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Pairing Wine and (Couch) Potatoes

Plus, Yellow Tail’s shrinking profits and scientists learn to speed up superconductors with wine

Posted: January 27, 2011

• Following in the grape stomps of PBS’ reality-television contest The Winemakers, Season 1 of which aired last year (Season 2 just wrapped up filming in France's Rhône Valley), Unfiltered is happy to announce that the good people at public television are giving more wine-themed programming a try, albeit in a much different format. Vine Talk, with actor Stanley Tucci serving as the show’s host and moderator, will be a blend of roundtable chat show and wine tasting. Tucci and his guests—a mix of celebrity actors and chefs as well as wine experts—will exchange thoughts and stories connected with the world of wine, with each episode featuring six wines from a specific region or common grape variety that will serve as the evening’s discussion points. Members of the studio audience will taste the wines as well and a “top wine” will be selected at the end of each episode. The pilot, set to air on PBS this April, features chef Daniel Boulud and actress Patricia Clarkson, among others. But what does a celebrity chat show host know about wine? Judging by his screen credits, we’d say Tucci is probably no slouch—he co-wrote, co-directed and starred in the “foodie film trend” classic Big Night, where he played Secondo, the slick maître’d to Tony Shalhoub’s Primo, the delicate genius chef, at the two brothers’ Italian restaurant. Considering Big Night was released in 1996, we’d say Tucci has a track record for being ahead of the curve.

• Even before floods and wet weather hit southeast Australia this month, grapegrowers there were facing hard times. Too many vines planted during boom times and changes in customer tastes have played a role, but one factor many growers find particularly frustrating is the strong Australian dollar. Once relatively weak, it’s now almost equal in value to the U.S. dollar, meaning Aussies face a hard choice—raise their prices overseas and risk turning off customers, or watch as their profit margins shrink to nothing. The man behind Yellow Tail told a local newspaper this week how painful that choice is. John Casella, managing director of Casella wines, the family firm that started the brand with a U.S. importer, ships 8 million cases to the U.S. annually—70 percent of his production. He says his volume sales dipped just slightly last year, but his profits shrank by 69.8 percent, mostly thanks to the currency difference. That’s after profits fell 50 percent the previous year. Despite that, Casella is lucky—he still made more than $12 million last year. Many Aussies are losing money.

• You know what they say about drinking on the job: It either gets you fired, or leads to a breakthrough scientific discovery. Researchers at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan managed to swing the latter when they chose to throw a blowout party in the lab. Researchers Yoshihiko Takano and Takahide Yamaguchi made sure the sake, whisky, shochu, beer and wine were flowing. All was not lost, though. The scientists were studying superconductors—metals that conduct electricity extremely effectively at very low temperatures—and part of their research involved soaking one material in plain water and a water/ethanol mix. Now anyone who owns Tabasco sauce, an old sofa on a porch or livestock knows that most party ideas that seem brilliant in the moment are often, in fact, at best disastrous. But in this case, “Dude, what if we put the superconductor … in beer,” led to an unlikely discovery. While the water-and-ethanol mix increased superconductivity about 15 percent, commercial alcohol worked much better, with red wine increasing conductivity a full 62 percent. For any Unfiltered readers out there getting any ideas, please note: Pouring wine on your computer will not make it faster.

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