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A Priorat Wine 'Rockumentary'; Obama Breaks Silence on Controversial 'Orange Wine'

We learn what it's like to organize a tasting for the former leader of the free world. Also in Unfiltered, Champagne Jayne keeps her name, and Justin Bieber's a rosé Belieber
Much of the action was filmed in front of a ... green screen.
Photo by: Dogwoof
Much of the action was filmed in front of a ... green screen.

Posted: June 1, 2017

Priorat, a 2016 documentary that makes its American debut at the AFI Silver Theater in Washington, D.C., June 3 under the title Dreaming of Wine, plays more like a rockumentary than a more traditional wine flick: A bunch of starry-eyed kids hit the road with nothing but a dream and a song; venues won't book them, old-timers scoff that they'll never make it; a smash album makes the "Magnificent Five" the hottest act in the country, selling out all over the world; but fame, it turns out, is complicated.

"As storytellers, we found the challenge exciting to explain how some hippies arrived in a wine region in decay and, without money at all, they put it on the map of important world wine regions," director David Fernández de Castro told Unfiltered via email. "In the '80s, it was one of the poorest regions in Spain, until René Barbier and the rest of the winemakers arrived. We thought it was an incredible history, very cinematographic, and plenty epic!"

The plot follows a "hippie"—René Barbier—with a mildly insane plan: to make wine in down-on-its-luck Priorat "better than the Burgundies." Soon he'd be a pied-piper figure to a small group of adventuresome twentysomething winemakers. "René and his beard and long hair and the way he acted …" recalls one of them, Alvaro Palacios, of the far-out scene he found himself in when he arrived. (In addition to present-day interviews and pans over the rugged landscape, the film incorporates plenty of archival footage of the Five in their John Lennon glasses, as often as not smoking … something.)

But not long after their first vintage, 1989, hits the market, things change fast, as the winemakers court international buyers with unabashedly bold, rich reds that '90s collectors craved. "Why did Priorat become famous? I think because partly it was the communication, the story, this unknown group of people colonizing an ancient region: That was romantic … And so the story plus the quality—boom!" That's none other than Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, who appears throughout the film (our offices circa 1997 also make a cameo). "We'd gone straight from Woodstock to La Scala in Milan," says winemaker Daphne Glorian. No longer scrappy, they'd brought the region back from the brink.

Hosting a Casual Wine Tasting for World's Most Famous Couple Not Without Its Stresses

Now out of office, President Barack Obama has been holding briefings on less weighty affairs than Syria and healthcare, preferably with a glass of fine bubbly. Last month, Florentine wine educator Filippo Bartolotta stepped up to lead one such session, but he was as meticulous as any White House policy expert or intelligence official in his preparations, traversing Italy to gather the most sensitive high-value wine assets for a tasting and dinner with Obama, Michelle Obama and a select few friends enjoying a Tuscan retreat. He'd also have to work out dinner pairings—for dishes cooked by Michelin 3-star holder Massimo Bottura.

Filippo Bartolotta
Say, "Parmigiano-Reggiano!"

Bartolotta wanted the tasting to be a "journey from Mt. Etna to the hills of the Langhe" and across the landmark vintages of the Obamas' lives. To do so, besides hunting down Barack and Michelle birth-year wines (his: 1961 Oddero Barolo; hers: 1964 Col d'Orcia Brunello), Bartolotta had to call in everything from blue chips like super Tuscan Sassicaia 2009 (representing Obama's Nobel Prize vintage) to funky somm favorites like the Gravner Ribolla 2008 (no reason, just a solid year for Obama in general), an orange wine. "The stress to get there—it was crazy. I didn't get sleep for nights," Bartolotta told Unfiltered.

The day arrived, and Bartolotta had his wines. He was ready. Except: "The most important tasting of my life and I forgot my [dress] shoes at home!" Nonetheless he'd soon be experiencing that "surreal" feeling of angling a glass of wine over the white shirtsleeves of the former leader of the free world to demonstrate how to gauge a wine's hue.

Filippo Bartolotta
Massimo Bottura, Painter of Veal.

While the whole party was engaged, from the start "Michelle—she was ready. Michelle was challenging, she's very intuitive," peppering Bartolotta with questions about grape varieties, styles and history. (In a friendly competition of wine wits at the tasting's end, FLOTUS took home the first-place Bacchus figurine prize.) The Obama birth-year wines showed exceptionally, said Bartolotta, though the Obamas were also "very intrigued by the orange wine" (ever the diplomats!). Then the Modena maestro of Osteria Francescana got to work in the kitchen, serving up some of his most whimsical hits, like "the crunchy part of the lasagna," "spin-painted veal" and "oops, I dropped the lemon tart."

Australia Rules Blogger Champagne Jayne the Real Deal, Over Champagne Wine Objections

The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) has a long history of fiercely, litigiously protecting its namesake from being aped by sham-pagnes. It has taken on the likes of Apple and even President Barack Obama's Inauguration planning committee. So it came as no surprise to Unfiltered when the CIVC took exception to popular Australian blogger Jayne Powell branding herself as “Champagne Jayne.” The CIVC issued a cease-and-desist order seeking to prevent her from using the word “Champagne” in her professional activities.

Fast-forward five years: Following a favorable ruling in the Australian Federal Court, Powell submitted to have her nickname trademarked, and the CIVC pushed back again. But in April, Australia's trademark authority gave Powell the go-ahead, and the period for the CIVC to appeal has now passed. "This is a significant legal win which restores my professional reputation and means I am finally free to continue my life’s work of educating and entertaining people about the world’s most enigmatic fine wines—Champagne and other world-class sparkling wines—using my lifelong nickname and registered trademark, Champagne Jayne™,” Powell told Unfiltered.

There are still some legalities of the trademark usage being decided. Thibaut Le Mailloux, CIVC’s director of communication, issued a statement regarding the decision, as well as CIVC’s mindset: “The Comité Champagne is responsible for defending the Champagne appellation around the world. Its actions aim to defend the common good of the Champagne winegrowers and houses so that no one can take the benefit of it personally or register it as a private brand.”

Spotted in the Hamptons: Guess Who's a Rosé Belieber?

Gone are the days when young Justin Bieber could not bid on a lot of Champagne at auction. The former-boy former-wonder is now 23 and taking full advantage of partying, grown-up-style. That's right: a mad quiet afternoon of hella dope wine-tasting.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Long Island winery and Hamptonite hangout Wölffer Estate got a visit from the Biebs and some friends. Proving that he is no longer a baby (…baby, baby, oooooh), Bieber enjoyed a bottle of Wölffer's Summer in a Bottle rosé.

Pictures of the Canadian pop star circulated fast on social media, showing him hanging out in the outdoor seating area of the tasting room and frolicking on the grass near the vines. "Wölffer Estate was very thrilled to host Justin Bieber," winemaker Roman Roth told Unfiltered via email. "You never know who will walk through the door, so we treat all our guests as celebrities. We hope Justin will be back soon and join our Wine Club," thereby earning him the full credentials of adulthood.

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