John "The Spider" Salley's Bug-Friendly Vegan Wines

Plus, French wines from under the sea, and Ivana Trump's new Champagne for Legends
Jun 14, 2012

• NBA champion, television host and noted wine connoisseur John Salley's tastes have changed since we last caught up with him in 2004. He's now a vegan, and while he still partakes in the occasional wines filtered with egg whites, casein (a milk protein) or isinglass (a protein from fish bladders)—he loved photographer Greg Gorman's GKG Cellars and a 2007 Levendi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon at the recent Wine Spectator Bring Your Own Magnum party in Napa—he tries to stick to vegan wines now as much as possible. To that end, he has become a partner in Clos LaChance winery's Vegan Vine Wines project. Salley, who earned his nickname "the Spider" as a long-armed defender for the world champion Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, told Unfiltered last week that Vegan Vines is "making it possible for everyone to have great taste without the guilt." Salley is devoted to the wines and their cause, ignoring the NBA playoffs in favor of doing vineyard visits (and attending the Magnum party). "My game is different now. My game is in health and wellness," Salley said. "I'm not going to become an owner and an ambassador if I'm not serious about it. I can't say in this business 'Well, I had a bad night and I'll get back to practice tomorrow.' This is life, and when I'm speaking I want to make sure I'm speaking directly from the heart and be as real as possible." Salley told us Vegan Vine Wines are fined and filtered with clay to avoid contact with animal products. Though we had to ask, how does he reconcile his vegan philosophy with the inevitable bugs—including spiders—that end up on the grapes and in the crusher during harvest? "You mean the B-12?!" Salley joked. "Let me tell you a story about insects. When the British got to India, they made the Indians wash and clean their vegetables, and the next thing you know, half of India became anemic. If some wonderful insects want to dedicate their lives to making our wine taste as good as it does, we accept them, as vegans," he laughed.

• Wine, like Unfiltered, likes to go to the beach. But when Unfiltered brings wine to the beach, it ends up hot and sandy (much like Unfiltered). Apparently we're just doing it wrong: Ocean wines are catching a wave these days. Château Larrivet Haut-Brion, in the Péssac-Leognan appellation of Bordeaux, tried a neat trick with two small barrels of its 2009 red. The winery's general manager and winemaker, Bruno Lemoine, decided he'd compare a barrel aged traditionally, on land, with one aged at sea—in fact, under the sea. Lemoine commissioned two extra-small barrels for his experiment and chained one to an oyster bed off the Atlantic coast. After six months (the wines had previously been aged two years in the normal way), the barrels were opened, and a panel of tasters compared. The swim had indeed improved the claret, they agreed, and lab tests showed a lower alcohol content, smoother tannins and a touch of salinity. Lemoine, naturally, plans to continue the experiment. Good news for the future, in which Bordeaux may be submerged under melted polar ice caps.

In other news of nautical terroir (waterroir?), more of the shipwreck Champagne went on the auction block earlier this month, with eight bottles fetching a total of $122,000. The bottles were discovered in 2010, in a wreck off the coast of the Finnish Åland Islands, and are from an 1840s vintage. Some are Veuve Clicquot, others from the long-shuttered house Juglar. Like last year's auction of these wines, the gavel went down in remote Mariehamn, capital of the area, and was conducted by Acker, Merral & Condit. (Phone and online bidding was opened to those not able to sail to Åland.) Proceeds benefit ocean preservation and marine archaeology, which is looking like a pretty good investment these days.

• Fans of French Champagne, Dominican cigars, Italian food and fashion and Ivana Trump gathered at New York's Tincati Milano flagship men's luxury boutique last week on Madison Avenue to toast the release of Ivana Blue Exception Champagne, the newest addition to Ivana's Legends line of wines (not to be confused with Kluge Estate, the Virginia winery her ex-husband Donald acquired last year and has renamed Trump Winery). Food for the luxurious affair was provided by nearby Upper East Side society magnet Nello, with cigars handed out by Club Macanudo. Priced at $55 per bottle, Ivana Blue Exception Legends Brut NV was crafted by Champagne house Drappier, with Trump's personal input on the final blend. Other wines in the Legends series include a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, each sourced from Sonoma County vineyards. Unfiltered had to remind ourselves not to judge a book by its cover: Despite the romance novel look of the Legends labels, Drappier is a serious Champagne house, with some of the region's oldest vineyards, dating back to the 11th century. Bruce Godfrey, general manager of India House restaurant, noted that Ivana Blue "stands on its own.” And the wine indeed had to, as Ivana was a no-show, reportedly held up in London celebrating the Queen's Jubilee. Unfiltered would like to imagine Ivana and the Queen Mother popping a few bottles of Legends and fêting the Jubilee dancing to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies."

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