Grad Students Battle for Left Bank Bordeaux Cup

Plus, Naples Winter Wine Festival raises $11.1 million, 'Thirsty Dragon' wins the André Simon Award, a Michigan wine distributor pitches in clean water for Flint, Burgundy's Erwan Faiveley sets sail, and more
Grad Students Battle for Left Bank Bordeaux Cup
The Commanderie threw some curveballs at this year's Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. (Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc/Giloppe Photography)
Feb 4, 2016

Do you know what the lucky number for the sweet wines of Bordeaux is? Five, seven or eight? In addition to more conventional quiz questions, teams got this sphinxlike riddle at the New York prelims of the annual Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. "Even some members of the jury said, 'What do you mean "lucky number"?'" Emmanuel Cruse told Unfiltered after the competition with a smile. Cruse is the maître of the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc, des Graves, de Sauternes et de Barsac, a group of Bordeaux vintners, négociants and enthusiasts who put university teams to the test of tasting and thinking Bordeaux. There's plenty at stake: Winners of regional rounds in New York, Europe and Asia face off in June in the Château Lafite Rothschild cellar-cum-Thunderdome after several days of wining and dining at Bordeaux's hottest addresses.

In addition to divining that seven is lucky for Sauternes ("All the vintages are good in Bordeaux! But some are exceptional," explained one of the jurists, and those often end in sevens for the stickies), teams had to answer how many liters are in a Salmanazar (9), what Duhart-Milon, Malartic-Lagravière and Beychevelle have in common (a boat on the label) and which appellations and vintages belonged to three sets of three wines, tasted blind.

"It was very hard," said Andrew Beres of Team Cornell. Being a hospitality school, "we have a fair amount of experience in the restaurant world," and Beres has worked as a sommelier at several New York restaurants, but even that "didn't particularly help." Returning U.S. champions UCLA Anderson tasted every two weeks for months (and then weekly in January) to prepare, broke up the memorization of the 1855 Classification among the three team members and knew every artist label of Mouton-Rothschild. "There's just so much to study," said Meredith Roman. But she felt good: "We had the right logic. We narrowed it down." And, of course, "We always have a good story." Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business Team came down to the French consulate from New Hampshire (all the teams narrowly missed a blizzard). They agreed that, win or lose, this had been the "least painful assessment in business school."

In the end, dynasty teams Wharton Business and Yale Law took the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, and the trip to Lafite. But everyone gathered to cool down after the competition with plates of tuna tartare and filet mignon paired with wines like Château Palmer 2003 and Guiraud '06. "I'm happy to fail if failing is so pleasant," quipped Dartmouth's Niccolò Piombanti.

Naples Winter Wine Festival Raises $11.1 Million for Charity

Last weekend, the annual Naples Winter Wine Festival raised $11.1 million for the NWWF's Naples Children & Education Foundation, which has delivered more than $146 million to non-profit organizations since the auction started in 2001. The NWWF has consistently been one of the top U.S. charity wine auctions for years. Although the total amount raised was lower than last year's $12.3 million, NWWF cochair Laura Dixon told Unfiltered, “Our goal is to raise as much money as we can. We’re thrilled to have raised $11.1 million in grants this year.”

While the top live-auction bid went for a 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn ($750,000), lots offering interactive wine experiences were popular. A $400,000 bid won a private cooking class with actress Glenn Close taught by chef Mario Batali.

'Thirsty Dragon' Wins André Simon Award

Unfiltered couldn't be prouder to share that Wine Spectator contributing editor (and frequent Unfiltered contributor) Suzanne Mustacich has won the André Simon Food and Drink Book Award for the drink category. Mustacich, who lives in Bordeaux, took home the 2015 prize for Thirsty Dragon: China's Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World's Best Wines (Henry Holt and Co., $32), her in-depth look at the intersection of French and Chinese wine culture. The annual awards, which honor the late wine businessman and writer André Louis Simon, took place last Thursday at the Goring Hotel in London.

Dubbed "a truly fascinating and dramatic read" by Mimi Avery, the judge for the drinks books, "Thirsty Dragon was an ambitious undertaking," Mustacich told Unfiltered. It involved "investigative reporting [and] historical research, woven into a tale of narrative nonfiction." Mustacich highlighted the fierce economic pursuits, cultural clashes and competing agendas that have reshaped the French wine business. "Being fair is important to me, and this was a complex story," Mustacich said. "But I think the goal of writing a book that was a good read gave me clarity. To win the André Simon award, it recognizes all the hours I spent doing my best to get it right.”

Great Lakes Wines Brings Water to Flint

Great Lakes Wine and Spirits, a Michigan wine distributor, is doling out free cases—of water. The recipients will be the beleaguered residents of Flint, the city whose water supply has been found to contain dangerous levels of lead. "The Flint community has supported Great Lakes Wine and Spirits for many years, and we are going to stand with Flint during this difficult time," said Lew Cooper III, co-CEO of Great Lakes Wines and Spirits, in a statement, and backed that up with more than 80,000 bottles of water.

Erwan Faiveley Sets Sail, Leaving the Burgundy Behind

The message from Erwan Faiveley, seventh-generation head of Burgundy's Domaine Faiveley, posted on Facebook one month ago, was succinct, even cryptic: "4,900 kms, 80 bottles of wine, 30 books, 0 internet. See you in February." The next day, the family's 55-foot-long, twin-masted yacht, Glenn IV, set sail from Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, on a three-week, carbon-free, trans-Atlantic crossing to Guadeloupe, a French Caribbean island.

The Glenn IV, (named for pianist Glenn Gould) was captained by Erwan's father, François, a veteran mariner. Three friends were also aboard as crew. The sailors dined like the good Burgundians that they are: "We baked fresh bread every morning, and had a good variety of poultry and cheeses, plus the fish that we managed to catch. The duty chef was Philippe Senard, owner of Domaine Comte Senard in Aloxe-Corton," Erwan told Unfiltered. Sadly, the stash of Burgundy wines that the sailors planned to bring along had to be left behind due to customs issues, so the crew drank red and white Rioja purchased on Gran Canaria. "To be honest, I was not very familiar with these wines," Erwan says. "My dad saw it as a great opportunity to broaden our taste."

The winter crossing was meant to avoid warm-season hurricanes. Still, the Glenn IV just managed to skirt around a fierce, unseasonable storm 200 miles south in the Azores. The voyage ended at Guadeloupe on Feb. 1, one day ahead of schedule. How did it feel to be cut off from the rest of the world for so long? "It was the greatest thing that happened to me over the last 20 years," insisted Erwan. "It's awesome to have no connections except to friends and books." Unfiltered caught up with Erwan in Paris, on his way home. "I'm dying to get back to Burgundy for dinner with friends," he said. "I'm looking forward to drinking a Chambertin, probably vintage 2007."

Restaurateur Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, Owner of Blantyre, Dies at 66

Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, the owner of Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant Blantyre in Lenox, Mass., passed away peacefully in her home, surrounded by family, on Jan 28. She was 66.

Fitzpatrick Brown was born in 1949 to Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, and spent much of her youth in Stockbridge, Mass., where her family first planted its inn-keeping roots by purchasing the Red Lion Inn in 1968. In 1980, Jack and Jane purchased the abandoned estate that is now Blantyre and appointed their daughter to renovate it and convert it into a hotel. The Elizabethan-style manor, set on 117 acres of well-tended grounds in Lenox, was built in 1903 as a private residence in the heart of the Berkshires region. The Brown family envisioned that the property be restored to its former elegance, where guests could experience the life and service of a bygone era.

After extensive renovations, Fitzpatrick Brown reopened Blantyre in 1981 as a seasonal summer retreat, according to her family’s vision. In 2000, she began work to fully winterize the property, and in 2005, Brown opened Blantyre as a year-round operation for the first time. At the time, the wine list offered 500 selections. Five years later, with the help of wine director Christelle Cotar and sommelier Luc Chevalier, Brown expanded the wine list to 2,400 selections, earning it the Grand Award in 2009, which it has held ever since.

Over her 35 years with the property, Fitzpatrick Brown’s work with the wine program was a labor of love. "Wine is an important part of Blantyre's future, both economically and emotionally," she said in 2009. Fitzpatrick Brown is survived by her son, Alexander Fitzpatrick Brown, a nephew, Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, her sister, Nancy J. Fitzpatrick, her Wheaton terrier, Sophie Jane Fitzpatrick Brown, and many friends and employees. Calling hours will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at Blantyre on Sunday, Feb. 7.

Southern's Mel Dick Elevated to Commandeur by France's Ministry of Agriculture

Southern Wine & Spirits senior VP and president of its wine division Mel Dick has even more than Southern's recent merger with Glazer's to celebrate this year: Southern announced this week that in December, Dick was elevated from the title of Officier to the highest rank of Commandeur in France's Order of Agricultural Merit. (He was first named a knight of the order in 1984.) The well-decorated Dick has also been honored with France's Legion of Honor, in 2000, and was promoted to Officier de la Légion d'Honneur in 2010.

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