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Wine and Nonoxynol-9, a pricey glass of bubbly, tacky Champagne-inspired furniture, a substitute chef wins the gold and Russians revive an old wine tradition

Posted: February 13, 2008

• Just when you thought that wine pairing had reached its limits, along comes Valentine's Day and Castel, one of France's largest wine companies, taking the concept to a new level. Or a new low, depending on how you look at it. For tomorrow's annual celebration of chocolate, impossible restaurant reservations and inflated flower prices, Castel has introduced Saint Amour, a Beaujolais wine that will be served along with a Durex Easy On condom in restaurants throughout France. Nine thousand bottles of the red wine—sporting a devil on the label, of course—and an accompanying condom will be offered for around $15 to unsuspecting couples. The novelty will be marketed with the tagline, "Where there is no wine, there is no love," attributed to the Greek poet Euripides (480—06 BC) who, it would seem, was a man way ahead of his time—and quite possibly now spinning in his grave. "Castel decided to associate the brand with safe sex, as a way of encouraging all good things in moderation," explained Castel press consultant Laura Cluzel. Is that why the wine comes with only one condom instead of three?

• Harrods, the London luxury department store, has come up with a unique promotion for lovers on Valentine's Day: to offer the most expensive glass of Champagne available in the city. The Dom Pérignon Oenothèque bar opened on Monday and only offers two glasses of the French sparkling wine: the 1995 vintage at £60 per glass ($118) and the 1975 vintage at £250 per glass ($490). It may sound crazy, but the Champagne bar is all part of a grander promotion, called "The Senses," which pushes all sorts of pricey products, such as a Château d'Yquem-based eyelid cream that sells for $294. Our only question is, at 150g/L of residual sugar in Yquem, how do you get your eyelids back open after you apply the cream?

Legs not included.

• We've seen Champagne cork chairs before but this particular cork-and-cage pair caught our attention for its hot-orange color scheme and its equally flamboyant price tag. Available through vintner and TV host Michael Chiarello's home furnishings company Napa Style, the cork stool, at only 17.5 inches high, is much shorter than your average bar stool. So its primary use—other than for the odd gathering at which seating is limited—seems to be imagining how big a bottle a cork this size would have come from. Forgive us for saying, but $448 for the set—or $198 for the cork and $298 for the wire-cage end table, when sold separately—is a bit steep a price to pay for a conversation piece that will sit in the corner and collect dust for a few years. Granted a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux is pretty much the same amount, but at least at some point you can drink that.

• Congratulations are in order for chef Melissa Craig of Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C., who was just named Canada's Best Chef after winning the annual Canadian Culinary Championships, held last weekend in Toronto. Over the course of three days, Craig wowed judges with her skill under pressure and ability to pair food and wine. At the final, gold-winning challenge, Craig paired an elaborate array of king crab dishes, garnished with everything from flying fish roe to soy sauce-flavored "pop rocks" candy, with Tantalus Vineyards 2006 Riesling from the Okanagan Valley. Most impressive of all was the fact that Craig wasn't even supposed to be there—she'd come in second to chef Pinot Posteraro of Vancouver restaurant Cioppino's in a regional qualifying round of the competition, but illness prevented Posteraro from competing in the finals. Craig was sent in his place.

• Russian President Vladimir Putin's critics regularly complain that he's trying to make himself a new czar. Sure enough, there is one aspect of Russian life that has returned to the pre-Revolution days: The country is overflowing with Champagne. Last year, Russia imported 1.03 million bottles of bubbly, according to the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). That's almost 86,000 cases. While that's a small slice of total production, it's still a 46 percent increase from 2006. But Russia has long held a taste for bubbly, it turns out. The czar's armies occupied the winemaking region in 1814 while chasing Napoleon, and they emptied many a cellar, leading Jean-Rémy Moët to reportedly say, "All of those soldiers who are ruining me today will make my fortune tomorrow. I'm letting them drink all they want. They will be hooked for life." Louis Roederer created the Cristal prestige cuvée specifically for Czar Alexander II in 1876. After the 1917 revolution, state wineries in the Crimea even made "Sovetskoye Shampanskoye" from Chardonnay and Aligote.

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