Mario Batali in the White House Kitchen

Plus, Italy's newest public (wine) drinking fountain, and the wine industry supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Mario Batali in the White House Kitchen
Chef Mario Batali, in his signature orange Crocs, prepared Pres. Obama's final State Dinner this week. (Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Oct 20, 2016

All White House State Dinners pull out the stops to impress, but for his 13th and final gala, President Barack Obama set a high bar for his food-and-wine purveyors with his choice of guests: the Italians, specifically Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini. Accordingly, the gourmands at the White House called up some of America's finest in drinking and dining, tapping a Crocs-clad Mario Batali to put food on the table and calling in wines from Palmina (the label of California-grown Italian varietals from Brewer-Clifton's Steve Clifton), Villa Ragazzi and Ridge. Like his predecessors, Obama relies on White House food and beverage director Daniel Shanks to "theme" State Dinners to his guests, so while the wines are all-American, in this case, two were Italian varietals: the Palmina Vermentino Santa Ynez 2015 and Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese Napa 2012. As for Ridge, the vineyards that would form the backbone of that winery were first planted by Italian-San Franciscan Osea Perrone in the late 19th century, and the wine served at the dinner was the Zinfandel East Bench 2014, which also has some Italian roots.

"We're really excited about it and really humbled by it," Clifton told Unfiltered of his wine's inclusion. (He found time to call between his wine's turn on the world stage and doing a fund-raiser in L.A. with Angelina Jolie.) John Busby, Palmina's general manager, elaborated that Shanks called for samples of whatever Clifton thought was showing best, in September ("not a call you get every day"). Though it hadn't been revealed yet that Batali would be cooking, Busby said, "Mario gave [Shanks] a thumbs-up when he learned that Palmina would be one of the wines paired with his menu."

Batali, for his part, collaborated on the menu—which "highlights the bountiful fall harvest", according to its text—with First Lady Michelle Obama herself over tastings at his Babbo outpost in New York. The Obamas, Renzi and Landini chowed down on Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Butter and Sage, Warm Butternut Squash Salad with Frisée and Pecorino di New York, Beef Braciole Pinwheel with Horseradish Gremolata and Broccoli Rabe and a dessert of Green Apple Crostata with Thyme Caramel and Buttermilk Gelato, with appetizers sourced from the FLOTUS' garden. In his toast, Renzi invited the Obama family to visit Italy for a comparative tasting of tomatoes and gelato; if Unfiltered were an outgoing president, we'd have that flight booked for the day after Inauguration 2017.

Italy's Fontana del Vino

Courtesy of Dora Sarchese
Cammino di San Tommaso pilgrims can help themselves to free wine.

A public fountain in Italy is bringing new meaning to the concept of wine on tap. Dora Sarchese winery in Italy’s Abruzzo wine region has installed a free red wine fountain at their vineyard in the commune of Caldari di Ortona. Located along the Cammino di San Tommaso pilgrimage route, which runs from Rome to the Ortona Cathedral, where the relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle are held, the so-called fontana del vino was designed by Italian architect Rocco Valentini and resembles a large wine barrel that guests can enter and fill their glass from spigots above a stone basin.

The fountain is a joint project between Dora Sarchese and a non-profit organization which maintains and promotes the pilgrimage route. Inspiration is said to have come from a similar fountain installed along a Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. Though not the first wine fountain ever crafted, this is the first that is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the winery’s Facebook page, the fountain is not marketing hype, but rather a gift for the Cammino di San Tommaso, and is designed to be a meeting point and place of reflection.

Wine Industry Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is international Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and members of the wine (and cheese!) industry are doing their part to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds in support of research into its cause, improving prevention and diagnosis and finding a cure. Here are just a few of those pitching in; please let us know about other charitable efforts in the comments!

• Throughout October, Italian Prosecco producer Mionetto is reprising its Pink Cork the Cause campaign, which debuted last year. At retailers throughout the U.S., the brand has planted 125 bottles of Mionetto Prestige Brut and Mionetto Prestige Gran Rosé with pink corks. Consumers who find them will receive a pink hand mixer and have the opportunity to nominate the breast-cancer charity of their choice for a $10,000 donation from Mionetto. Last year the Prosecco giant donated $40,000 to U.S. charities.

• Sutter Home Family Vineyards is continuing its longtime role in the fight against breast cancer with the launch of its 16th annual Sutter Home for Hope campaign. From now until the end of 2016, wine lovers are encouraged to mail in any Sutter Home corks, screwcaps or capsules to the address listed on the winery’s website. For each entry, Sutter Home will donate $1 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (up to $50,000). Tech-savvy tipplers can simply text a photo to Sutter Home for the same result. As a bonus, Sutter Home promises to donate $1 to NBCF every time a Sutter Home for Hope Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post is shared, up to an additional $10,000. The Sutter Home for Hope initiative began in 2001, when one of Sutter Home’s founding family members, Vera Trinchero Torres, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then, the program has raised more than $1 million to help support breast cancer research, treatment and education in the U.S.

• The OneHope wine company was founded in 2006 specifically to benefit Hodgkin’s Lymphoma research. In the years since, the charity organization has jumped into other causes, working with icons from Jacques Pépin to NBA All-Star Chris Paul to bring help to those in need. In 2010, winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr. produced a line of California wines with the nonprofit to create funds for different causes, including breast cancer. This year that tradition continues with bottles of the “Pink Glitter Edition” California Chardonnay 2014. The bottle is coated in pink glitter, and yes, after the shrink wrap comes off, the glitter does get everywhere—a shimmery reminder of its charity, perhaps? Every two bottles of Glitter Edition sold fund a clinical trial for one woman with breast cancer. The wine is available at OneHope’s website for $60, and can also be purchased sans glitter for $19. The Chardonnay is part of a five-wine lineup that benefits women's health. As of summer 2016, OneHope has provided 2,598 cancer patients with clinical trials.

• Actress and vintner Olivia Newton-John is a breast-cancer survivor herself. After battling the disease two decades ago she has since created a self-screening device, written a song for breast-cancer survivors and launched Newton-John Cellars, making two wines that benefit the Pink and Blue for Two cancer-awareness charity, which benefits research for both breast cancer and prostate cancer. Those wines first hit the scene last year. This year’s vintages, a 2015 California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon ($12 each), are now available at the grocery store chain Meijer in locations through the Midwest. On Oct. 10, the actress held a meet and greet in Grand Rapids, Mich., to launch the wines and promote cancer awareness.

• Across the pond, British bubbly producer Furleigh Estate is donation £1 for every bottle sold of its sparkling rosé to Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.

• Sartori is rolling out wheels of pink cheese for breast cancer awareness. Since 2013, the Wisconsin-based cheese company has raised money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation with its limited-edition Peppermint BellaVitano. The rosy rind is created by hand-rubbing crushed peppermint candy onto the aged BellaVitano cheese wheels. It might sound like a crazy combo, but the pink wheels have raised $10,000 for NBCF each year since 2013. “Pairing peppermint with cheese might sound wacky to some, but the two actually complement each other quite well,” Mike Matucheski, one of Sartori’s master cheesemakers, said in a statement. “Plus, there’s something about that bright pink wheel that’s just irresistible.” The cheese is available during October only, and can be purchased in stores or on Sartori’s website. And for those who can’t have their cheese without some wine, Sartori recommends serving a few “peppermint-kissed” slices with either a light red wine or something bubbly.

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