As we prepare to enter Year 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take solace in the fact that wine’s unexpected side remains ready and willing to distract and delight us with political chance encounters, artistic collaborations of the classic and crypto varieties, star athletes pursuing new careers in wine, ancient archaeological wine bars and the case of the estate of a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer vs. a wine called Purple Rain.
We even uncovered the remarkable mystery of a holy bone luge and King Henry VI’s missing arm! Let’s keep the party going with our top wine and culture items of 2021—click through on each headline to read the full stories—and don’t forget to sign up for our Unfiltered email newsletter so that you won’t miss a thing in 2022.
Early the morning of Jan. 5, the owner of Domaine de Rymska, a luxury hotel about 10 miles southwest of Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or region, was awakened to the sound of the hotel’s alarm system. Three thieves were making off with a substantial stash from the property’s wine cellar—about $425,000 worth.
As the Burgundy bandits made their escape, the owner gave chase, calling police as he tailed them. Authorities soon joined the pursuit, which quickly escalated into a high-speed game of cops and robbers heading south on the A6 autoroute. In an attempt to shake the police, the fugitives began throwing bottles of wine at the police cars. Fortunately, none of the bottles found their mark; unfortunately, they almost certainly shattered on the pavement.
The chase mercifully came to an end when the thieves crashed through a toll booth and abandoned their van and loot, escaping on foot. Many of the grand cru Burgundy bottles were recovered, but the three suspects remain at large.
Posted Jan. 20.
Elizabeth Banks believes that wine lovers deserve accessible wine at affordable prices, in a format that fits their lifestyle. “I feel like there’s a story around wine that there are fancy bottles, and all rituals that revolve around that—which are fabulous and deserving, by the way—and then everything else that’s cheap,” Banks told Wine Spectator. “And neither are great stories for the average wine consumer.”
Banks knows a thing or two about storytelling. The actor, producer, director and writer has been stealing scenes for nearly 20 years, from Spider-Man to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to The Hunger Games to Pitch Perfect, and she says she’s always on the lookout for new stories to tell—and unique investment opportunities. That search led her rather serendipitously to Archer Roose, a Boston-based canned wine company that partners with winemakers around the world to produce premium canned wine. Banks joined the company as co-owner and chief creative officer in May of this year, determined to help bring the brand's story, category and format to life.
Posted July 15.
There are wine bottles in this world that simply cannot be replaced. One of those is the 1806 Château d'Yquem that was stolen, along with 44 other bottles, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Oct. 27, from Atrio, a Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant and hotel in Cáceres, Spain.
Local authorities are investigating the robbery, but Atrio owner José Polo has a working theory of how the crime went down …
He says that a young couple who spoke English had dinner at the restaurant at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. At around 1 a.m., the couple wanted to order food, but the kitchen was closed and room service was unavailable. The woman, who had a Swiss passport that Polo now presumes to be fake, convinced an employee responsible for overseeing the security cameras to go to the kitchen and prepare a salad for her. Polo believes that at that moment, the young man accompanying her came downstairs and robbed the cellar.
Posted Nov. 3.
Emmy-winning actress Drea de Matteo broke audiences’ hearts playing the tragic Adriana La Cerva on HBO’s The Sopranos. Now fans can toast La Cerva’s memory with Gangster Goddess Broad-Cast Pinot Noir, a new wine from de Matteo and her longtime friend and podcast co-host Chris Kushner.
Released in February by Nocking Point Wines, the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir commemorates the conclusion of de Matteo and Kushner’s Gangster Goddess Broad-Cast podcast. The duo started the series in July 2020, discussing everything from love to overcoming adversity with guests including Sopranos co-stars David Proval and Lorraine Bracco and former mobster Michael Franzese.
“Wine has always been the drink of the gods to me … sexy, ancient, natural and mysterious,” de Matteo told Unfiltered via email. “And professionally? Who doesn’t like to drink a nice red wine after a hard day’s work?”
Posted March 9.
Stanley Tucci is obsessed with the culture and cuisine of his ancestral home. And now the Italian-American actor, writer and producer is bringing his obsession with pasta, wine and Italian culture to the small screen. Searching for Italy, a six-episode documentary series on CNN, follows Tucci as he tastes his way through Tuscany, Campania, Sicily and more.
"Stanley's biggest desire was to convey the culinary specificity of each region of Italy by looking at their unique history, geography and politics," Searching for Italy executive producer Eve Kay told Wine Spectator via email. "This draws him to contributors who have a huge passion and knowledge of what they do."
Tucci teamed with London-based production company Raw TV and CNN to produce the show. The series opens in Naples, where Tucci meets with renowned pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and tours the city’s Spanish Quarter, with some scenes showing a glimpse of a local volcano named Vesuvius in the background (no word yet on whether he made it to the 2,000-year-old local wine bar). Later episodes follow him around Rome, Bologna, Milan and Florence, where he partakes in a pandemic-approved wine window crawl to sample some local Sangiovese.
Posted Feb. 11.
Darling Cellars is less than 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean on South Africa’s Western Cape. But it was wine, not water, that flooded the winery when a 50,000-liter wine tank collapsed, unleashing a frothing stream of red wine and initiating a calamitous domino effect that ended in the loss of 250,000 liters of wine and substantial structural damage.
The chain reaction likely started when the stand supporting one of the 50,000-liter steel tanks collapsed, causing the first tank to knock over an adjacent tank, which knocked over another adjacent tank, which … well, you get the picture. Some of the tanks also smashed through the winery’s concrete walls and damaged pipes.
No humans were injured, but a whole lot of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cinsault went to waste. “We entered the new year with high hopes,” Darling Cellars managing director Riaan de Waal told Wine Spectator via email. (The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for the South African wine industry.) “The Darling Cellars team is used to battling the odds, and somehow we always come out on top.”
Posted June 2.
It's no secret that pro athletes are loving the Oregon wine scene—just look at NBA stars CJ McCollum, Seth Curry, Channing Frye and Kevin Love. Now, retired NFL All-Pro QB and current Washington vintner Drew Bledsoe (a native son of the Walla Walla Valley wine region) is planting his flag across the Columbia River, snagging an 80-acre property in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA with his winemaker and business partner Josh McDaniels. Currently planted to 29 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, Bledsoe and McDaniels bought the property from Hope Well’s Mimi Casteel; it becomes the first Willamette Valley estate vineyard in the Bledsoe Wine Estates portfolio, which includes Doubleback, Bledsoe-McDaniels and Bledsoe Family Winery. The sale price was not disclosed.
"When we started Bledsoe-McDaniels with a major focus on Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, it was obvious to us that at some point we would want to be estate-grown and focused just like we are at Doubleback in Walla Walla," McDaniels told Wine Spectator. "Philosophically, we believe owning the land and working the land yourself is the most unique and personal reflection of how wine is ultimately enjoyed."
Posted Sept. 27.
When Degrassi and Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev and best friend Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars) decided to create their own wine label, they knew they wanted to market it to wine lovers who enjoyed active, health-conscious lifestyles similar to their own. Their new label, Fresh Vine Wine, follows in the celebrity wellness-space marketing path paved in 2020 by Cameron Diaz’s Avaline brand.
"I am Eastern European, so tasting wine as a late teenager was acceptable in my family," Bulgaria-born Dobrev, who grew up in Canada, told Wine Spectator via email. "From an early age my palate started forming, but it wasn’t until Julianne and I started this venture that we really started to learn more about wines, and the process of making them, and the joy of making them."
Posted March 22.
When Earl Stevens, aka rapper E-40, takes younger artists (he calls them "top hats") to a steak house, he tells them to look around. "What's on their table?" he asks. All the young rappers see wine-filled glasses. "You see why? You eat a steak, you drink wine with that."
Stevens has worked with the likes of hip-hop heavyweights Snoop Dogg, Raekwon, Tupac Shakur, T-Pain and Lil Jon during his 30-year rap career, but his growing wine business has been a solo mission that he hopes will get more people into wine.
"In [the music] industry, we tour and we're moving around and sometimes you need to take a break from spirits," Stevens told Wine Spectator. "I've spoken to big-name rappers and they drink tequila, vodka, Cognac and gin, but sometimes they want to take a break and drink wine."
Posted Aug. 16.
George and Amal Clooney are now officially the owners of Domaine du Canadel, announced Didier Brémond, the mayor of Brignoles, France.
"Welcome to Brignoles! It's now official, George and Amal Clooney are residents of our beautiful community," wrote Brémond. "I have had the pleasure of meeting them, by their invitation, at Domaine du Canadel, where they will soon set down their suitcases."
The mayor's office confirmed to Wine Spectator that a legal dispute over the sale of the Provence wine estate had been resolved, and the Hollywood A-listers had begun moving in to the beautiful 425-acre estate, located in the Var.
Posted July 23.
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