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Gabrielle Union Brings Vanilla Puddin' to Napa

Plus, was Alexander the Great poisoned by wine? And The Great American Wine Company donates $100,000 to the USO

Posted: February 6, 2014

• The Napa Valley wine scene turned its star power up another watt last week with the announcement that veteran Hollywood actress (and future Mrs. Dwyane Wade) Gabrielle Union has partnered with JaM Cellars' John Truchard and celebrity-wine matchmaker R.C. Mills' The Brand Elite (Keyshawn Johnson's XIX Oregon Cabernet, Warren G's Allure Moscato) to create Vanilla Puddin' Napa Chardonnay. "It tastes like vanilla!" exclaimed late-night talk show host Chelsea Handler when Union introduced the wine on Chelsea Lately Jan. 28. Union explained what she wants (and doesn't want) from a Chardonnay: "We've gone to expensive dinners, and you get an insane bottle of wine that costs more than your mortgage payment, and it's gross!" Union told Handler. “I just want something good, and yummy … and this is not so sweet—it's just a hint of vanilla pudding." The 3,000-case production of Vanilla Puddin' Chardonnay Napa Valley 2012 ($17) will be available beginning March 1, assuming Union hasn't already earmarked the entire run for her and Wade's wedding reception.

• In this week’s episode of CSI: Greek Tragedy, a professor at Otago University in New Zealand thinks he may have discovered the real cause of death for one Alexander the Great: poisoned wine. Many have theorized that Alexander was poisoned, but most scholars dismiss the claims of poisoning due to the fact that it took him so long to die (14 days according to Plutarch, a mere 11 reported Diodorus), and most viable poisons of that era acted much, much faster (strychnine, for example). A new study by Dr. Leo Schep, coauthored by Otago University classics expert Dr. Pat Wheatley and published in Clinical Toxicology, posits that poisoning could still be the cause of Alexander's death. The most likely culprit, according to Schep? Veratrum album, also known as white hellebore. This white-flowered plant was often fermented into a wine for the specific function of inducing vomiting and was well-known and readily available in ancient Greece. A tainted wine, which would have been very bitter, could have been sweetened so as to make it palatable. The study's authors theorize that daily doses of this poisonous wine—along with the drastically reduced heart rate and constant vomiting it would induce—could easily render someone weak and speechless, symptoms that were reported in Alexander’s final days. Add this now plausible smoking gun to the numerous motives and access of the individuals near to Alexander (we’re looking at you, Antipater), as well as the propensity for Grecian royalty to die at the hands of assassins, and it seems that the poisoning theory has new life.

• California's Rosenblum Cellars announced this week the launch of The Great American Wine Company, which will support U.S. troops and their families through a contribution to the United Service Organization (USO). The newest addition to the Diageo Château & Estates family will be produced by Rosenblum and feature a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Zinfandel-based blend that incorporates Merlot and Petite Sirah, each priced at $13. In a video to promote the new wines, Rosenblum winemaker John Kane identifies The Great American Wine Company as an "opportunity for us to showcase the pioneering spirit of America," adding that "what really drives the brand—and I think the most inspiration for me—is we're giving to military charities throughout the U.S." An initial $100,000 donation to the USO will be the first of the company's annual donations for active troops and veterans. It's a partnership of which one of the USO's all-time greatest supporters, Bob Hope, would be proud: The legendary comedian was a passionate drinker of Michigan wines, especially Tabor Hill's demi-sec Vidal Blanc.

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