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A mobster's to-die-for wines, the grape apes and a Zinfandel superhero

Posted: May 24, 2006

• Vito Spatafore may be sleeping with the fishes, but actor Joe Gannascoli, who played the mobster on HBO's The Sopranos until this past Sunday's episode, is the type who would rather be cooking with them. Having owned a restaurant in Brooklyn before becoming a television hit man, Gannascoli recently decided to launch a line of pasta sauces under his To Die For label (which takes its name from his recently published novel A Meal to Die For). Next up, a line of To Die For wines, including an Italian red and a Chablis, which he was overheard discussing, with a glass of Col Solare Columbia Valley 2001 in hand, at a recent benefit. The "mobster" appeared, along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the Diabetes Research, Elegance and Modern Sophistication (D.R.E.a.M.S.) event to support the Diabetes Research Institute. While Bloomberg received applause from the more than 250 guests, Gannascoli stole the show. The actor, who lost 40-plus pounds on VH-1's reality TV series Celebrity Fit Club, thereby decreasing his risk of type 2 diabetes, was mobbed by Sopranos fans who wanted to talk about his role as a gay mobster, as well as his love of fine wine.

Apparently, wine drinking is becoming a trend among zoo animals. Earlier this year, keepers at a Russian zoo gave monkeys wine to help stave off illness during the brutal winter. Now we find out that 11 apes at the Budapest Zoo drink almost 55 liters of red wine each year--which actually puts them well above humans' per-capita wine consumption worldwide. It's not that our close relatives have learned to appreciate first-growth Bordeaux, or even Hungarian Bull's Blood. They're given simple table wine in an effort to boost their red blood cell count. Zoo officials calmly assured that the alcohol consumption is no big deal, since the animals only drink small amounts daily, mixed in with their tea. As if apes drinking wine were odd, but those drinking tea were a dime a dozen.

• Look! In the sky! It's a bottle of wine! It's a Zin! It's … (kids, cover your eyes) … InZINerator. And it's banned in South Carolina. The state liquor authority ruled against allowing sales of this California Zinfandel blend, produced by Super Hero Wines, because of concerns that the character that graces the bottles would encourage children to buy wine. But Super Hero Wines says InZINerator was designed to appeal to wine-loving comic-book collectors and video gamers, who, on average, range in age from 25 to 35. Though InZINerator is not really a superhero, at $15 a bottle, he will help gamers save their money so they can finally afford to move out of their parents' basements.

• Sometimes it takes creative marketing to get fans out to baseball games. After several solid seasons on the field, the Minnesota Twins are struggling this year, falling back to 4th place, 11 games behind their division leader. Trying to lure ticket buyers with the idea of a beautiful day outside in a great old ballpark is out of the question--they play in a badly crumbling dome stadium in, well, Minnesota. So when all else fails, the team does what anyone would do: offer wine and makeovers. With the help of two local TV affiliates and department store chain Herberger's, the Twins held their first Wine, Women and Baseball Night on May 4. Female fans who showed up before that night's game were treated to a tailgate tent filled with Gallo Family Vineyards wines to taste and "Pamper Yourself" stations offering makeovers, manicures and massages. The team will hold five more Women and Wine nights throughout the season, in hopes of drawing a larger female crowd. But Unfiltered has to ask why the event is restricted to women. Don't the Twins know that modern, metrosexual male fans--and even players--might like some wine, cheese and a nice facial?

• Just like any good ballplayer, winemakers in two up-and-coming New York appellations know the value of teamwork. First, five Long Island winemakers got together to form the Long Island Merlot Alliance and make a special Merlot blend called Merliance. Released in April, the 2004 Merlot was made from two barrels from each of the member wineries. Unbeknownst to the Long Island crew, three Finger Lakes wineries were following a similar concept with their own Riesling blend, released on May 5. The 100 cases of Tierce, a 2004 Dry Riesling, were crafted by winemakers at Red Newt Cellars, Anthony Road Wine Co. and Fox Run Vineyards, each from different areas along Seneca Lake. (They're also using the wine to promote screw caps, with which they topped Tierce.) Both winemaker groups hope to draw attention to their regions, show off the rising winemaking talent and help define their slice of New York terroir. Or maybe that's just a really good excuse to get together and drink one another's wines all night.

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