• It didn't have quite the impact of the Judgment of Paris, but a recently televised blind tasting in New York certainly ruffled some (haute couture) feathers on the set of The Real Housewives of New York City, a reality program in which wealthy Manhattan women shop, entertain, work, travel and dislike one another. To set the scene, last fall, cast member Countess LuAnn de Lesseps and her boyfriend Jacques Azoulay, a wine importer, invited fellow cast members to Kellari Taverna to participate in “wine games,” led by Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. During one such game, cast member Ramona Singer, often seen actively disliking de Lesseps, was made to unwittingly taste and critique the 2010 vintage of her own Ramona Pinot Grigio on camera. A tempest in a wineglass, to be sure, but Singer, who'd remarked before the reveal on the wine's lack of depth, told Unfiltered that she was “truly surprised, because I was expecting a wine with more complexity, like a white Burgundy. [Azoulay] deals with French wines, so why would he have a Pinot Grigio there?” Other cast members, including Singer's husband, speculated that it had been a mean-spirited setup, fueling the tensions that keep Unfiltered riveted between commercials, but de Lesseps insists it was all in good fun, telling Unfiltered, “Part of the game was to see if Ramona would recognize her own wine. I would not call that a setup. Her wine is actually very drinkable and well made.”
Although former Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel remains the show's leading drinks mogul with the Skinnygirl brand of cocktails and wines that she sold to Beam in 2011, this fall, Singer will roll out a second wine under the Ramona label, a 2010 Sangiovese-Merlot blend, created, like the Pinot Grigio, in partnership with Opici Wines. (Other Real Housewives with wine labels include Teresa Giudice, NeNe Leakes and Cynthia Bailey.) De Lesseps, a philanthropist, author and recording artist whose first single was called “Money Can't Buy You Class,” tells Unfiltered that she, too, is considering getting into the wine business with a sparkling rosé made using méthode Champenoise, “but keeping it affordable, so people can pop and celebrate without spending a fortune.” Unfiltered looks forward to the inevitable blind tasting rematch.
• More wine criminals are on the lam after a pretty sizeable heist at Blackwood Lane Winery, in the Okanagan Valley of Canada, especially shocking because the country's culture, while in many ways similar to America's, discourages and frowns upon crime. The theft last month was a surgically efficient operation: 466 cases lifted in one night, and the perps even closed up the cellar and shut the gate behind them. The loss is pegged at $200,000, as most of the missing wine was a $60-a-pop Bordeaux blend called Alliance (pallets of Cabernet and rosé vanished as well). Blackwood's owners have offered a $25,000 reward for information on the crime, and the local Mounties (an elite Canadian police force staffed by horses and human Canadians) have been investigating Craigslist for posters looking to unload a suspiciously large cache of vino. The search is made more difficult still by the new law recently passed by Canada's parliament allowing direct shipping between provinces, which may have provided an added incentive for the hit on Blackwood in a perfect example of why we can't have nice things. Canada joins England, France and Scotland as a venue for this year's Wine Crime World Tour.
• A contingent of Italian vintners descended on Washington, D.C., last month, to serve and promote their wines to the leaders of the Congressional Wine Caucus. The July 19 event was organized by Claudio Bisogniero, Italian ambassador to the U.S., and Giovanni Mantovani, CEO of VeronaFiere, the Italian trade show organization responsible for Vinitaly. Hobnobbing with Wine Caucus founder Rep. Mike Thompson of California and other members of Congress were Castello Banfi's Cristina Mariani-May, Marilisa Allegrini, Ferrari winery's Matteo Lunelli, Daniela Mastroberardino of Terredora, Luca Paschina of Casa Vinicola Zonin and Odila Galer-Noel of Gruppo Italiano Vini. While the Congressional Wine Caucus' stated purpose is the advancement of the American wine industry, both hosts and guests agreed that the Italian and American wine industries could learn from each other. "As an Italian-American, I appreciate Ambassador Bisogniero bringing together the Congressional Wine Caucus and Italian wine producers to discuss issues impacting both of our wine industries,” Thompson said in a press release issued after the event. "I look forward to working with the ambassador to build a strong, fair and balanced relationship between our respective wine industries.”