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The new 2005 Mouton label, the blogger backlash at the latest wine study, pour only the finest for your houseplants, a smashing time (and the opposite) for Champagne and a restaurant owner who might say no to your wine choice

Posted: January 16, 2008

• Since 1945, the labels of Château Mouton-Rothschild have been illustrated by the work of a contemporary artist. Last year, the honor was bestowed upon Prince Charles, who dabbles in watercolor. For the highly anticipated 2005 vintage, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild has decided to entrust the label art to Italian sculptor Guiseppe Penone. According to the artist, his Mouton 2005 label is designed to represent the growth of the vine leaf and, at the same time, the splayed hand of the drinker, soon to grab a glass of Mouton. Or it could just be the combination of a police-booking handprint and an eight-grade botany project, but we like the sound of Penone's explanation a bit better. Each year, instead of a fee, the artists are given cases of Mouton for their work, including bottles from the vintage in which their art was used. The price of a single bottle of Mouton 2005 is currently running about $800, so Penone fared much better than Prince Charles—bottles from the 2004 vintage are selling for a mere $170 at auction. Then again, it's not as though Chuck actually needs the money.

• From the department of non-blinding us with science: If the results of a new study from the California Institute of Technology are to be believed, it seems that slapping a high price tag on a wine will increase the pleasure with which you consume it. Associate professor of economics Antonio Rangel and his colleagues had a group of volunteers drink and evaluate five different wine samples, having been told that the wines were valued from $5 to $90, though actually the $10 and $90 samples were the same wine. Scans of pleasure centers in the volunteers' brains showed that the higher the wine's perceived price, the more their brains exhibited signs of experiencing pleasure. The mainstream media has used the study as an opportunity to ridicule the culture of wine, with headlines like, "We Will Drink No Wine Before It's Overpriced" (MSN) and "Why Snobbery Tastes So Sweet" (New York Sun); fortunately, our own James Suckling rebutted the results of the study in his blog, "Silly Wine Studies and Slow News Days," while Harvey Steiman did some debunking of his own, complete with a great story about [Trader] Vic Bergeron and the supposed power of wine-aging pyramids, in his blog on the subject, "Price, Pleasure and the Power of Suggestion." No news yet on when we'll see a study about which wine blogs stimulate the pleasure center in the brain, but this could be a start.

Impair your plants' judgment.

• We know you hold onto those prized empty bottles of wine. But if you're running out of room on your bookshelf, Unfiltered has stumbled across an alternative use for displaying empty bottles and putting them to good use: plant them in your garden, of course. With the Wine Bottle Plant Nanny—a 7.5-inch ceramic stake that can be stuck into the soil of any potted plant—you can keep your flowers watered and proudly display that empty bottle of 1999 Screaming Eagle at the same time. Just fill an empty wine bottle with water and place it upside down in the Plant Nanny, then put the Plant Nanny in the dirt. Voila! The Nanny will gradually release water to your plants, keeping the roots moist for weeks. The Wine Bottle Plant Nanny is available online and at select home and garden stores for around $15 for a four-pack—certainly much less expensive than hiring a gardener. We're not sure what happens if you use wine instead of water, but for Unfiltered it really doesn't matter, since we've always found a way to kill houseplants no matter what.

• In France, not only does one need to drink Champagne responsibly, but he or she must write responsibly about it as well, it turns out. The problems began in late 2005, when the periodical Le Parisien decided to run a seasonal feature entitled, "The Triumph of Champagne." In the piece, the sparkling wine was declared the "uncontested star of parties," and that bottles are "good but not expensive" (at least in France). Another line even declared loftily that Champagne is "bottled dreams." Well, that landed the publication in hot water with the National Association of the Prevention of Alcohol and Addiction (ANPAA), which took Le Parisien to court, citing laws that require alcohol advertisements to carry health warnings. Lawyers for Le Parisien argued, unsuccessfully, that they were simply editorializing common assumptions. However, the tribunal ruled that the feature used phrases that were "psychological in nature" in order to "incite consumption," and therefore tantamount to free advertising. The court ordered Le Parisien to pay the ANPAA around $7,400 and that future articles of a similar nature should state that "the abuse of alcohol is dangerous to the health." Unfiltered is stunned. What will they do next in France, ban smoking in cafés?! Oh, never mind.

Ken Aretsky has a hard time parting with his restaurant's rare bottles.

• If you're planning to casually order a high-priced trophy bottle at Aretsky's Patroon restaurant in New York, you might want to make sure that owner Ken Aretsky is not on the premises. When, in an interview last week, Aretsky told Eater.com that he'd refused to sell a prized bottle of 1900 Château Margaux, priced at $10,000, Unfiltered just had to follow up with him. "It was about 10 years ago," Aretsky said. "We bought the wine because we thought it would be a great conversation piece. The couple ordered it, and it was lunchtime so my sommelier wasn't on the floor. I went over to them and said, very respectfully, 'I want you to come back and have dinner on us, and have the bottle then. It's a really important bottle, my sommelier should be here, it should be properly decanted, you should enjoy it with a big meal.' They understood, and ordered another bottle, but they never came back for that dinner." The bottle eventually sold but, Aretsky noted, "We have a '61 Pétrus on the list now. If someone orders it, we will sell it to them, and I'd be happy, but not thrilled. I'd want to know that it was going to someone who really, truly appreciated its value."

• Customs officials in Belgium had a smashing time with some sparkling wine over the New Year ... literally. Authorities in Antwerp destroyed close to 3,400 bottles of André "Champagne," produced by E & J Gallo. According to a 2004 European Union law, it is illegal for a sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne to bear the French region's name on the label, as in this case. What's more, the Belgians decided to seize and destroy the shipment, even though its final destination was Nigeria. And according to Daniel Lorson, communications director for the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), whose office witnessed the bottle bashing, the move was political in nature. "This is our way to show Gallo, that while this labeling is legal in the United States, we still think the practice is unfair." Lorson estimated that, of the 70 million to 80 million bottles of wine labeled as Champagne sold every year in America, only around 20 million of them are actually from the French region. "So, there's a 75 percent chance it isn't Champagne," he said. We're not sure what the percentages are in Nigeria, but they just got a little lower.

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