A Tour de France Coach Makes a Detour to Châteauneuf

Plus, more fine wines from President Obama both in Italy and at home, a celebrity studded sparkling wine popping competition and Starbucks gets into the wine business
Jul 30, 2009

• This past Sunday, the 96th Tour de France rolled down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. (Alberto Contador won while Lance Armstrong, unretired at 37 years young, placed third.) But the most formidable stage was held the day before, on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, the massive mountain of Provençe. For team Garmin Slipstream coach Jonathan Vaughters, the stage held special meaning. Vaughters himself enjoyed his greatest victory as a cyclist on Ventoux, winning the climb during the 1999 Dauphiné Libéré race. It also happens to be a short drive from his favorite wine region—Châteauneuf-du-Pape. When a group of Châteauneuf winemakers saw Vaughters' recent interview with Wine Spectator, they extended him a special invitation. Vaughters gave Unfiltered his exclusive account:

“July 24, I was inducted into L'Echansonnerie des Papes, roughly translated as ‘the keyholders of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.’ From what I've read, the honor is normally reserved for the elite of the food-and-wine world and not for overly enthusiastic lovers of CdP such as myself. But it seems my history with professional cycling in this area was well-remembered by the local winemakers and when a little article in Wine Spectator mentioned how much I loved CdP, Michel Blanc, director of the local wine federation and a member of the Echansonnerie, called up and asked if I'd have the time to be inducted during this year's Tour de France. Of course! Domaine de Marcoux was having a cellar opening that evening, so my induction was going to be quite the who's who of the Papes. Mark Fincham and his lovely wife, Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pégaü, greeted me, sisters Sophie and Catherine Armenier of Marcoux were very hospitable, and Raymond Usseglio had quite a few stories of the Tour de France back in the day. It was all fun and games until they started putting on purple robes. First I had to chant various items in French, which proved challenging after all the 'tasting' I'd been doing. But the hammer really dropped when they asked me to blind taste three wines—a Côtes du Rhône, a Côtes du Ventoux and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If I failed to pick out the CdP, no brotherhood, no key, no title, no purple robe. Blind tasting is one thing with your buddies, quite another in front of 200 people. I did it. The crowd roared. It meant more to me than the Tour de France in some ways. It's nice to win something as an amateur once in a while. And so I was presented with the key to Chateaneuf-du-Pape. How cool is that?” In Unfiltered’s opinion, very cool.

• Two weeks ago, Unfiltered reported that among the wines in President Barack Obama’s gift to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the G8 summit in Umbria was a selection of American wines made by Italian-American families, including a Vermentino from North Carolina’s Raffaldini Vineyards. Unfiltered has since learned that a second bottle included in the gift box was a Barboursville Vineyard Octagon 2005, a Bordeaux style blend from the Virginia property of Italian vintner Gianni Zonin. Coincidentally, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s gift to all heads of state (including Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel), was a Castello d’Albola Acciaiolo 2004, which is also a Zonin estate. “We bought both of these properties in the 1970s, when nobody had much faith in Chianti, not to mention Virginia. It would have been a great honor to have one of our wines selected for this exchange, but to have two is both humbling and a tremendous validation of our vision,” Zonin said via e-mail. Unfiltered can’t disagree. Back Stateside this past Monday, the connoisseur-in-chief served a domestic sparkler, Iron Horse’s Russian Cuvée 2004, at a White House diplomatic reception for ambassadors from around the world. Said Iron Horse CEO Joy Sterling, “All of us in the family couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Former basketball star Charles Barkley may be horrible at golf, but the man knows how to pop a cork. Dozens of celebrity athletes and stars—including Michael Jordan, hockey great Mario Lemieux, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, to name a few—took part in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship July 16–18 in Lake Tahoe. Many also took part in Korbel's second-annual "Korbel Celebrity Spray-Off," where they tested their skills in celebratory demonstrations by popping a bottle of Korbel's California sparkling wine and dowsing anyone nearby. (Hey, it's not as easy as it sounds—remember poor Lindsey Vonn). Players were judged on cork distance and style of the spray. Retired pitcher Rick Rhoden won the actual golf tournament for the second year in a row, while football player A.J. Hawk’s 322-yard drive earned him the longest drive title. Poor Barkley once again finished last. But Barkley recovered to win third in the Spray-Off, narrowly beaten by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice. Barkley had the right perspective, however, telling USA Today, "Think about it. I'm walking 18 holes in Lake Tahoe on a beautiful golf course on a beautiful sunny day. Do I suck at golf? Yeah. But the other 99.9 percent of my life is pretty damn good." Amen.

• Corporate coffee giant Starbucks plans to start serving a new kind of eye-opener. The company has announced that it will begin test marketing wine and beer at one of its newly remodeled Seattle locations soon. And if all goes well, the trend will be extended to other major markets throughout the country. Gone will be the Starbucks logo from both store and products as the company reportedly attempts to ditch the branded corporate image in favor of a new, more community-oriented “neighborhood coffee shop” look. Even the name will be different. Starbucks will have morphed into the 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, and will sell beer and wine, host live music and poetry readings.

Sports Cycling Golf France Rhône Valley Southern Rhône Châteauneuf-du-Pape Italy United States Virginia Unfiltered

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