"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."
As faithful Unfiltered readers know, President Emmanuel Macron of France is quite the wine connoisseur. (It's basically a requirement of the job.) He crushed a blind-tasting test when he was on the campaign trail, and when he was finally elected president, admitted that he likes to drink a little wine at lunch and at dinner. And somehow, his love for wine even got him into trouble once.
So what do you serve a guy who's wined it all? That's the question President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and the White House culinary team faced with the Macrons coming to town this week for the first White House State Dinner of the Trump administration.
They opted for three U.S. wines that "embody the historic friendship between the United States and France." For the white, Domaine Serene Chardonnay Dundee Hills Evenstad Reserve 2015 from Oregon—because French grape, U.S. soil … like most of the best U.S. wines, non? Domaine Serene's owners, Ken and Grace Evenstad, also recently purchased an estate in Burgundy. An Oregon red was also selected, from a domaine with roots in Burgundy: Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Laurène 2014. "It is always an honor to have your wine served at the White House, and the fact that it was a State Dinner with the president of France is even more special," Laurent Drouhin, a Frenchman himself, told Unfiltered. "We have received well wishes from people all over the world." To finish, a Schramsberg Demi-Sec Napa Valley Crémant 2014 (made using the Champagne method, mais oui) was poured with the dessert.
The Macrons seemed to enjoy themselves (the White House, when reached for comment, did not tell Unfiltered whether or not Manu liked the wines), but not as much can be said for another guest, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who was not impressed by the White House's take on a jambalaya dish. He later told the Acadania Advocate: "The jambalaya was not jambalaya—it may have been rice pilaf, but it wasn't jambalaya." Ouch. At least the wines were great!
Wheeling Forward, an organization benefiting individuals with spinal cord disabilities, is preparing to host its annual charity event this Saturday, April 28, at Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner City Winery New York. Bringing together 75 top sommeliers, plus prominent importers, mixologists, restaurateurs and retailers, this year's Wine on Wheels will feature a tasting of 300 wines, educational seminars, and more than 50 auction items, including a trip to Champagne.
In addition to the main event, Wheeling Forward is hosting a BYO wine dinner tonight at Tribeca restaurant Racines to present the organization's newest initiative, the Jean-Luc Le Dû Scholarship Fund. Le Dû, who died this past December, was an avid supporter of Wheeling Forward. The fund will be used to assist young people with disabilities in pursuing a higher education.
Wheeling Forward was founded by New York sommelier Yannick Benjamin and attorney Alex Elegudin. The two met at age 25 and 19, respectively, in 2003, after they both sustained spinal cord injuries within the same month. They founded their nonprofit in 2011, and launched their flagship fundraising event the following year.
"Back in 2012, we hosted the first Wine on Wheels and never imagined that it would generate this much support from, what I consider, the greatest wine community in the world," Benjamin told Unfiltered. "Since then, we have raised close to $800,000, making it possible to open two fully adaptive fitness centers, donate close to 400 power and manual wheelchairs, and take people out adaptive water-skiing, skydiving and surfing. We’ve helped people go back to school, get jobs, and move out of nursing homes. And we are just getting started!"
Tickets are available at Wheeling Forward's website. All proceeds will go to the nonprofit.
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