. 1.

7. Zooey Deschanel Kicks the Dirt at Long Meadow Ranch; Gronk Chugs Hundred Acre from Bottle

Zooey Deschanel in the Long Meadow garden with Kipp Ramsey (left) and Alejandro Toro
Manic parsley dream girl? Zooey Deschanel in the Long Meadow garden with Kipp Ramsey (left) and Alejandro Toro (Greg Caparell)

Zooey Deschanel, actor, musician and OG Millennial, has played a kooky roommate (New Girl), elf love interest (Elf) and ukulele (her band She & Him), and she can now add vineyard farmhand to her résumé. Deschanel visited Napa's Long Meadow Ranch with MasterChef emeritus and host of the online series Purpose Project Alejandro Toro, on the show's latest episode—and the ranchers quickly put them to work.

In the segment, the property's farm to table manager Kipp Ramsey first takes the duo out to massage some dirt and plant kale, then leads them in picking tomatoes and herbs, and preparing a salad and squash risotto in the kitchen. Finally, all sit with Long Meadow owner Laddie Hall for a midday repast: tomato tartare with kasundi and egg yolk, and pork belly with green tomato and beet BBQ, among other dishes, Ramsey relayed to Unfiltered. The group wash it down with glasses of the winery's Anderson Valley Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir, as well as Napa Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.

"I believe [Deschanel and Toro] are doing a great job to spread the word on how people can source and grow their food,” Ramsey said via email.

The visit came about because, while Deschanel once played a woman fleeing a toxic attack on humanity launched by the earth's trees (The Happening; spoiler alert?), her relationship with the plant community in real life is much more positive: She's a sustainable food activist, and Long Meadow practices organic and biodiverse farming. The garden powers on-site restaurant Farmstead, a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winner.

Zooey Deschanel, Kipp Ramsey and Alejandro Toro make salad.
Zooey Deschanel, Kipp Ramsey and Alejandro Toro show how the salad gets made. (Greg Caparell)

"We had a chance to peek at the 'whole process,' understanding that what truly completes full-circle farming, in this case, is the commitment to community people like Kipp Ramsey and Laddie Hall have," Toro told Unfiltered via email. "So once again I get to circle back on my mission, which is spreading the good word through food, travel and community."

Alejandro Toro and Dalia Ceja crush grapes.
Alejandro Toro and Dalia Ceja crush it real good. (Courtesy of Ceja Vineyards)

Purpose Project, produced by Tastemade and Capital One, isn't done with North Bay wine country there, though: Toro later visits Garden Creek Vineyards and noshes at Sebastopol's Zazu Kitchen with wine folks Chris Benziger, and Dan Barwick and Sonia Byck-Barwick of Paradise Ridge; the former lost his home and the latter their winery in the 2017 wildfires. He ends his trip picking clusters and tasting wine at Ceja Vineyards, owned and run by the kids and grandchildren of immigrant campesino vineyard workers.

"We even had the opportunity to stomp on some of our grapes. It was the classic 'I Love Lucy' old-fashioned introduction to winemaking—unforgettable experience to say the least!" marketing and sales director Dalia Ceja, who also appears in the segment, told Unfiltered.

Rob Gronkowski's Breakfast of Champions: A Bottle of Hundred Acre Cab at the Super Bowl Parade

Perhaps no Bostonian this side of Sam Adams is more closely associated with beer than New England Patriots tight end and spring break avatar Rob Gronkowski. But after a long and illustrious career of crushing defenses and Buds Light, the 29-year-old has earned a respite from the years of cheap hits and suds his body has been subjected to, and at this week's Super Bowl victory parade, Gronk signaled as much with his beverage of choice: a bottle of 2014 Hundred Acre Napa Valley Cabernet.

On to St. Helena! Gronk and friend/Sports Illustrated model Camille Kostek (Steve Anneari/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

"A lot of these guys, their public persona is that they're rough and tough football players, but they've got sophisticated tastes," Hundred Acre founder and owner Jayson Woodbridge told Unfiltered. While the rest of the team partook of Luc Belaire bubbly after Sunday night's triumph, Gronk kept the wine party flowing on his duck boat in Boston before switching to beer and the other questionable edible he is known for, Tide Pods.

"I'm in Australia right now, so at the crack of dawn here, before I even woke up, my phone just starts going crazy," Woodbridge said, after photos of Gronk swigging his wine started appearing online. "People writing everything from, 'I hate the Patriots, but I love this guy's tastes' to 'He's awesome, he's an animal, I love it.'"

Woodbridge could not confirm or deny if Gronkowski ever visited the winery, though he did acknowledge he is pro-Patriots. "How they get people riled up—that's the fun part." Posted Feb. 7.

6. Massive Roman Shipwreck May Have Had 200,000 Bottles' Worth of Wine Aboard

A replica of the Fiscardo wreck's amphora pile at the Ionian Aquarium in Lixouri
Wine-shipping woes are nothing new: A replica of the Fiscardo wreck's amphora pile at the Ionian Aquarium in Lixouri (© Ionian Aquarium)

The weather was fine, the waters were calm and the ship was only a mile and change from the port of Fiscardo on a Greek island, carrying a hefty, lucrative payload. Yet something went awry, and the ship went down, taking with it an estimated cargo of around 6,000 amphorae. At 111 feet long, it's one of the four biggest Roman wrecks ever found in the Mediterranean, twice the size of most Roman transport ships—and the biggest yet found in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Thirsty ancient Fiscardans' loss is science's gain. Led by George Ferentinos, researchers at the University of Patras' Oceanus program have conducted an extensive mapping of the wreck, discovered in 2013 and 2014, using state-of-the-art sidescan sonar profiling systems to get remarkably clear measurements and pictures of the seafloor site—more accurate than the typical method of sending scuba divers on Mediterranean treasure hunts. The striking images and data have been published in the January 2020 issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science.

The motherlode of amphorae, they found, came to rest in an oval pile 98 feet long and 39 feet wide, with many well preserved. The researchers assessed the style of the terracotta containers to date the wreck to sometime between the 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. Amphorae of that style could transport wine, olive oil, nuts and cereals and held about 25 or 26 liters—meaning that if this was a wine tanker, it would have been hauling the equivalent of around 17,000 cases. So far, "only" about 1,200 amphorae are visible, but the imaging suggests that they were stored in five layers in the ship’s hull; many might be obscured or lost to the sea.

While Fiscardo has a smattering of ruins, its newly discovered big-boat traffic "indicate[s] that Fiscardo was an important port at that time," the authors wrote, providing further "evidence that the eastern Ionian Sea was part of an important trading route" from the Levant to Greece and up the Adriatic.

Next up: sending divers down to pick up some loot and figure out what drinks or snacks were actually in the cargo holds. Unlike the last time adventurers found shipwreck booze, a taste test is not planned. Posted Dec. 17.

5. 'Game of Thrones' Dornish Wine Brought to Real Life by St.-Emilion Vintner

Tyrion Lannister (left) and the St.-Emilion Dornish cuvée
For the wine is dark, and full of tannins. Tyrion Lannister (left) and the St.-Emilion Dornish cuvée (HBO/Photofest / Courtesy of Vignobles Bardet)

The end is coming: The final season of everyone's favorite medieval-fantasy-gorefest-drama debuts on HBO this April, and we're not quite prepared to say goodbye to all the incredible wine references made throughout the show (we'll always have Tyrion Lannister's immortal credo "I drink and I know things"). But one winery in Bordeaux has come up with a way for wine-loving superfans to give a proper sendoff to the beloved series: a taste of a real-life version of that fantastic Dornish wine all those Westerosi enophiles, Tyrion in particular, have been rav(en)ing about for the past seven seasons.

Vigneron Thibault Bardet of Vignobles Bardet, across the Narrow Sea over in St.-Emilion, got the idea to research how wine from Dorne would actually taste based on how it has been described in the GoT books and series, as well as how the climate of the arid southernmost region of Westeros is portrayed.

"The project began after watching an episode of Game of Thrones with a friend," Bardet told Unfiltered. "We thought that it may be very interesting to have the possibility to drink the wine from Dorne. Sadly, after some research, I discovered that there wasn’t a wine like that. So I decided to make my own." (His libation is not to be confused with HBO's branded GoT merch wine.)

Rarely an episode goes by that we don't see a noble character holding a goblet of wine aloft as they make covert alliances or order death sentences, so we know the juice is likely quite good. Still, "in the TV show, they don’t speak a lot about the Dornish wine taste, but in the book, there are so many descriptions about it," Bardet said. "After reading all [of the books], I had more than 40 pages of wine information. The main information was: fruity, powerful but easy to drink, and [with] intense dark color."

For Thibault and his father, Philippe, that description had Merlot written all over it. Once they had their grape, they knew they would need to source it from vines in sandy soils, to mimic the terrain of the fictional peninsula that is Dorne; a warm, dry summer in Bordeaux in 2016 gave them appropriately Dornish weather.

The result is not one but two cuvées made in the Dornish style: Dornish Wine Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Red 2016 and The Imp's Delight St.-Emilion Red 2016. The latter—named after the wine Tyrion hopes to one day make when he retires from the spotlight and purchases his own vineyard—is vinted without sulfites, which Thibault thinks is probably how Dornish wine would have been made in those mythical days.

And while Westerosis (and Wine Spectators) typically prefer wine, those seeking the harder stuff might enjoy a new collection from HBO and Diageo of eight single-malt Scotch whiskies, each one corresponding with a major royal house in the GoT universe—the Lagavulin 9 Year Old House Lannister, the Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost House Stark, and so on. "Valar dohaeris," as they say—"all must serve."

Game of Thrones Scotches
A Scotch of fire and ice. (HBO / Diageo)

Posted Jan. 10.

4. Florence's Forgotten Renaissance 'Wine Windows' Are Open Again for Business

Three buchette del vino in Florence, one active
The wine is carefully defenestrated before serving: three buchette, one active. (Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino)

Florence is famed for its charming hole-in-the-wall wine bistros dotting the city. But once upon a time in Florence, when you ordered a carafe at a hole-in-the-wall, you got it through a literal hole in a wall. Now, an organization is working to preserve—and help reopen—the city's "wine windows," a collection of Renaissance-era vestiges of a once-popular and admirably no-fuss form of wine sales.

The buchette del vino ("small holes [for] wine") were foot-tall openings that enterprising Florentine nobles built into the street-facing walls of their palatial residences; hundreds remain, but as curiosities of a bygone time, long ago bricked or boarded over. "These small architectural features are a very special commercial and social phenomenon unique to Florence and Tuscany," Matteo Faglia, a founding member of the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino, told Unfiltered via email. "Although they are a minor cultural patrimony, nevertheless, they are an integral part of the richest area of the world in terms of works of art and monuments—Tuscany."

Photos courtesy of the Associazione Culturale Buchette del Vino

Buchette del VinoBuchette del VinoBuchette del VinoBuchette del Vino

The buchette first came into vogue in the 16th century, when wealthy Florentines began to expand into landowning—notably, owning vineyards—in the Tuscan countryside. The aristocrats' new zeal for selling wine was matched only by that for avoiding paying taxes on selling wine, so they devised the simplest model for wine retail they could: on-demand, to-go, literally hand-sold through a hole in the wall of their residences.

It was convenient for drinkers, too: Knock on the window with your empty bottle, and the server, a cantiniere, would answer; upon receiving the bottle and payment, he would return with a full bottle of wine. Buchette eventually became popular enough that nearly every Florentine family with vineyards and a palace in Florence had a wine window, and soon the trend spread to nearby Tuscan towns like Siena and Pisa. The windows stayed open for the next three centuries, but by the beginning of the 20th century, more social wine tavernas had spread throughout the city, with better-quality wine, better company and equally easy access to a flask.

By 2015, most Florentines had lost track of their wine windows, if not vandalized them. That year, the Associazione was founded, with a mission to identify, map and preserve the buchette—nearly 300 catalogued so far. And this summer provided a new boost to their work: One restaurant has cracked open its buchetta anew for business. Babae is the first restaurant to re-embrace the old tradition, filling glasses for passersby through their buchetta for a few hours each evening. It's a welcome development to the lovers of wine windows. "Although the ways of selling wine have obviously changed since the wine windows were fully active ... this small gesture, which highlights a niche of Florentine history, is very welcome," said Faglia, "to help to keep alive this antique and unique way of selling one of Tuscany's most important agricultural and commercial products: its wine." Posted Sept. 5.

3. I Heard You Paint Teeth: The Wine Cameos in 'The Irishman'

Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro convene over Gabbiano Chianti in a scene in The Irishman.
The good grape juice: Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro convene over Gabbiano Chianti in a scene in The Irishman. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Martin Scorsese is known to be a stickler for historical accuracy in the set design of his movies, and that includes wine—which is a challenge for a prop team when the movie's real-life characters constantly break bread over wine over the span of 50 years. But they rose to it: For Scorsese's latest mafia saga, The Irishman, the team actually used wine labels to mark the different eras in the stories of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino's characters. In the restaurant scenes, the characters drink Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico, vintage 1948, then '55, then '62. "As the movie progressed time-wise, for a scene that's now in the '70s, I said, 'OK, let's break out the '62.' A scene that's in the '50s, 'OK, let's break out the '48,'" explained property manager Joel Weaver to Unfiltered.

Wines in the Irishman
They did everything they could for them: The recreated Gabbiano prop labels used in the film (the vintages were changed). (Courtesy of Joel Henrie of Motion Picture Placement)

How did Gabbiano get made as the Bufalino crime family's house wine? "These are Italian guys, and we shoot them in the '50s at the restaurant. I don't think they're having anything from Napa Valley, I think it would come from the old country. Joe Pesci's character wasn't a flashy guy, and it wasn't a flashy wine," Weaver explained.

During production in 2017, the movie's product placement guy, Joel Henrie, contacted Treasury Wine Estates to see if they might have something that fit the bill; TWE owns Gabbiano. In order to ensure that the bottles looked authentic, History for Hire, a Los Angeles prop design firm, mocked up different labels for the three vintages, closely based on the real Gabbiano labels of the eras. “We certainly think of our Gabbiano wines as being truly iconic Italian wines that have been enjoyed for generations, so for Hollywood’s elite to also recognize this … we are truly honored," Angus Lilley, TWE's chief marketing officer, told Unfiltered via email.

Wines in the Irishman
No failure to show appreciation: Some of the labels the production team mocked up for bottles in the film, all mimicking real labels. (Courtesy of Joel Weaver / Villa Roma Productions, LLC)

Sometimes you need something a little stronger than wine when you've completed a particularly, ah, emotionally draining hit, though. In the scene after that one, De Niro's Frank turns to his home bar cart for comfort, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot "period-correct labels from the '70s" of Glenlivet and Jameson, said Weaver. Elsewhere in the movie, look for Budweiser labels changing with the decades, J.P. Wiser's Canadian whisky and Bacardi being used to spike a watermelon. (Weaver wanted to use Havana Club, but the label he had wasn't accurate to the 1960s.) Other wines occasionally appear, too: At the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night gala, Pesci's Russell and two of the Tonys in the mob have a (recreated) bottle of Charles Krug Napa Riesling on the table.

Scorsese didn't bother too much with the labels, said Weaver, but took a shine to the glassware. "Marty was really into that," he said. "He was like, 'I picture them using almost a small water glass. This is something they do every day, it would be strange to have this in a proper wineglass.'" And unlike in many films, the glasses here were filled with actual wine—but non-alcoholic. "Sometimes the joke is an actor wants to go 'hot.' If they're drinking whisky, they want to have the real stuff," said Weaver, but on-set boozing was not to the taste of this particular cast, though De Niro is a known wiseguy-wineguy. He, in particular, "definitely was appreciative" of the carefully chosen wine picks, said Weaver. "Not only as an actor, but a producer and director, he pays attention to that kind of minutiae." Posted Dec. 4.

2. Inside the New Winery for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's Record-Breaking Rosé

Left: Marc Perrin (blue guy) and Brad Pitt (beige guy) walk the vineyard. Right: the new egg-shaped fermentation vats
Left: Marc Perrin (blue guy) and Brad Pitt (beige guy) walk the vineyard. Right: the new egg-shaped fermentation vats where the magic happens. (Courtesy of Miraval)

Three grand is pocket change for folks like Provençal vignerons Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But it's just become a significant figure in the rosé orbit they inhabit: €2,600 is how much a magnum of Muse de Miraval, a new prestige cuvée from the Côtes de Provence estate owned by the (onetime) couple, fetched at auction last month—a new record for still rosé.

The new rosé made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, and the sale benefits the GoodPlanet Foundation, but there was plenty of time and toil behind the splashy launch: The 2018 Muse is the first wine off the line at a brand-new winery on the Château Miraval property, and a big blush statement from winemaker Marc Perrin. His family, of Château de Beaucastel fame, co-owns Miraval with Pitt and Jolie.

Miraval cellar
The new Miraval cellars; this is technically a peek inside Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's house. (Courtesy of Miraval)

“The idea for us with this wine is to show that great rosé can be as great as great white or great red,” Perrin told Unfiltered. “It can evolve with time and become extremely complex. That’s why we decided to bottle it in magnums so that people try to keep it as [long] as possible.” Outside the auction world, retailers had priced the wine at about $290 per mag.

Long before its red-carpet debut, Muse was a soil study: Perrin eventually selected two of the best and oldest parcels of Grenache and Rolle (Vermentino) on the property's 2,500 acres for the cuvée. And where the standard Miraval bottlings are sent to the Perrin facility up in the Rhône for élevage, Muse is crushed, fermented and aged in a new winery on the Miraval property; 2018 was the inaugural vintage. The cellar has been equipped with egg-shaped concrete tanks, which, Perrin explained, is a return to the old.

Miraval cellar
The Muse bottle in its post-Memorial Day finest (Courtesy of Miraval)

“Typically, the great rosés from Provence were all made in concrete tanks, so we’re basically coming back to the tradition of rosé,” Perrin said. “But at the same time, it’s with a new shape of tanks, which gives a really interesting profile to the wine.” A new press for Muse grapes is perched at one of the estate’s highest points, allowing gravity to coax the juice down to the fermentation tanks, no pumps necessary.

Miraval cellar
The new egg-shaped concrete fermentation tanks (Courtesy of Miraval)

Unfortunately, all 1,700 magnums of the new juice have sold out on the winery’s end—hopefully not a portent of rosé shortages to come. Posted June 19.

1. You, Must: Spend the Night in a Wine-Barrel Hotel Room!

Schlafen im Weinfass at Alde Gott barrel hotel room
Just don't roll around in your sleep too much ... (Courtesy of Alde Gott)

Some of us love wine so much, we dream about swimming around in a barrel full of the stuff. And while that fantasy is highly unsanitary and probably a little dangerous (try a bathtub instead), certain wine-minded holiday-spot proprietors are offering an alternative that's just as immersive: wine-barrel hotel rooms.

The travel trend has been popping up around the world: In the village of Cambres, in Portugal's Douro Valley, Quinta da Pacheca winery added 10 giant wine barrels to its on-premises lodging offerings in 2017. Each barrel room is outfitted with a double bed, a full bathroom, and a private terrace, and plopped among the quinta's vines. "They are a real success in the high but also in the low season," Ricardo Rebelo, a staff member at the hotel, told Unfiltered. "At this time we are already receiving bookings for 2020."

Courtesy of Quinta da Pacheca, De Vrouwe van Stavoren, Cava Colchagua and Alde Gott

Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms Barrel hotel rooms

In the small village of Sasbachwalden in Germany's Baden region, visitors to the Alde Gott winery can experience Schlafen im Weinfass (that's German for "Sleeping in Wine Barrel"), featuring eight 8,000-liter barrels, each with a charming vinous address, such as "Rieslingplatz" ("Riesling Place") and "Burgunderplatz." A one-night-aged experience for two includes two bottles of wine and breakfast, plus views overlooking the Rhine Valley, though bookings for 2019 are already almost topped up here as well.

You don't even need to be at a winery to get a turn in the barrel. At Hotel de Vrouwe van Stavoren in the Netherlands, guests can stay in one of the 12 novelty wine-barrel rooms that were shipped to the property from Switzerland. There are two different barrel room sizes—the smaller is 15,000 liters—and one of the larger barrels serves as a "wellness suite" for two, which could hold 23,000 liters of wine but instead has a couch, a Jacuzzi and a steam room.

And it's not just a Euro-centric trend. Chile's Cava Colchagua is an all–wine barrel hotel, created by the Ravanal wine family using barrels that actually once held early vintages of their wine. With more than 12 acres of land, the property includes eight two-story barrels, a spa, a pool and a lagoon.

"Rooms" at all four human cooperages start at around a reasonable $200, so if you're looking for hospitality sur lie, you won't find yourself over a … well, you get the idea. Posted Feb. 21.

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