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Tragedy Meets Wine Irony in New Zealand

Plus, Domaine Clarence Dillon supports the Clinton Foundation for the president's 65th birthday and a best-selling Japanese wine comic gets its U.S. debut

Posted: October 13, 2011

• Disaster has struck the coast of New Zealand, and to a considerably smaller extent, one Marlborough winery. Last week, the 775-foot long, 50,000-ton cargo ship the Rena ran aground of a reef as it was leaving New Zealand. On board the ship were 4,000 cases—worth nearly $1 million—of Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc. The name of the reef upon which the Rena remains stuck? Also Astrolabe. And the cruelest irony of all: An astrolabe is a navigational instrument that dates back more than 2,000 years, and which might have helped avoid this whole catastrophe. Astrolabe general manager Jason Yank (who is referred to on the winery's website as "the captain of the ship"—will the irony ever stop?!) was scrambling to send another 2,800 cases of wine to Ireland this week, where the Rena's wine cargo had been destined. The U.K. is an important market for New Zealand, and this shipment was expected to fill holiday demand. "All I'm concerned with at the minute is making sure the Irish market has their Astrolabe for Christmas," Yank told New Zealand's Stuff.co.nz. "You don't want to upset the Irish."

But there are much more serious concerns than just spilled wine. The Rena is slowly breaking in half as it rocks back and forth on the reef and is spilling heavy fuel into the Bay of Plenty on the eastern shore of New Zealand's North Island. The oil slick has affected about 25 miles of coastline so far and more than 500 birds have been found dead. Environmental workers are treating four seals and dozens of birds, including 13 dotterels (let us save you the trouble—it's a near-extinct shorebird; this shouldn't help matters) for oil exposure. No humans were injured but the captain and first mate were arrested for the maritime equivalent of reckless driving. Tugboats are attempting to hold the boat on to the reef while crews work to extract the remaining fuel from the vessel, but the process could take another five days or longer. Meanwhile, oil isn't the only thing heading to shore. At least 80 shipping containers are afloat and have begun washing up on the beaches. So besides Sauvignon Blanc, what else might be washing up on Mt. Maunganui beach? Partially-cooked beef patties, dairy products, animal pelts and timber. The securely screw-capped Sauvignon Blanc is probably fine; please do not pair it with the beef patties and dairy products.

President Bill Clinton, whom Unfiltered last saw serving Clinton Corners Seyval Blanc to daughter Chelsea's wedding guests (and residents of Rhinebeck, N.Y., who were inconvenienced by the high-profile festivities), celebrates his 65th birthday tomorrow. He'll mark the occasion, and the 10th anniversary of his eponymous charitable foundation, with a gala event at Los Angeles' Hollywood Palladium. Some might say that special guest Stevie Nicks will be the main attraction at the fund-raising bash, but Unfiltered is more interested in a particular auction lot: two custom wine consoles containing eight bottles each of Château Haut-Brion. The reds include 1935, 1945, 1959, 1961, 1975, 1989, 1990 and 2009 vintages from the esteemed first-growth, and the whites include 1969, 1976, 1983, 1989, 1994, 2003, 2005 and 2007. (This is the second in a series of charity auctions in which the highly limited-edition consoles are being sold—check out the link for a picture.) The highest bidder will also receive a half-case each of 2010 Château Haut-Brion white and red next fall, when it is bottled. The consoles were designed by Prince Robert de Luxembourg, whose family-owned business, Domaine Clarence Dillon, purchased Château Haut-Brion in 1935 and Château La Mission-Haut-Brion in 1983. The lot is valued at $460,000; a mighty donation to his foundation that should ease the blow of Clinton's becoming an official senior citizen.

• "The two of them were still too young to understand each other’s feelings … just like the finest wines are sometimes mistaken for poor ones when they’re drunk too early." No, your latest issue of Wine Erotica has not arrived in the mailbox today, sit back down. This, rather, is a line from Drops of God, a Japanese comic book series by Tadashi Agi (pen name of a brother/sister writing team) and illustrator Shu Okimoto. It's hugely popular in Asia and finally available in English translation as of last week (Vertical, $15). The wine comic book is a classic fable of two brothers who must compete in a 12-part taste-off to determine which wins their departed father’s mega-cellar. One brother—adopted just days before the father's death—is a rising wine critic, but the kind who says things like “Poured onto a woman’s fair skin, it truly does resemble blood,” while pouring wine over a woman’s backside. The “good” brother, to spite Dad, became a beer salesman (murder most foul!). The reader learns about (mostly super-premium) wine alongside the prodigal son, who has some catching up to do. Mostly, it is a heartwarming yarn of sex and death (plus wine). For a taste of the adventures awaiting the reader, Unfiltered has selected a few choice quotes from our already-well-thumbed copy that may come in use at your next wine tasting:

"This caviar is too salty for the delicate taste of Salon!"

"This wine is sensuality itself. A blood-scented sensuality born of decadence."

"Pitch black … A demonic darkness resides in this wine."

"It's powerful but I also felt a melting sweetness and a sharp rush of sourness. Just as the soft, husky vocals of Queen are wrapped in deep guitar sounds and heavy drums."

"For those two clowns, [Mouton-Rothschild] would be beyond reach. [whispered] They seem poor."

And Unfiltered's favorite: "So … we meet again. This will be the day I drink you."

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