• Back in the days when we knew William Shatner as Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, we all thought space was the final frontier. Of course, we all know better now—it's the Internet—so where else would the Priceline Negotiator land with a new video series blind-tasting wine with celebrities? Ora TV's William Shatner's Brown Bag Wine Tasting features Shatner as host, asking his celebrity guests to taste a wine blind with him and describe it in terms of their careers. "I'm using wine as a way to explore the psyche of each of my guests," said Shatner in a press release. Actor and children's educator LeVar Burton sat down with him to talk about family and kids, describing what turned out to be a St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2013 as a child who "has manners and knows how to conduct itself in public." Chef and TV personality Alton Brown created a "food word mosaic" for Mumm Napa Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV: "3 tablespoons of butter, crush up 1 tablespoon of Butterfinger bar, an Amalfi lemon … add fresh yard clippings … and 1 green cardamom pod." Brown also impressed Unfiltered by pegging the sparkler blind as a "méthode Champenoise, from California, made by a French house." New episodes premiere Mondays at www.Ora.TV.
• People have been making wine in the area around what is now Bordeaux since Roman times, but as Bordeaux was (fortunately!) not buried in the lava flow of a volcano, preserving everything beneath it, written documentation of the oldest French château histories is hard to come by. You can go back pretty far, though, especially when you're a château willing to dangle the carrot of nearly $50,000 worth of wine in front of whatever researcher comes up with the oldest mention of your name. And thus, in May of 2013, the Château Haut-Brion Historical Challenge was launched. At the time, Haut-Brion's oldest written mention was practically yesterday, in a 1660 cellar book of King Charles II of England. Now, with France's most elite nerds on the case, two older references have been found, the oldest dating to 1521. It's a loan equivalent to about $64,000 from Guilhem de Mailhois, merchant and sergeant of Bordeaux, to be repaid in wine every year forever ("It was a real form of usury" notes the Haut-Brion press release): "four pipes of wine [475 gallons], will be from the vineyard belonging to the said de Monque [the unfortunate lessee] from the place known as Aubrion [you can figure that one out]"
It's significant because, as Prince Robert of Luxembourg, current owner of Haut-Brion and presumably no longer in debt to the de Mailhois family, wrote to Unfiltered, of "the fact that we have a written mention of the actual wine and the very plots of land that produced superior wine which people were willing to pay good money for—but only if it came from this particular plot or 'growth.' This is behind the real notion and birth of 'a growth,' an exceptional terroir and even a luxury brand." (The second-oldest mention dates to 1526; it's a wine purchase for two barrels of "Haulbrion.") Art historian Laurent Chavier scored the older document in the Gironde Departmental Archives, and for his contribution to history he was rewarded with 7 cases of Domaine Clarence Dillon wine, including two of Haut-Brion 1989. Meanwhile, Haut-Brion continues to dial the time machine back: "We are just scraping the surface," said Prince Robert. "This is an archaeological dig which will take generations to uncover. We are about to start to liaise with people that are reviewing far older documents. We have written mentions of vines dating back at [Haut-Brion] to the early 1400s." Here's to uncovering many more centuries of the heritage and creative misspellings of Château Haut-Brion.
• Amidst the current political crisis in Hong Kong, it's nice to see that some moneyed wine collectors still know how to party. At its sale in Hong Kong this past weekend, Sotheby's sold 114 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti, including six wines from every vintage from 1992 to 2010, for $1.6 million. Unfiltered thought it was a pretty good day for Sotheby's, until we learned that the sale price was only just over the presale low estimate of around $1.5 million, and nowhere close to the presale high estimate of $2.6 million. That price topped a 2006 Sotheby's sale in New York of 50 cases of Mouton-Rothschild 1982 for $1.5 million.
• Growers in New York's Finger Lakes region, where winter temps often drop below freezing, are always looking for new and traditional grape varieties that can take the cold and make interesting wine, and this is where Cornell University's grapevine-breeding program shines. Cornell has given Finger Lakes vintners cold-hardy hybrids like Traminette, Cayuga White, Corot Noir and Noiret. Its latest creation to hit the market, Aromella, an aromatic white grape variety, has just been released by Goose Watch on Cayuga Lake. As with all conventional breeding of new grape varieties, it’s been a long time coming. The first Aromella seedlings were planted at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station in 1976, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Goose Watch winery owner Dave Peterson, a former vineyard researcher at Cornell, planted the grape in one of his vineyards. Peterson, who at one time helped find commercial testing sites for Cornell grape varieties, currently grows and offers a range of wines made from Cornell hybrids: Traminette, Corot Noir and Noiret, Valvin Muscat and Melody, to name a few. Aromella is the latest in the lineup. The 2013 vintage Aromella is “reminiscent of Moscato, though not as sweet,” said Peterson, and is priced at $13 a bottle.
• Thierry Roset, chef de cave for Champagne Charles Heidsieck, died suddenly on Sunday. He was 54, and the cause of death is unknown at this time. The quiet, amiable Roset spent more than 25 years at sister Champagne houses Charles & Piper-Heidsieck, owned by French luxury goods firm Société Européenne de Participations Industrielles (EPI) since 2011. Roset was hired in 1988 by chef de cave Daniel Thibaut, and worked alongside Thibaut and later Régis Camus as production manager, enologist and assistant chef de cave. He was promoted in 2012 to head chef de cave for Charles Heidsieck. Roset was best-known for his undertaking in recent years to refine the wines of Charles Heidsieck: in the bottle with a more specific selection of crus used for blending and in the packaging with a new bottle shape and new labels for the house’s lineup. Cécille Bonnefond, CEO of the two houses, cited his “extraordinary skills as a winemaker,” and added, “We are all devastated by the tragic loss of a man who touched us all with his humility, kindness and gentle nature.” Roset is survived by his wife and three children.