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Questionable research methods in Champagne, rock star winemakers in Seattle, and halibut and humility in Pebble Beach

Posted: April 2, 2008

• Unfiltered loves polls. Whenever our favorite tabloids aren't at hand, poll results are the next best alternative. So we were thrilled last week to get a press release from the Office of Champagne, USA, declaring that "Poll Shows Majority of U.S. Wine Purchasers Against Misleading Labels." Next we'll learn that "Voters Want Honest Politicians," or "Citizens Oppose Puppy Abuse." Now, we understand that it really frosts the Champenois that nearly half the wines with "Champagne" on the label aren't from Champagne. But we've got to wonder how the poll questions were phrased, and what questions weren't asked. For example, were consumers queried about the decision by French authorities, faced with burgeoning worldwide demand, to approve the first expansion (by 2,500 acres and 40 new communes) of the Champagne appellation since 1927? And if the expansion doesn't meet demand, how would poll respondents feel about another expansion of the appellation into, say, the English Channel, where enterprising vintners could give hydroponics a whirl?

• We've heard of rock stars becoming winemakers, but winemakers becoming rock stars is a new one for us. Apparently, though, it's not that uncommon in Washington, where a group of local winemakers joined together to play a charity concert in Seattle last week. Called Wine Rocks, the event benefited the Vera Project, a youth music and art center. Among the performing winemakers were Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars (guitar), Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars (saxophone) and Gordy Rawson of Chatter Creek (bass). "Everyone formed their own ensembles, some right before the event," said Rawson, who occasionally plays in a jam band when he takes a break from running his winery. According to one of the event cofounders, future winemaker concerts are under consideration. Unfiltered hopes we are invited to the next event, as we're sure our pan flute rendition of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" would go over huge.

• At one time or another, we've all had to improvise when our luggage failed to arrive, but imagine chef Charlie Trotter's dismay when the ingredients for his fish course at the first Pebble Beach Food and Wine dinner Friday—for 175 guests—got lost in transit. The dish, steamed halibut with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized fennel and pork belly vinaigrette, came together with a little help from, of all places, the employee cafeteria at the Inn at Spanish Bay, where the event was held. With the exception of the fish, which the hotel ordered from Northern California, "we raided the cafeteria for most of the ingredients," said Trotter. Even, apparently, the fennel and freshly ground cumin. "They feed the employees pretty well here," the chef dead-panned.

Ted Allen, the food and wine expert from TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and an occasional judge on Top Chef, admitted that he was embarrassed to face the 300 gourmets at the Inn at Spanish Bay who had gathered for the first Pebble Beach Food & Wine's dinner finale. To illustrate the reason for his shame, Allen opened the thick program book and began reading the list of star chefs that followed him alphabetically, which included Thomas Keller and Allen's Top Chef costar Tom Colicchio. He also described the chefs' intricate recipes, then explained that he was "humbled and mortified that the first ingredient in my recipe is one 7 1/2-ounce tube of buttermilk biscuits." He then added, by way of redemption, "but I sous-vide the hell out of them," which brought down the house.

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