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Jay Z Becomes a Champenois

Plus, former King Juan Carlos of Spain celebrates a Rioja wine icon, and the Rolling Stones go on an Australia wine tour

Posted: November 6, 2014

• Hip-hop mogul Jay Z has long tinkered with side projects outside his rapping; quoth the man himself nine years ago, "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man." As of this week, Jay Z is the wine business: He purchased importer Sovereign Brands' share of the Champagne Armand de Brignac—the shiny metallic gold bottles nicknamed the Ace of Spades. The purchase price was not disclosed. Hip-hop stars Nicki Minaj, E-40, Warren G and Lil Jon have all, in recent years and with varying degrees of success, entered into partnerships or created wine brands, but Jay is to Ace of Spades what Frank Sinatra was to Jack Daniel's—rarely seen at social functions without a glass in hand. When Jay Z and Champagne Louis Roederer "had beef" over Jay's former favorite, Cristal, in 2006, he alighted on a previously unheard-of cuvée called Armand de Brignac, produced by Champagne Cattier. It was rumored that Sovereign Brands, Jay Z and Cattier created the brand, with each taking a cut, and Jay Z stacking up 30-foot bottle towers in his 40/40 clubs. Back then, Jay Z must have calculated that pushing a wine you own feels like an inauthentic endorsement, and he denied the arrangement. Last year, we argued that the terrain had shifted: After all, if you're forthrightly taking ownership as a celebrity, you put your own skin in the game and your own brand on the line. Maybe Jay Z came around to this view, or maybe he just realized that everyone already thought he owned Ace of Spades anyway.

• Former King Juan Carlos of Spain, who abdicated in June, allowing his son Crown Prince Felipe to take the throne, made a rare public appearance in October. The former king inaugurated the newly renovated historic Castillo Ygay, centerpiece at the iconic Marqués de Murrieta estate in Alta Rioja. The upgrade cost more than $20 million and took eight years to complete. The castle and its attendant buildings and pathways were entirely reconstructed using 6,000 tons of newly quarried sandstone, hand-cut and distressed by a team of Galician stonemasons. The complex now contains new tasting rooms, a museum, a dining room and a library of Murrieta vintages going back to 1852. The only room to remain unchanged is the original 1852 bottle cellar. Juan Carlos unveiled a commemorative plaque, toured the premises, and enjoyed a meal by the house chef with accompanying Murrieta wines. A bottle of emblematic Castillo Ygay 1938, the king’s birth year, was uncorked for the toast. Marqués de Murrieta is one of modern Rioja's pioneering bodegas. Current owner Vicente Cebrián-Sagarriga took over from his father in 1996.

• The various wines of the Rolling Stones have been around for a while—first there was the Canadian ice wine Sympathy for the Devil in 2008, and then in 2010 the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers joined Pink Floyd for the Wines That Rock collection. But when celebrities put their names to wine labels, it's not always clear just how much they actually love wine. Word out of Australia this week is that the Stones are indeed quite interested: According to Adelaide's In Daily, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' wife, Patti, along with some of the band's touring crew, went on an impromptu Adelaide Hills winery tour last month between rehearsals for their show at the Adelaide Oval stadium. Their itinerary reportedly included Shaw & Smith, Hahndorf Hill and Scott & La Prova before hitting Ochota Barrels for lunch with owner-winemakers Taras and Amber Ochota. Unfortunately for the Ochotas, their small-batch wines were all sold out, and they had to open a slew of yet-to-be-released labels, which the Stones crew was happy to take off their hands. "In the end, they bought pretty much all our wine we had in the winery," Taras told In Line, "Patti loved the Green Room Grenache-Syrah and she took a dozen home for Keith."

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