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Best of Unfiltered 2016

Brangelina, Kim and Kanye and Pope Francis all grace this year's Best of Unfiltered list, but Austria's lingerie-clad winemakers took the top spot for the second year in a row
Photo by: Kreativ Consulting
Austrian wine retained its title as Unfiltered readers' favorite subject.

Posted: December 29, 2016

With the growing number of celebrities trading in red carpets for red cuvées, we're as likely to hear reporters shouting "What are you drinking?" as "Who are you wearing?" during this coming awards season. From Drake's dabbles with whiskey to Stephen Colbert's wine tasting antics on The Late Show to Emmy-nominated actor Tituss Burgess' "Peeno Noir", Unfiltered was on the scene to let its readers know what was hot in Hollywood in 2016. In fact, only two stories on this year's list don't involve a household name (though the badly behaving French winemakers and lingerie-clad calendar models certainly make Unfiltered's A-list).

Three of 2015's top Unfiltered subjects returned for a victory lap this year, but while Pope Francis and Austria's calendar girls again left readers in good spirits, the same can't be said of the heartbreaking Jolie-Pitt split. The rest of the list isn't nearly as depressing—or gossipy, for that matter—so sit back, relax and get (pop) cultured.

And if you realize you missed some of these stories during the year and want to stay on top of all Unfiltered's scoops, sign up for the free Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest news on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics, crime and more.

10. Drew Barrymore Is Ready for Rosé Season

Brooke Duthie
Drew Barrymore enjoys her work in one of Carmel Road's Monterey County Pinot Noir vineyards.

It's a safe bet that we're going to start seeing a lot of blush-filled wineglasses on sidewalk-café tables in the coming weeks—rosé has never been more popular. So when actress-vintner Drew Barrymore, a longtime rosé lover, decided to add another bottling to her Barrymore Wines portfolio, the decision to think pink was an easy one. "I got lucky, because I love rosé and I've been drinking rosé for most of my wine-drinking career," she told Unfiltered, "I'm happy that it's so popular, and what's happened in the industry is really extraordinary. It gave me the validity to make it."

Barrymore collaborated with Carmel Road winemaker Kris Kato (the two previously worked together on Barrymore Pinot Grigio and Carmel Road Drew's Blend Pinot Noir), to create her 2015 Pinot Noir Monterey rosé. "I've learned that the more you insert yourself in the winemaking process, the more you will produce juice that is truly something you stand by," she said. She describes the final product as light, dry and a "beautiful peach color" and recommends pairing it with Japanese cuisine, spicy food and French fries.

The rosé, which retails for $18, hits the market next week, but Barrymore is already musing on her next project—she's been traveling and tasting, recently visiting St.-Emilion in Bordeaux; she's also "Beaujolais-obsessed" and a big fan of Pinot Nero, but don't rule out a sparkling rosé, either, which is another favorite of hers. She's clearly taken a shine to her winemaking role, though, so we expect to hear more from Barrymore wines in the future. "It's definitely been one of the more pleasurable jobs that I've ever had," she said. Posted April 28.

9. Meet the Sommelier Behind David Schwimmer's Role on AMC's 'Feed the Beast'

Frank Ockenfels/AMC
David Schwimmer plays a troubled sommelier in AMC's new series 'Feed the Beast.'

There's a new bad-boy somm coming to the Bronx, at least on TV. AMC's Feed the Beast debuts this Sunday night, starring David Schwimmer as a troubled but talented sommelier and partner in a restaurant beholden to the New York mob. Schwimmer, who waited tables before getting his big break as Friends' Ross, decided to enlist the help of a pro to get into his new role. "As an actor, I didn't want to be doing something that would make me look like an idiot," he told Salon.com. "I wanted those wine experts out there to watch the show and be like, 'Wow, that is a great choice for that dish.'"

Schwimmer reached out to his friend Josh Nadel, wine director for chef Andrew Carmellini's NoHo Hospitality Group and star of the Somm film–inspired TV series Uncorked. "David had a fair amount of rust to shake off," Nadel told Unfiltered, "[but] he enjoys wine, and knows what he likes, which is a huge help." Nadel ran Schwimmer through the wine service basics, "soup to nuts—service, tasting, physical demeanor and mechanics, syntax, pronunciation, how to build and organize a wine cellar, proper stemware—the whole schmear," and Schwimmer found the experience so essential to the authenticity of his role that he had Nadel brought on board as a consultant for the show. Nadel assists the writers with all things wine-related in the scripts, and continues to coach Schwimmer, who he says has been a star pupil. "David needed to become proficient in these areas very quickly," said Nadel. "Not surprisingly, he crushed it." Unfiltered couldn't coax any wine spoilers out of Nadel, but he did allow that the characters of Feed the Beast "are probably drinking some of the best wine ever served in the Bronx!" Posted June 2.

8. John Oliver Picks Fight with Long Island Wine

Eric Liebowitz/HBO
John Oliver brings Hamptons spring break to the studio.

Comedian John Oliver put Long Island wine in his snark crosshairs in a recent episode of his HBO show Last Week Tonight. The segment focused on the toilsome miseries of congressional fundraising, with guest Rep. Steve Israel, a retiring Democrat from Long Island. Israel has hosted some 1,600 fundraising events during his 16 years in office—including his annual Long Island wine trip, Long Island wine tastings and even Long Island wine pairings with cigars.

On that intelligence, Oliver pounces, suggesting "street violence" as a pairing to the congressman's beverage of choice, but as Unfiltered has learned the hard way, Long Islanders are a proud people when it comes to wine, and if you come for them, you best come correct. "You’re not gonna get me to say one negative thing about Long Island wine," replies Israel. "I’m very proud of it."

Israel elaborated further to Unfiltered this week: "There is no doubt that John Oliver is a gifted comedian, but this time he really missed the mark. As good as he is at making people laugh, I am as equally committed to defending all things Long Island. The Long Island wine industry is no joke—our vineyards produce award-winning wines, attract more than a million visitors each year, employ hardworking New Yorkers and stimulate our local economy." The congressman also named a few favorites for Unfiltered readers to check out: Kontokosta, Borghese, Bedell and Waters Crest.

At the end of the segment, the English funnyman whips out some of the North Fork’s finest—a Palmer Chardonnay in "the traditional bag"—to toast Israel’s upcoming retirement, and both men gamely swill it straight from the tap. "Not bad for wine in a bag," Israel insists. Perhaps mindful of his own home country's young-but-promising wine industry, Oliver concedes, "Sure, that’s fair." Posted April 14.

(The toast comes at around the 20-minute mark.)

7. Pope Francis: A Wedding Without Wine Is 'an Embarrassment'

Pope Francis warns the faithful against running out of wedding wine.

We already know that Vatican City consumes more wine per-capita than any other country in the world, so we weren’t surprised to learn that the pope is encouraging all of us to include a healthy dose of wine in our own lives. Further confirming the widespread suspicion that he’s a pretty cool guy, Pope Francis gave a public benediction of sorts to wine drinking at wedding celebrations during the June 8 installment of his weekly public address in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, stating that “wine expresses the abundance of the banquet and the joy of the feast.” He didn’t advocate a modest one-glass-per-person situation, either; he made it clear that any decent wedding will include wine that lasts, at a minimum, all reception long. “Imagine finishing the wedding feast drinking tea,” he scoffed. “It would be an embarrassment!"

Speaking to a crowd of thousands, His Holiness (who made a point of sampling some U.S. wines during his recent papal visit) expounded on a topic he’s touched on in past homilies: the Marriage at Cana, the Bible passage in which Jesus, attending a wedding with his mother, Mary, turns water into wine after the regular wine has run out. In his address, the pope connected this story to the idea that big moments such as weddings demand a party befitting the occasion. “How is it possible to celebrate the wedding and have a party if you lack what the prophets indicated was a typical element of the messianic banquet?” he asked, going on to note that while water is vital to life, “Wine is necessary for the feast.” Amen. Posted June 16.

6. Unfiltered Prophecy Fulfilled! Kim and Kanye to Make Wine

Kanye West, with wife, Kim Kardashian, will take a break from Twitter to fulfill his destiny as a celebrity vintner.

Unfiltered foretold back in 2014 that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian would be the next big celebrities to join the wine game, with the creator of hits like "Jesus Walks" and "I Am a God" (the latter appearing on the Yeezus album) selling water as "wine."

Kanye got into quite a dust-up on Twitter yesterday, but the real news comes from Us Weekly: that among renovations to KimYe's new L.A.-area digs will be a rehabilitation of the vineyard (or two vineyards, according to some real-estate listings) on the property. "Kanye loves wine, and he’s really excited about this," a source told the tabloid. "He even joked about having a Yeezus wine!" In that vein, Unfiltered would urge that Kanye keep his new album title Swish, though last night he announced it would instead be called Waves, a less obvious wine reference. ("Pop," "spit," "bricking," and "purple drink" also have somewhat different meanings in rap than in wine and could be misinterpreted.)

The Couple That Broke the Internet bought the place in 2014 for a reported $20 million, and it has all manner of BBQ pits, swimming pools and the like, but while real-estate photos show the previous owner, Lisa Marie Presley, kept the vines in bloom, there's no report on whether they found their way into bottle before now. Unlike Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's Miraval property, there's not much land to hoe in gated Hidden Hills. So while West and Kardashian have brought in vineyard consultants, it'll just be another one of Kanye's humble projects for tooling around in the garden: "They just want to make their own wine at home." Posted Jan. 28.

5. Napa's Newest All-Star Cabernet

Rob Tringali/Stringer/Getty Images
Vernon Wells is taking his next swing at Napa Cabernet.

There's a new All-Star in Napa Valley. Former Toronto Blue Jays, L.A. Angels and New York Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells has teamed with Seattle Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta to create Jack winery. Their debut 2013 Napa Cabernet is sourced from Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain fruit and priced at $100; there's also a $50 Sauvignon Blanc. Iannetta, whose grandparents made wine in their Rhode Island home, says the project is an exploration of his family’s Italian winemaking roots. Winemaker Grant Long Jr. of Aonair winery is making the wines.

"In 2012, when I was with the Angels, I became friends with Vernon," Iannetta, who has a series-opener against the Cubs tonight at Wrigley Field, told Unfiltered via e-mail. "Unfortunately, we both got injured … [but] during that time we kicked around some post-baseball business ideas. As fate would have it, we were talking about wine and thought creating our own would be an amazing way to team up through our shared passion." For both Iannetta and Wells, the wine project is a family affair—the Jack winery name is taken from the first initials of their respective children, Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian and Kylie. Iannetta tells us he'd like to add a Pinot Noir to their brand down the road, but that his favorite wines run from Diamond Creek Napa Cabernet to Banfi Brunello to Vieux-Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, while Wells' picks include Failla, HdV and Chappellet. And that level of wine interest is what winemaker Long cites when asked about signing on for a "celebrity wine" project: "I tell people the reason I agreed to work with Chris and Vernon—besides their good looks!—is that both are committed to the project and their passion for wine. They want to make this more than a hobby … it's a labor of love." Posted July 28.

4. Will There Be a Château Miraval Custody Battle Between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?

Serge Chapuis
Brad Pitt and his winemaking partner Marc Perrin (right) were on a pink cloud in 2014.

Unfiltered readers may have heard the recent sad news that star winemaking couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are divorcing. The two leased, and then in 2012 purchased, Provence's Château Miraval for a reported $60 million and partnered with Beaucastel's Marc Perrin to make a rosé, two whites and, as according to Pitt in 2014, a "super Provence" red that has just been released. But if you can't keep the flame of passion alive among the vines, in the gentle sun and breeze of the Provençal countryside with unlimited rosé and 35 rooms in your giant house, perhaps it just wasn't meant to be.

When Wine Spectator visited in 2014, the property had 90 acres under vine, but Perrin had enthused about the potential of plantings to come. It seems safe to say that the wine venture, called Jolie-Pitt & Perrin, will be ripped up instead, at least in name, though Perrin has not yet commented on the future of the winery. The property, where Pink Floyd once recorded The Wall and Jolie wed Pitt in happier times, reportedly became a source of contention itself: Us Weekly had the scoop back in June that Jolie wanted to sell it and Pitt did not, and the New York Post's Page Six claimed a source told them Miraval has in fact been on the market for a few months. Unfiltered put the question to Perrin, and he told us in no uncertain terms: "Miraval is not for sale." The rosé's fans can rest easy: "Harvest is on its way. We will definitely release the 2016 vintage next year. Really healthy grapes with good balance." Posted July 28.

3. Mad-As-Hell French Winemakers Take (Spanish Wine) to the Streets

What's black and white and red all over? A highway in the south of France, after a 150-strong gang of irate French winemakers hijacked five tanker trucks and dumped their contents—90,000 bottles' worth of Spanish bulk wine—all over the road. What's that about? French winemakers have a storied history of responding to things they don't like—be they experimental vineyards, unwelcome competitors, or just their neighbors—by simply destroying them. In this case, the winemakers sharpened their (figurative) pitchforks against Spain because they claim the wine, destined for bottling and subsequent sales in and out of France, presents unfair competition.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Frédéric Rouanet, the president of the Aude winemakers’ union, said, "If a French winemaker produced wine with Spanish rules, he simply wouldn’t be able to sell it." French winemakers contend that to follow their own country’s rules requires them to price their wine far above the Spanish juice—a squeeze on the bulk market that the south of France once had cornered.

Denis Pigouche, president of a winemaking organization called FDSEA des Pyrénées Orientales, went even harder, according to the Telegraph, accusing the wines of not even being Spanish: "These wines have no place in France … I suspect they are from South America and then 'Hispanicized' in Barcelona and then Europeanized, or even Frenchified in France."

After an impromptu but no doubt thorough and objective tasting held in the street, the French winemakers rated the tanker wines "vin non conforme" (non-compliant wine), leaving that tasting note spray-painted on the sides of the tanks.

Spain, none too pleased, lodged a formal complaint with Brussels, citing that the "guarantee of free movement of goods and people within Europe is one of the basic tenets of the E.U." Among the evidence of bad faith is the report that the police largely stood back and let the attack take place, and while vowing to find those responsible, have not made any arrests to date. Posted April 7.

2. Wine-Country Wedding Bells for Derek Jeter and Hannah Davis

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Off the market: Hannah Davis and Derek Jeter tied the knot on July 9, 2016.

It's been a big month for Bill Harlan's Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley. First, the Restaurant at Meadowood earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine program, and this past weekend it reportedly hosted one of the most-anticipated celebrity weddings of the year. According to Page Six, former Yankee Derek Jeter, 42, married Hannah Davis, the 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model, at Meadowood Napa Valley Resort on Saturday in front of fewer than 100 guests. Unfiltered readers will remember that Jeter and Davis took home a personalized bottle of Torii Mor Oregon Pinot Noir after Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium in 2014, and his farewell tour netted a handful of other nice bottles as well.

E! Online reports that Davis, 26, wore custom Vera Wang, and that guests included some other former Yankees favorites and All-Stars, including Jorge Posada, Andruw Jones and Tino Martinez. “I’m chill," Davis told Health magazine earlier this year in regard to her wedding plans. "I just want it to be a fun day, not all the fuss. I don’t want to go overboard—it’s not about the place settings.” Meadowood keeps a very strict confidentiality policy when it comes to its guests, and would neither confirm nor deny the Jeter-Davis nuptials, but we talked to them earlier this year about planning a wine-country wedding, and we checked back in this week to find out which wines have been most popular at this season's weddings there. If you want to get hitched like the stars, you'll want to start with bubblies like Schramsberg J. Schram, Roederer Estate L'Ermitage Rosé or Krug Grand Cuvée; for the reception, Meadowood's top sellers this year have been Bure Family Sauvignon Blanc, Château Boswell Chardonnay, Hirsch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Melka Napa Cabernet. Sounds like a homerun to us! Posted July 14.

1. Austria's Model Winemakers Pose for Calendar

Kreativ Consulting
Marie-Theres Gratzer of Weingut Gratzer-Sandriester takes the drudgery out of cellar work.

Nowadays, two sure things arrive in autumn on Austria's wine scene: pristine Grüner Veltliner grapes for the current vintage, and the unveiling of the Jungwinzerinnen Kalender, or Young Female Winemakers Calendar, for the following one. The lingerie calendar features 12 months of winemaker daughters, sisters, nieces, wives, winery employees and winemakers themselves—not professional models—striking cheeky poses in the vineyards and cellars with decanters, bottles and other vinous paraphernalia.

The 2017 edition cements the calendar, like so much of wine, as a multi-generation tradition: Lena Krug of Weingut Krug (which has appeared in this space before) is Frau September—and daughter of Sabrine Krug, who posed for the 2005 calendar and manages the restaurant at the winery.

The calendar is the brainchild of Ellen Ledermüller-Reiner, who wanted to promote and raise awareness of her country's wines in a lighthearted way. The calendar itself, certainly, has garnered a global following: "Some days ago I sent the first calendar to Hawaii [ever]," Ledermüller-Reiner reported to Unfiltered. Every year there is a gala to celebrate the calendar launch—this year's guest of honor was Austria's most celebrated Elvis impersonator—and a good time is had by all. "I think it is a good mixture of being self-conscious and the fun of being a model," said Ledermüller-Reiner. But now it's back to the hard work of harvest for calendar girls like Frau Dezember Diana Müller, who at 20 has completed viticulture school and manages 25 acres of her family's Weingut Müller estate. The calendars are $30 and can be ordered, along with cover-girl T-shirts, from Ledermüller-Reiner's Kreativ Consulting. Posted Sept. 29.

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