Down Under with Lance Armstrong

Plus, Josephine’s wine-service accoutrements on display, a modern-day meeting of art and absinthe, bad news for Texas wine lovers and new vineyard pests in California
Jan 28, 2010

• The South Australian wine industry got a boost last week when American cyclist Lance Armstrong roared through five of its regions on the International Cyclist Union ProTour. Television coverage, viewed by an estimated 200 million around the world, included shots of South Australia’s vineyards and wineries. Armstrong Tweeted from the road “wine’s flowin’ …” as he passed through McClaren Vale Jan. 23. The Tour Down Under is the first event of the year on the ProTour calendar, and winds its way through Clare and Barossa Valleys, Adelaide Hills, Langhorn Creek and McLaren Vale. Barossa Valley Estate winemaker and former Wine Spectator guest blogger Stuart Bourne told Unfiltered via e-mail that “the Tour Down Under was a massive success for all of South Australia … All of our crew ambled up to the winery gate to watch them all come past. It really is such a great thing for our region, to host such a world-class event, with the eyes of the world watching from so many countries.” As Armstrong boarded his private jet in Adelaide to return home to Austin, Texas, however, he had already shifted his gaze to another cycling race known to pass through a few vineyards, announcing that he thought he could win the Tour de France for an eighth time this year.

• An exhibit called La Cave de Joséphine: Le Vin Sous l’Empire à Malmaison (“Joséphine’s Wine Cellar: Wine at Malmaison during the Empire”) at Château de Malmaison outside of Paris has been popular enough that it’s now taking its act on the road. It closes on March 8, 2010, but then moves on to Musée Napoléon Thurgovie in the Château d’Arenenberg, in Salenstein, Switzerland (April 10 to Oct. 10, 2010), and Museo Napoleonico in Rome (October 2010 to Feb. 28, 2011). Josephine and her second husband, Napoleon Bonaparte, bought the manor in 1799, 11 years before their divorce and 15 years before her death there. Though today she might be most remembered for inspiring love letters, spending lavishly and philandering, she was also an entertainer of great refinement. Upon her death, an inventory of the house took count of some 13,000 bottles in the cellar. Of greatest interest is the breadth of the collection: Moët (a sponsor of the exhibit) appears, as do a number of first-growth Bordeaux—some 50 years in advance of the 1855 Classification. Popular dessert wines of the day are well-represented, including bottles from Malaga and Madeira. She also left 300 bottles of rum—odd for the era, particularly considering that neither she nor Napoleon drank much. However, she was from Martinique, and liked to dose spiced punches with Caribbean liquor. Unfortunately, none of the bottles still exist, at least that we know of (there are contemporaneous bottles in the show; it was an important time in glass-making, and bottle shapes were becoming meaningful). The show focuses on their documentation as well as various storage and service accoutrements from a singular household. There are decanters, wine-cooling buckets, even enamel decanter tags. You don’t need to know much about French history to be wowed by a golden Sevres punch bowl with an Egyptian motif. Remember the Battle of the Pyramids? Perhaps at the top of Unfiltered’s wish list, though, is the wineglass etched with a bold “N” surmounted by a crown.

• Absinthe, the delirium-inducing green 136-proof anise spirit, has seen a huge spike in popularity in the U.S. over the past two years. That may not be saying much, as the notorious drink had been illegal to produce and import since 1915, but domestic distillation resumed in 2007 and Americans have begun to chase the Green Fairy en masse. This past Monday, Pernod-Ricard sponsored Cabaret Nouveaux, an absinthe-and-art spectacle held at Manhattan's Collective Hardware, a downtown gallery space and artist hive. The heavily fedora'd crowd sipped absinthe-based cocktails and appraised works by sketch artist Ben Ruhe, designer Cynthia Altoriso and photographer David White, among others (all New Yorkers). Much of the artwork channeled the "mystical, fantasy" elements associated with absinthe, according to collective member Kendal Green and, indeed, Unfiltered is reasonably sure we did not hallucinate the tableau vivant pictured here. The absinthe house plans future bashes at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, despite the beverage's past shady liaisons with freaky art scenes—as Pernod representative Brian Eckert noted, the predilection of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to get radical on absinthe helped lead to its loss of favor among the more mannered set.

• Unfiltered learned of some bad news for wine lovers in Texas this week. In 2008, we reported that a federal district court judge had ruled in favor of retailer-to-consumer shipment of alcoholic beverages in the Lone Star State, but had created a rather flabbergasting new law in the process. U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater implemented a system where out-of-state retailers could ship to Texas residents only if they had purchased the wine from a Texas wholesaler, creating a cost-prohibitive (and possibly illegal) system for out-of-state retailers and limiting any wine a Texas resident wished to purchase from a retailer, in-state or out, to those wines carried by Texas wholesalers. Sound like a system that abides by the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which forbids regulatory systems that discriminate in favor of local businesses without justification? Florida retailer Siesta Village, along with a group of Texas consumers, didn’t think so either, and took their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In yet another head-scratching decision, Circuit Judge Leslie Southwick found in Texas’ favor this week. She accepted Texas’ insistence that "the three-tier system allows certain kinds of distinctions and particularly allows distinctions between in-state and out-of-state retailers," and ruled that Texas’ retailer shipping laws are indeed Constitutional. Sorry Texans!

• There’s yet another vineyard pest threatening California’s grape crops. The European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) was discovered for the first time in the U.S. in Napa Valley last year, though authorities speculate it may have been there as early as fall 2008. To date, the moth has been confirmed on 32 Napa Valley vineyard properties, primarily around Oakville and Rutherford along Highway 29, and all within the area currently under quarantine for its cousin, the light-brown apple moth (LBAM). Authorities speculate that measures being used to control the LBAM may well have also restricted the spread of the EGVM. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will begin trapping in the southern part of the state next month and move northward in an effort to determine how widespread the moth has become. Once its area of distribution has been determined, a more detailed treatment plan will be developed. Napa County farm advisor Monica Cooper has recommended heavy insecticide applications in the spring and early summer in an effort to reduce numbers in Napa vineyards. The USDA is trying to determine how the EGVM arrived in the Napa AVA, but it’s certainly no more welcome than the LBAM, and that’s nothing to LOL about.

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