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NYU's Stern and Yale Law Take America's Bordeaux Cup

Plus, France's xenophobic wine terrorists kidnap a Languedoc vigneron, and the 2014 Awards Season Champagne pairings

Posted: January 23, 2014

• "It was supposed to be a friendly competition," Emmanuel Cruse, grand maître of the Commanderie du Bontemps, told Unfiltered of the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup university wine competition that went global in 2011. "But I think this wine competition is becoming the most important for young people in the world." Indeed, as teams hear about the glitz and glory awaiting them at the finals in Bordeaux—last year, they were treated to four days of drinking and dining at Latour, Lafite, Montrose, Smith-Haut-Lafitte, Phélan Ségur, Yquem, Guiraud and others before facing off in the Thunderdome of Lafite's cellars—the preliminary competitions have become more intense. An Oxford/Cambridge tie in one prelim last year led to disputes; Cruse hired a lawyer to help set down the rules more concretely this year. In the U.S. on Tuesday, teams braved a brutal snowstorm to converge on the French Consulate in Manhattan from as far away as Stanford. A Harvard team took a bus into town, but there would be no buses going out that night; some emergency couchsurfing was called for.

Yet the competition, which pits top graduate schools from the U.S. against European and Asian counterparts in a test of trivia and taste, "was super fun," according to Adam Teeter, a member of the victorious NYU Stern School of Business team. Stern and Yale Law beat out past years' powerhouses like Wharton and Harvard Business to have a shot at planting the flag in Bordeaux at the finals in June. First up, a multiple-choice quiz. Cruse pooh-poohed two "very easy questions," one about a wine quote from Hemingway; the other, "Who owns Smith-Haut-Lafitte?" (the Cathiard family). But the skill level of the competitors is "improving" every year, he said, so there would be no other softballs. Returning champions Yale Law took a methodical approach to studying: "I memorized the entire 1855 Classification," said Laura Femino. Another team member learned all the geography and appellations, while a third took on château ownership and Graves. Still, said Teeter, "I'm not going to lie, it was hard. Some of the questions they asked we were like, uh, are you kidding?" A few examples: How many second-growths are in St.-Julien, five, six or seven? (Five.) What do Issan, Kirwan and Langoa Barton have in common: appellation, classification or ownership? (They are all third-growths.) The winning team notched five out of the 10, which was enough that "we knew we were in the running throughout," said Michael Modisett, another Stern team member.

Then to the blind tasting, three flights of three wines each. Which is the Listrac? Which is the Barsac? Identify the vintage. "Especially on the tasting questions, the answers were all over the board," said Femino. "When they asked for the vintage, you got everything from 2005, 2008, 2006. That's just a testament to: This is really hard." The Commanderie members, divested of their various ceremonial robes, ruffles, sashes and hats, joined the students for a feast to finish the night out. Now, Stern and Yale Law take on the world in June, and the world will be ready. Cruse told Unfiltered about one fine wine dealer who is sponsoring Hong Kong teams, lining up bottles for them to train on, so that they'll be loyal buyers someday. "He thinks in the near future, those students will be rich."

• A winegrower in the Languedoc had the fright of his life earlier this month. On Jan. 5, three masked men reportedly tied and gagged John-François Cathala, shoved him into the trunk of a car and threatened to kill him, because he had signed an agreement to sell 24.7 acres to Swiss investors. The Swiss intended to grow tomatoes. A group calling itself Comité d’Action Viticole (CAV) took responsibility, but law enforcement officers strenuously downplayed any political motivations to "save" French vineyards from foreigners or tomatoes. Investigating prosecutor Patrick Mathé spoke to Unfiltered. “It’s purely criminal," he said. "It has nothing to do with CRAV or viticulture.” CRAV is a shadowy group of militants who resort to bombs and sabotage to protest against globalization, but they have never targeted foreigners. “We have never had any of this kind of action against a foreign investor in the region,” said Mathé. CAV appeared on the radar last month, when they sent threatening letters to SAFER, a government agency that regulates property ownership, as well as real-estate agents involved in selling vineyards to foreigners. Then, after the tragic helicopter crash that killed four in Fronsac following the sale of Château La Rivière to a Chinese billionaire, CAV wrote a loathsome letter, claiming the victims got what they deserved. CAV sent another menacing letter Jan. 6, following the attack on Cathala. Suspects are being sought on charges of kidnapping and imprisonment. “We are investigating and I have every hope we will find them,” said Mathé.

This time of year, there's enough star power to make every awards show feel like a blind Champagne tasting, but Unfiltered's celebrity wine sleuths squinted past the shiny people and their glittering bling for a glimpse of what they've been sipping so far this month. Awards Season got into full swing this past week, beginning Jan. 12 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with the Golden Globe Awards where, as usual, Moët & Chandon was the official Champagne (23 years running …). For the fifth year in a row, philanthropy was the theme, as Moët's Toast for a Cause campaign raised money for a wide range of worthy causes, including Warren Easton Charter High School, supported by Sandra Bullock; UNICEF, supported by Jennifer Lawrence; the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation; the Kevin Spacey Foundation; and the Art of Elysium, supported by Amber Heard. Moët & Chandon donates $1,000 to the chosen charity of each Golden Globe nominee who raises a red carpet Toast for a Cause.

A few days later, the Critics' Choice Movie Awards had plenty of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte on hand at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 16. It was Nicolas Feuillate's third year as the event's Champagne sponsor. New to the CCMAs was Coombsville's Arrow & Branch winery, whose Napa Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc were served as well.

Still later that bubbliest of weeks, Champagne Taittinger kicked off the red-carpet festivities Jan. 18 at the Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center. Taittinger export manager Clovis Taittinger was joined by American Hustle star Elisabeth Röhm for the ceremony's opening toast, showing off the brand's new violet disco ball-inspired Nocturne NV packaging. "Champagne Taittinger is honored once again to be at the SAG Awards making the official toast to celebrate the phenomenal performances of 2013," Taittinger said in a press release. Two 6-liter bottles of Taittinger Brut La Francaise were backstage during the show, to be signed by all the award winners; they'll be sold at the SAG Awards Holiday Auction later this year, which benefits the Screen Actors Guild Foundation's Children's Literacy and Emergency Assistance.

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