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Wine news from Wine Spectator
September 21st, 2018

Culzean Castle is a picture-perfect fairytale edifice atop bluffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde, a 1792 masterpiece of neo-romantic architecture even gracing the Royal Bank of Scotland's 5-pound note until recently. But under the veneer of respectability—literally under—the occupants of the property, Scottish earls of Clan Kennedy, likely conducted less savory business in a series of caves beneath the castle. An archaeological dig last month revealed a previously hidden doorway to one of the two caves, as well as a trove of 18th-century wine-bottle fragments and other goodies, possibly obtained through the dubious channels of smugglers.

Derek Alexander/NTS
The previously hidden doorway through which many a keg may or may not have been rolled.

"The width of the newly discovered door suggests it is wide enough to roll barrels through," Derek Alexander, lead project researcher and head of archaeological services for the National Trust for Scotland, told Unfiltered via email. "And I imagine that wine (claret and Port) and spirits (brandy) were transported in these (both legally and smuggled?)." The Kennedys occupied the tony property on the Ayrshire coast (it's pronounced "cull-lane") and oversaw construction of the present-day castle by architect Robert Adam, but the current Lord Kennedy "freely admits" that his ancestors were frilled-collar criminals whose taste for the finer things was rivaled only by their distaste for paying taxes on them.

Derek Alexander/NTS
A smattering of wine-bottle shards

Evidence suggests the caves are where castle staff received, sorted and stored supplies and sundries from ships arriving on the beach, away from the prying eyes of the crown's revenue collectors. Once inside, "wine and spirits may then have been recanted into bottles," explained Alexander. "I imagine that more expensive items would have been transferred up to the castle quickly." The wine bottle shards found during excavations are "generally dark green glass from hand-made blown bottles," said Alexander, which means they predate the mid-19th century. "There is a range of shapes and sizes, but some appear to be quite stumpy mallet-shaped bottles with short necks, while others are taller and more cylindrical."

The discovery of the conveniently-barrel-width doorway fills in a picture of the caves' structure and function. The doorways could be locked and guarded, and a stone hearth in one cave may have been where the guards and watchmen cooked their own nosh while keeping sentry over their bosses' duty-free comestibles. But the caves attracted dwellers and lurkers long before even the castle and Kennedys came along, according to radiocarbon dating: Fish bones and shells indicate people were slinking around (and snacking) down there as early as the Iron Age, around 2,000 years ago.

Jackson Family Wines Throws Environmental Charity Extravaganza with Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Jane Goodall, Edward Norton, Sofia Loren

The 20th anniversary celebration of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation on Saturday arrived with no shortage of fireworks: Jackson Park Ranch, the Sonoma home base of Jackson Family Wines was transformed into a series of garden-themed rooms to host a lengthy A-list of environmentally engaged entertainers who helped raise $11 million in grants for the foundation, which funds research and conservation projects in eco-spheres from wildlife protection to green energy.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Katie Jackson (left), Julia Jackson and beloved silver screen icon Mark Ruffalo

Leo himself and cohost Laurene Powell Jobs, along with luminaries like Edward Norton, Tobey Maguire, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Dakota Johnson, Catherine Deneuve, Mark Burnett, Mark Ruffalo and Sofia Lauren descended upon Santa Rosa for an evening of food, Jackson Family wines, art and speeches. Co-chair and Jackson Family second-generation proprietor Julia Jackson explained the partnership to Unfiltered via email: "I’m inspired by the work Leonardo and his foundation do to support global projects that protect the earth from climate change and environmental crisis"; she sought out DiCaprio after seeing his climate change documentary Before the Flood.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Goodall monkeying around

Guests snacked on greens, herbs, eggs and more from chef Kyle Connaughton's SingleThread Farms and the Kendall Jackson Estate in a "zero waste" reception (leftovers went to Sonoma Family Meal charity), and bid on art like Wayne Thiebaud's Mountain Split, gaveled off for $4 million alone, while sipping Stonestreet Estate Aurora Point Sauvignon Blanc, Gran Moraine rosé from Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, Cambria Estate Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, Hartford Family Winery Four Hearts Chardonnay, and, in the starring role, Vérité La Joie 2006.

Wine folks in attendance included JFW chairman and 2017 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner Barbara Banke, CEO (and sometime Undercover Boss Rick Tigner) and VP of sustainability and external affairs Katie Jackson, who told Unfiltered, “Our partnership with LDF is a natural fit and stems from mutual respect and our shared desire to protect the natural environment …. At Jackson Family Wines, our sustainability efforts are designed to make wine according to our values and long-term vision, and to look at how we can minimize our environmental footprint."

For all the glamour and gastronomy, Julia Jackson told us her highlights were the speeches, especially from legendary primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall and Amazon preservation activists Nemonte Nenquimo and Flor Tangoy. The night marked the LDF's total impact surpassing $100 million, but the Jackson partnership continues: They're now the foundation's exclusive wine sponsor and will be supporting a new "Art and Environment" series of events and exhibitions.

One Small Step for Mumm, One Giant Leap for Wine-Loving Astronauts (and Usain Bolt)

Champagne house G.H. Mumm pushed its experiments in zero-gravity Champagne even further this month, hosting VIP (g)astronauts Mumm “Chief Entertainment Officer” Usain Bolt and “Master of Celebrations” actress Minnie Dlamini on a zero-G airplane flight and tasting above the vineyards of Reims to inaugurate the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar, the space-ready bottle the house has designed.

Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist, naturally took the occasion to attempt a sprint sans gravity, as he already holds the land speed records for the 100 and 200 meters.

The Champagne house announced the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar in June, after a three-year-long quest with design agency Spade to make zero-gravity wine a reality. The resulting unique bottle expels the Champagne, and special flutes collect the floating foamy spheres through the physics of capillary action. If such antics can be replicated beyond the stratosphere, Mumm may be on track to stock the minibars of the first wine hotel in space.

Jennifer Hudson, Chef Christopher Kostow, Help Staglin Raise $6 Million at Party for Brain Health

The North Bay, it turned out, was a real hotbed of wine and showbiz star power on Saturday. Over in Napa Valley, Staglin Family Vineyard was throwing a charity fête of its own this weekend. Some 500 guests flocked to the 24th annual Music Festival for Brain Health on Sept. 15, hosted at the Rutherford winery. With a performance by Grammy Award–winning musician Jennifer Hudson, tastings from more than 75 wineries across the country (including Napa's own Abreu, Harlan, Joseph Phelps, Mayacamas and Screaming Eagle, poured in the Staglin’s caves) and a goal of advancing toward cures for brain-related diseases, there was something for every kind of wine lover in this pairing of hedonism and philanthropy. To cap it off, chef Christopher Kostow of Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the Restaurant at Meadowood cooked up dinner.

Flying Pig Studio
Jennifer Hudson gets the crowd going.

“The Music Festival for Brain Health allows us to champion finding the causes of, and cures for, brain illness, which effects everyone in the wine industry and the world either directly or through family and friends,” owner Garen Staglin told Unfiltered. The event raised $6 million to benefit the mental health organization One Mind—contributing to the $380 million total raised by Staglin's festival since its 1995 inception. By all accounts, the festivities were pretty epic: “After a day beginning at noon, at 10 p.m. the ‘party’ was still going strong, with after-dinner dancing, cigars and specialty-crafted bourbon,” said Staglin. “Where else do you get to dance on the stage with Jennifer Hudson?”

Dragon Boats and Dirt Candy Feature at 'A Second Helping of Life' New York Breast and Ovarian Cancer Charity Bash

The 15th annual “A Second Helping of Life” event in New York City brought together women chefs, actors, journalists and 750 attendees on Monday for a night of breast and ovarian cancer advocacy, organized by the national nonprofit organization SHARE. The night kicked off with a walk-around tasting featuring international cuisine—from lobster rolls to braised brisket tacos—washed down with myriad pours donated by more than 15 wineries, from Valdo Prosecco to Cesari Mara Valpolicella.

Some fuel for the dragon-boat race?

“It’s a high-energy event,” SHARE executive director Jackie Reinhard told Unfiltered. “It’s an incredible commitment that these individuals make, and we’re just grateful for that.” Bites were contributed by participating Big Apple chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy and Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread. The latter portion of the night was dedicated to the event’s honorees, including 48 members of the Empire Dragons—a dragon boat–racing team of breast-cancer survivors. A live auction topped off the festivities, where guests claimed lots like a trip to Paris, contributing to the total of about $500,000 that the event raised. “There’s such a sense of pride,” executive chef of the event Barbara Sibley told Unfiltered. “It’s been a commitment that has really shown to have such a positive impact on so many women.”

Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

Posted: September 20, 2018, 7:00 pm

Last night's Primetime Emmy Awards featured some familiar honorees—Game of Thrones, 96-year-old national treasure Betty White, and Napa's Sterling Vineyards and Italy's Ferrari Trento costarring as the official still and sparkling wines of the Emmy Awards Season.

But the night wasn't without primetime-style twists, and the best of them were accompanied by a glass of wine in hand. Here's the scoop on what (wines) went down at the 70th Emmy Awards.

Sterling Vineyards images from Vince Bucci/Invision/AP; Ferrari Trento images courtesy of Ferrari Trento

Vince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APCourtesy of Ferrari TrentoCourtesy of Ferrari Trento

The cast and crew of newcomer The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had a lot to celebrate, taking home the big Outstanding Comedy Series win. One immediate perk: Mrs. Maisel herself, Rachel Brosnahan, was one of the first people to get a taste of the yet-to-be-released Sterling Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 after receiving her own statuette for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, a Sterling rep informed us.

Awardees George R. R. Martin, Bill Hader and Henry Winkler were also given their own customized bottles of Iridium. “I love Sterling—this is a great wine," first-time winner and longtime nominee Winkler was overheard saying. "But I’ve never had a bottle with my name on it!”

Director and producer Glenn Weiss certainly earned his personalized bottle, and plenty of occasion for popping it: Upon taking the stage to accept his Emmy for directing … the Oscars (meta), Weiss proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen. Unfiltered does wonder what would've happened if he hadn’t won or she hadn't said yes, but thankfully for everyone, he did and so did she, and the showbiz mogul toasted both his exciting milestones later on with his own bottle of 2015 Iridium.

In celebration of the awards show's platinum anniversary, the Governor's Ball after-party—typically a formal sit-down dinner in a ballroom—transformed into an outdoor rooftop bash, complete with more than 35 different plates from Patina Catering, directed by chef Joachim Splichal of Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Patina restaurant in Los Angeles. The 4,000 attendees noshed on dishes such as bamboo-spiked prime short rib, "favacado" toast, and their own creations from a DIY baked-potato bar.

As for the party's booze, Ketel One vodka guest-starred with three Emmys-themed cocktails: "Radiance," "Enlightenment" and "Restoration," which required some 6,000 pounds of ice, 75 pounds of strawberries and 2,400 edible flowers throughout the night, among other garnishes. In addition to Iridium, Sterling also poured its 2015 Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay and 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. On the bubbly side, Ferrari greeted Gov's Ball guests upon arrival with glasses of its Brut Trentodoc, and posted up at its own "Ferrari Bar" to pour its full lineup, including the Brut, Brut Rosé, Perlé 2012 and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2005.

"We are honored to have been chosen once again as the toast of excellence in television entertainment," Ferrari president and CEO Matteo Lunelli said in a statement provided to Unfiltered. "We are also delighted to bring a touch of Italian lifestyle to this glamorous season of celebration." Cin cin to all who put on the night's memorable performances, both on the stage and behind the bar.

Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

Posted: September 18, 2018, 9:00 pm

On a summer trip to Piedmont in Italy, Seattle-based filmmaker Will Miceli fell in love with the abundance of great wine and food in the region. But the story of the Abbona family, the owners of Piedmont’s Marchesi di Barolo winery, was what truly won his heart. When it came down to choosing a subject for Wine Spectator’s 2018 Video Contest, spotlighting these vintners was a no-brainer.

“I [wanted] viewers to get a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the family when they let their guard down,” Miceli told Wine Spectator. “It's cute how they interact with each other, especially while watching a Juventus soccer match in the family room.”

He captured that vision in “The Soul of Barolo,” the winning video in this year’s contest, chosen by a vote of visitors. Running a family business is no small feat, as Miceli makes evident, and Ernesto and Anna Abbona and their adult children, Valentina and Davide, all live busy lives. But the family makes time to catch up over lunch on the terrace.

“We all gather together around the table to eat, chat about our lives and make new plans—a very Italian concept and a special family time with which we grew up and that we truly cherish,” said Valentina. “That’s why we recreated that moment of pure magic on film.”

When Miceli wasn’t behind the camera to capture those moments, he was joining the Abbonas for meals. It wasn’t long before they deemed him an honorary member of the family.

“Davide makes the best tiramisu, my favorite dessert,” said Miceli. “I also got to sit in [Ernesto’s] seat, eat his food and, best of all, drink the 1958 Barolo. It was like a dream.”

Miceli has won two full weekend passes to Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience, where the video will be screened for more than 1,000 of the event’s attendees.

The second-place winner, “I am Brian Benson,” keeps family at the forefront. Benson of Brian Benson Cellars shares the story of how he went from helping at his grandfather’s vineyard as a kid to running his own winery in California’s Paso Robles region alongside his wife.

“I want viewers to see Brian as an interesting and very passionate winemaker by the choices in quality of fruit and his process,” filmmaker Eric Paczkowski told Wine Spectator. From the Los Angeles area, Paczkowski met Benson during a wine-tasting trip to Paso Robles with friends several years ago and thought he would make an inspiring subject.

The theme of family, mixed with romance, carries through to the third-place winner, “Amore Amarone,” which takes viewers on the journey of a husband and wife as they leave the kids at home to take their dream vacation. After years of promising to take the trip, the couple finally ventures to Italy to rekindle their passion, for each other and for the country’s wines.

“Going to Italy as a 10-year wedding anniversary did wonders for our marriage,” said Duane Fogwell, an Australian film editor now based in Los Angeles. “We learnt to slow down from our hectic lives, and that it’s OK to have a glass or two of Amarone at lunch.”

There’s something for everyone to enjoy amid the 2018 contest finalists and honorable mentions: They will make you laugh, feel nostalgic (and perhaps inspired), and might teach you something new about the world of wine. Watch all the winners, finalists and honorable mentions share how wine won their hearts.

Posted: September 18, 2018, 2:00 pm

Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, celebrity power couple on court, stage and crushpad, had a Napa-good time this week when they came to town to blend a new 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon for Wade Cellars, the veteran NBA All-Star's winery partnership with the Pahlmeyer family.

While in the valley, Wade made the most of his trip, checking in on the vineyards where he sources his grapes with Wade Cellars winemaker Jon Keyes. "We spent some time walking the rows, eating grapes off the vine, and discussing vines and vineyards in general," Keyes told Unfiltered. "[Wade] has been super interested in the process from vine to bottle, and he got to experience a lot of it! He even got to drink a birth-year wine, 1982 Cos-d’Estournel."

The jaunt was more than just business for the wine-loving basketball star (or is he more basketball-playing vintner?). Wade and Union—actor, author of memoir We're Going to Need More Wine and herself a sometime cellar-dabbler—also paid visits to other nearby wineries, including Futo, where they took in a leisurely wine-tasting tour, and Failla, where they got put to work. Union showed off her skills at the sorting table, while Wade fulfilled a longtime off-court bucket-list item by stomping some rookie Pinot Noir grapes.

Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger Sip Wine, Saber Bottles in Napa

New Hollywood lovebirds Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger also hit up and lit up Napa wine country this week on a VIP visit to Rutherford's Round Pond Estate. Pratt (Andy from Parks and Recreation; gruff reluctant hero/dinosaur guy in Jurassic World) and Schwarzenegger (eldest scion in the Terminator/governor line of Schwarzeneggers) tasted wines and snapped some pics with friends and family.

Courtesy of Round Pond
The couple, bubbly

In town for Sunday's Mayor's Gala Benefiting the Leaven, which helps bring after-school mentoring and tutoring programs to low-income neighborhoods, the Schwarzenegger-Pratt posse visited the Napa winery on the recommendation of a friend.

According to Round Pond co-owner Miles MacDonnell, the group kicked off the visit with a toast of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, followed by a tasting of a variety of Round Pond offerings, including the Rosato di Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc and “Gravel Series” Scholar's Gate Cabernet Sauvignon. The Guardians of the Galaxy star even tried his hand at sabering a bottle, though the first attempt was, in his words, an "unprecedented failure." (He got it right eventually.)

"They were incredibly gracious guests and an absolute blast to spend time with, not to mention unbelievably sweet with our kids (who were all in awe of Star-Lord)," MacDonnell told Unfiltered. "We are looking forward to their next visit."

For (RED) Charity Bottle, Artist Laolu Senbanjo Thinks in Black and White

Champagne vending machines? How embarrassingly 2017! New York Fashion Week is here again, and while some may have opted for the classic effervescent wine accessory this fall, vodka house Belvedere took advantage of the occasion to unveil a new bottle design that just might rival this season's looks on the runway: a limited-edition get-up with a full sleeve of artwork by Nigerian artist/designer Laolu Senbanjo. (You might recognize his African tribal-style body art from Beyoncé's Grammy-winning Lemonade album-length video.) “When I find a new project, I search to reveal the inner beauty within each subject, and by stripping it down, anything can be my canvas,” Senbanjo told Unfiltered.

Courtesy of Belvedere
Mood: Poland?

At Belvedere’s recent launch party for the new bottle at the Whitney Museum, Unfiltered had an up-close-and-personal view at the artist's many varied canvases—from the bottles on display to the models wearing his motifs. Sales of the Senbanjo-clad Belvedere ($30), will benefit the non-profit (RED) organization that raises money for the Global Fund to help HIV/AIDS relief efforts in Africa. “Before becoming an artist, Laolu was a human rights attorney in Nigeria focusing on AIDS atrocities against women,” Belvedere CEO Rodney Williams told Unfiltered. “We knew right away he’d be the perfect fit due to our shared beliefs.”

New York Fashion Week's Hottest Accessory: Rosé Bubbly

Art bottles are one thing, but other quarters of New York Fashion Week aren't exactly known for exhibitions of sensible style. But there's at least one other #lewk from this season's festivities Unfiltered can get behind. Wearing an outfit straight from the designer Brandon Maxwell's runway show, which she had walked in the night before, supermodel Gigi Hadid showed up to Sunday night's Business of Fashion 500 gala sporting a clear plastic purse that seemed to only contain one item: a bottle of sparkling rosé.

Instagram / @brandonmaxwell
Nothing is blind in fashion, even wine tasting.

No word on what kind of sparker it was, or who made it. (The label reads "Brandon Maxwell Spring Summer 2019," so you know it's part of the outfit, not just a BYO attempt gone wrong.) Here's hoping that Hadid at least shared the contents of her bag with other fashion-forward partygoers, and perhaps that Maxwell can create a custom tote for fellow designer and notorious wineglass "borrower" Rihanna.

Wine Australia Shoots for Social Media Stardom with Chinese Twinfluencers

If you think you've seen a lot of Australian wine on the airwaves and interwebs lately, you're not crazy. First, Wine Australia tried going viral in the U.S., assisting with a Crocodile Dundee remake/spoof and Late Night segment wooing Amber Ruffin with Moscato and marmite. Now the organization's spendy creatives are training their sights (and a recent $50 million Australian grant for promoting Oz wine) on connecting with China's cool kids, through social media influencers the Chufei Churan twins, Yoni and Joyce, sometimes billed as the "Chinese Kardashians."

For the occasion of Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall's 9.9 Global Wine and Spirits Festival, Yoni and Joyce were flown Down Under to put in the yeowoman's work of showing off Australia's wine wares to their 1 million followers on networks like Weibo (Chinese Instagram/Twitter/Myspace) and Taobao (Chinese eBay/Etsy/… Craigslist?). They hit up locales like the Sydney Fish Market and Koi Dessert Bar to taste everything from Yellow Tail bubbly to St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet, but a planned tour around vineyards in South Australia had to be scrapped over “extreme weather” concerns, as Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark explained to Unfiltered via email (it’s not harvesttime down there, at least). “Australian products are so premium,” the pair said in a statement provided to Unfiltered, of the trip. “Everything is such good quality, like the wine, food and even the water—it is so clean.”

Wine Australia
In the Southern Hemisphere, all selfies capture in portrait mode. Chufei (center) and Churan (right).

While no influencer in the Middle Kingdom has more sway than the government over which wines get big sales and which get you sent to prison, Wine Australia's latest gambit goes well beyond squeezing its products into selfies with internet celebs and koalas: Tmall is an e-commerce outlet of Chinese retail giant Alibaba, which also owns Taobao. Australia sold $806 million US worth of wine in China in the past year, and Alibaba is one of the biggest retailers—and companies, full stop—on the planet. The two parties inked a deal at Vinexpo in May for a campaign to capitalize on "the strong engagement of Chinese consumers in online retail and their growing interest in Australian wine," said Clark. Kangaroos and "Kardashians" may prove to be the beginning of beautiful friendship.

Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

Posted: September 13, 2018, 9:00 pm

In Denmark’s charming, residential city of Frederiksberg, Formel B champions regional cuisine and French wines. Owners Rune Amgild Jochumsen and Kristian Arpe Møller both play hands-on roles: Jochumsen serves as wine director and Møller helms the kitchen. The frequently changing menu includes about 20 small plates—ideal for sampling an array of flavors—that showcase seasonal Danish cuisine with the help of French techniques. The Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning wine list offers 800 selections with strengths in the Rhône, Bordeaux and Italy, but Formel B’s main draw is its Burgundy collection. Here you’ll find numerous impressive verticals from producers like Domaine Leflaive, Comte Georges de Vogüé and Philippe Pacalet, plus more than 20 labels from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. For an even more wine-centric experience, try to snag the table that sits on a glass floor looking down into the wine cellar.

Posted: September 13, 2018, 2:00 pm
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