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Obama Makes Peace With Robert Mondavi Cabernet

Plus, comedian and wine lover Lewis Black makes wine for charity and two famous wine names embroiled in legal issues

Posted: December 17, 2009

• Last week in Oslo, Norway, the Nobel Committee awarded the peace prize to President Barack Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.” At the gala dinner he attended afterward, the committee practiced some international diplomacy of their own, choosing wines from both the United States and our neighbor to the north, Canada, to complement the meal. Alongside a Nordic-themed dinner of elk marinated with juniper berries and thyme, they poured Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Canada got the nod for dessert: Inniskillin Vidal Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine Oak-Aged 2003 was paired with caramel- and chocolate-glazed banana mousse with peanut meringue. The wines were tapped from a short list by the Nobel Committee and a special tasting panel prior to the dinner. As Unfiltered always says come holiday season, cheers to peace on earth and good wine toward men.

• Comedian, author, playwright, and accomplished ranteur Lewis Black, of The Daily Show and Lewis Black's The Root of All Evil, has been known to unwind with a glass or two. But now he has a whole barrel: The performer's Black Red Wine, a proprietary blend of Northern Coast Cabernet and Petite Sirah, debuted on Tuesday at New York's City Winery, Michael Dorf's venue for smooth tunes and bespoke blend-it-yourself wines. All the proceeds from Black's barrel will go to the 52nd Street Project, a charity that, as Black described to Unfiltered, "puts together theater artists with inner-city kids for the creation of a variety of theater projects." The charity began as a writing retreat—"We took a bunch of writers, actors, etc. and went away to Tyler Hill or Block Island and spent a week there with the kids working on the play"—but evolved into a bona fide theater program for the Hell's Kitchen-based young dramaturges: "Eventually the kids started writing the plays, and we'd act in them. Now we have our own space with classrooms where all the kids can work." The collaboration between Black and City Winery, "Barrels of Benefits," is expected to net $35,000 for the charity. And how's the wine? Despite his modesty ("I don't know s**t about wine"), Black has made an admirable blend with winemaker David Lecomte. Using grapes from Napa's Haystack Vineyards and Lake County's Obsidian Ridge, Black experimented with various blends until he hit on a style he liked enough to put his name on, literally, as he signed bottles for all the attendees of Tuesday's soiree. As for whether he thinks he’ll be selling wine to his colleagues, Black said older comedians would enjoy a bottle. "Younger comedians, if they have any brains, are still drinking the hard stuff."

• Unfiltered recalls having been rather confused by Encyclopedia, the wine brand developed by Francis Ford Coppola, aimed at younger drinkers and packaged in Erlenmeyer flask-shaped screw-capped bottles. Now we hear the company that supplied packaging for the brand may have also been confused—about how to create leak-proof packaging for the wine. As reported by Courthouse News Service last week, Coppola’s company, Francis Ford Coppola Presents, is suing supplier Vinocor USA for unspecified damages after 55,000 cases worth of Encyclopedia wine were oxidized due to screw caps with faulty threading and missing parts, and bottles with such defects as bent necks and deformed seals. Coppola stated in Napa County Court that his company had conceived of Encyclopedia as a tool to teach consumers about the various factors—geography, history and religion among them—that influence winemaking all over the world. In a nod to his current situation, perhaps Coppola should add “supplier issues” and “lost revenue” to that list of factors.

• Extortion attempts, multimillion-dollar blackmail demands and threats of violence aren’t normal topics of conversation in rural winemaking communities in Australia, but don’t tell that to Casella Wines’ John Casella. Earlier this month, Casella, managing director of the Riverina winery behind the world-famous Yellow Tail brand, reported threats of violence and intimidation against his family if a demand for AUD$5 million (US$4.5 million) was not paid by Dec. 9. The demand allegedly followed blackmail payments made by Casella over the past two years totaling AUD$645,000 (US$581,000) to elderly Italian man Matteo De Dominicis. De Dominicis was arrested last week and appeared in court charged with four counts of demanding money with menace. He was refused bail after telling police that he would continue to harass and threaten his victims if released. Speculation abounds as to why the initial demands were paid before Casella went to police. In a statement, he declared that the full story would be revealed, but that he’s unable to make public comment while the matter is before the courts. The case was adjourned until Feb. 2. Casella Wines is Australia’s largest family-owned winery.

• At the intersection of a sampler kit and airline-size liquor bottles is a new packaging system for wine. TastingRoom Inc. is taking the concept of the tasting room on the road, helping brands offer 50ml, sample-size bottles of their wine. “Sample size” might not seem that inventive, until you consider that a typical wine bottling line can’t accommodate these single-pour sizes, and unlike a lot of other products, wine degrades rather quickly when it’s open, so transferring it from one vessel to another is never simple. TastingRoom Inc. has created T.A.S.T.E. (Total Anaerobic Sample Transfer Environment) Technology, a process to transfer wine from a 750ml bottle into these stocking stuffers in a sealed, zero-oxygen chamber to preserve the integrity of the wine. Sonoma’s Seghesio winery is one of the first to use these elf-size bottles, and plans to distribute samples to restaurant and retail accounts, as well as selling them to consumers who are interested in possibly purchasing more Seghesio wine. “In lean times, if people can be a little bit more sure of what they’re purchasing before committing to a larger purchase, it’s great,” Cathy Seghesio told Unfiltered. Seghesio also points out that 14 tiny samples can come out of a regular-size bottle. One of her favorite features is that the wine samples will be in their “pure form”—not a barrel sample, and not a glass poured and left for a busy restaurateur or retailer to get to when they have a moment. For consumers, a Seghesio pack of six miniature bottles will cost in the $30 to $50 range, depending what wines are featured. Unfiltered is hoping our stocking is stuffed with miniature Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel bottles this year.

• Planning on having guests over for a glass of white wine this holiday season? If you have a choice of lighting, go with red or blue. According to a new study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies, drinkers found the wines more enjoyable when they were tasted in the presence of red or blue ambient lighting, as opposed to green or white. The German experiment, led by Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, gave the same group of drinkers an identical bottle of Riesling in different lighting situations. He conducted the experiment at both a wine bar and in the laboratory with similar results. Drinkers rated the wine one and a half times sweeter and also fruitier in red light than in green light. Further, drinkers in red or blue light were willing to pay almost 1 euro ($1.44) more for the bottle. Researchers concluded that ambient lighting influences how wine tastes, and the "extreme lighting conditions found in some bars can undoubtedly influence the way a wine tastes." That’s just one more reason we at Wine Spectator insist on reviewing wines “blind.”

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