• There's a certain romanticism to shipwrecked wines rescued from the bottom of the sea. At least in theory. In 2013, a case of Château Gruaud-Larose from the 1872 wreck of the Marie-Thérèse was sold for $17,600, and in 2011, two bottles of 170-year-old Veuve Clicquot and Juglar Champagne from the bottom of the Baltic fetched nearly $80,000 at auction. But a bottle recently pulled from the 1864 wreck of a Civil War blockade runner near Bermuda and opened at the Charleston Wine & Food Festival illustrated the cold reality of cellaring wine in a sunken ship. "I did not dare put the vile liquid in my mouth," sommelier Larry Stone told Unfiltered, "and you'll understand after I describe the aroma." Stone said that, once the vacuum-sealed package containing the bottle was opened, he was met with aromas of "sauerkraut, cleaning fluid and vinegar," followed by "pickles, diesel, naphtha, dead shellfish and"—a silver lining?—"some aromatic herbs" while the wine was being decanted. In the glass, he got "citrus, camphor, stale fish tank, gasoline, seawater at low tide and slightly herbal notes like Chartreuse." Stone attributed the wine's dreadful showing to the overwhelming impression of an invasion of sea water, saying the cork had shrunk to about 4 millimeters in diameter with a salt crust between the cork and the glass. Still, Stone found reason to be intrigued by the bottle pulled from the wreckage of the Mary Celestia. “[It was] most interesting to see an indisputably authentic bottle of the early to mid-19th century,” Stone said. “It may have been reused, since by appearance it looked partially handmade … The seam was distinctive. Also the punt was much shallower than many of the 'old bottles' we see in circulation made by machine. There was no visible viscosity left in the liquid—no apparent alcohol.” Based on the remaining herbal and citrus notes, Stone said that the bottle likely originally contained a liqueur or herb-infused spirit.
• Unfiltered is happy to salute emerging regions of fine wine, but as one English winery discovered late last month, with growth comes a growing pain: wine crime. A vineyard in West Sussex, Bolney Wine Estate, lost nearly 5,000 bottles of red, white and rosé valued at about $120,000, to thieves in February. "Pallets of wine we had ready to go out were empty, with just the shrinkwrap and the pallets on the floor," said head winemaker Sam Linter to the BBC. "Now that English wine is so much better known, it is attractive to thieves, and maybe we have been a bit complacent about that." Among the bottles were more than 500 of the winery's blanc de blancs bubbly, sparkling being the style Brits are usually considered best at. And last week, 20 to 25 cases of another British sparkler, Bottega Gold, valued at $15,000, were lifted from a West Sussex warehouse in Pease Pottage. Police are investigating a possible connection between the two thefts. James Bond may be a Bollinger man, but it may be time for 007 to start checking around the local supervillains' secret underground volcano fortresses/ambient cellars.
• Sean “Diddy” Combs has been setting trends in the hip-hop world for decades, and the fashion industry for nearly as long. Add spirits to the mix. Cîroc, the grape-based vodka for which Combs is brand ambassador, served as the inspiration for a new vodka made from Yakima Valley Chardonnay and Merlot grapes from Glacier Basin Distillery in Washington wine country. "I'm a big connoisseur of vodka," Thomas Hale, a partner in the distillery, told Unfiltered. "Cîroc really caught me—just the fact that it's made from fruit. Everyone automatically thinks of grain. It sparks people's interest." Glacier Basin spirits—the lineup also includes fruit brandies and grappa—are produced from apples, cherries and grapes from its affiliate, Gilbert Orchards, that would otherwise go to waste. "The whole idea is to use fruit from Gilbert Orchards that might be unmarketable due to winter damage, or hail damage," Hale explained. In 2014, an extremely high yield of grapes suggested that it might be the right time to try a Cîroc-style vodka. Hale went looking for the ripest grapes he could find in the Gilbert vineyards, and found some Chardonnay and Merlot that had risen to 29 degrees Brix by November. He and his team fermented the grapes to wine, pressed it, distilled it three times, then triple filtered it. They're hoping to get it on shelves and on drinks menus at Yakima-area restaurants as soon as possible; Hale said it's likely to retail for about $35 a bottle. "I think it's kind of fun when you go get a drink, that you're drinking something that's from a place just down the road," Hale said.
• For wine lovers feeling dragged down by too many e-mails, tweets and Facebook friends, the answer might be a “digital detox” weekend at Château La Gravière. The winery-turned-guesthouse in Bordeaux’s Médoc region features local wines, restored stone buildings, and 5 acres of lush lawns and gardens. The digital detox weekend, designed to help guests disconnect from phones, tablets and computers and reconnect with themselves, loved ones and their joie de vivre, includes two dinners and breakfasts, a digital detox kit (pens, postcards, paper and envelopes), access to the facility’s spa, sauna, pool and bicycles and, of course, a mandatory shelving of all digital gadgets. (Guests are asked to exchange digital devices for a glass of wine upon arrival.)
The two-night, three-day stay at the château, priced at about $700 per couple, also includes individual coaching sessions on digital addiction. Guests have the choice between several specialized workshops and activities, including well-being and massage, detox cooking, personal development or a visit to nearby chateaus for tours and wine tastings.
• Kids may be too young to drink, but they can still occasionally enjoy the benefits of wine and the sommeliers who serve it. Chicago-based nonprofit organization Avanse has launched a yearlong campaign called Somms4Kids, in partnership with local wine bar Enolo Wine Café, which will benefit Avanse's mission of helping street kids in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each month, a different Chicago sommelier chooses a wine, which Enolo serves by the glass. Avanse receives $2 for each glass sold. "Sharing food is a universal activity shared across cultures," Jeannette Pawula, CEO and founder of Avanse, told Unfiltered. "Somms4Kids provides a fantastic avenue for our community to engage in socially conscious dining to support street kids and enjoy great wines chosen by local sommeliers." This month's featured sommelier is Douglas Marello, director of sales for Chicago-based distributor Tenzing Wine & Spirits, and he's pouring the 2013 Gavi from Oscar Farinetti's Santa Vittoria estate in Piedmont for $13. Marello's selection follows Kenneth Volk Negrette 2011 ($14), selected by Alpana Singh of the Boarding House in January and Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir 2012 ($18), chosen by Tenzing Wine & Spirits founder Ken Frederickson for February.