Wine Spectator Headlines

Syndicate content WineSpectator.com: News & Features
Most Recent Free News & Features
Updated: 7 hours 8 min ago

Chris Bilbro, Founder of Sonoma's Marietta Cellars and Father to Three Winemakers, Dies at 72 (Wine Spectator)

January 28, 2019 - 10:15am

Whether he was helping the disabled, crafting delicious wines or raising four spirited sons, Chris Bilbro was never one to toot his own horn. For 40 years, he quietly worked at the Sonoma County winery he founded, Marietta Cellars, making bold red blends before such wines were on trend. He also set an example for his sons, three of whom are now winemakers.

Bilbro passed away Jan. 27, after battling cancer for several years. He was 72.

"Chris has been one of the unsung heroes of California wine for four decades," said Morgan Twain-Peterson, winemaker at Bedrock. "He quietly helped foster a love for California wine with his Old Vine Red, a wine that focused more on pleasure rather than any vintage or variety. In the process he essentially invented one of the most important categories of present-day wine."

Bilbro founded Marietta Cellars in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley in 1978, renting an old cow barn as his first winery. Sourcing underrated grapes from gnarled old vines scattered around the county, he produced Old Vine Red at a time when consumers were increasingly turning to single-variety wines made from prestige grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. A non-vintage wine, Old Vine Red is bottled in lots. But thanks to word of mouth among retailers and consumers, the wine gathered momentum. Today Marietta Cellars produces 35,000 cases a year of Old Vine Red. Lot 62, reviewed by Wine Spectator in 2015, earned 90 points and sold for $14.

"When I started Old Vine Red there were about two other wineries making that style of wine. I always liked to make blends," Bilbro told Wine Spectator in 2018. "There were a lot of old varieties around—Petite Sirah, Carignan, Alicante Bouchet, old Grenache. I would keep those separate so I could see what they tasted like and then blend."

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

Born in 1946, Bilbro grew up in the Sonoma town of Cloverdale. He played running back at Santa Rosa Junior College and earned a football scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii. He earned masters degrees in both special education and public health administration and began working at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) with disabled people in 1972. He met his future wife, Margaret, at the hospital—she worked there too. They would have three sons before divorcing in 1990. Bilbro later remarried and had a fourth son.

Always good with his hands, while at SDC, Bilbro began a program designing and building wheelchairs for severely disabled people, many of whom spent most of their days in bed. He traveled to Los Angeles to help one of his patients compete in the Special Olympics, in a wheelchair Bilbro had designed.

But Bilbro decided to start a new chapter. He had grown up with relatives who loved good food and good wine, in particular his aunt Marietta, who he liked to help in the kitchen. In 1975, he bought a stake in his uncle's winery, Bandiera. Three years later, he sold his stake so he could strike out on his own, establishing Marietta. He sourced his grapes from old vineyards that were starting to fall out of favor, on land that had been planted by Italian immigrants decades earlier. He credited much of his success to the relationships he made with growers, who were willing to sell him fruit with just a handshake.

"Sonoma was quiet then," Bilbro told Wine Spectator last year. "There was a lot of good fruit. I was a young boy on the block and they weren't sure I could pay for everything, but I always did." Field blends had fallen out of fashion, largely because wineries picked all the fruit at once. Bilbro would make multiple passes, picking each variety when it was ripe. To sell it, he went hunting for wild boar, made sausage from what he killed, and then hit the road with his wine and sausage, making dinners for potential clients.

Old Vine Red's success allowed Marietta to grow, and Chris began to buy vineyards. In 1990, he established a new winery near Geyserville. When he wasn't making wine, he was hunting, fishing or playing the harmonica. He was also raising four boys: Jake, Scot, Sam and Lucas. His three older sons all said they had no interest in the wine business, and all three eventually followed in their dad’s footsteps.

Scot now owns and operates Marietta, which produces 75,000 cases per year. In 2011, Jake and his wife, Alexis, bought the nearby Limerick Lane Winery, which has been recognized for outstanding Zinfandels and red blends. And brother Sam founded Idlewild wines, which specializes in Italian varieties. While Chris stepped back from running Marietta in 2012, he continued working in the cellars, offering thoughts to all three of his winemaker sons and teaching his grandkids a few winemaking lessons too.

"One of the things I will miss the most about Chris was his smile. He had a way of making you feel like an old friend, even if you just met him," said Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Wines. "As much as he loved the wine business and making wine, he valued time with his family and having balance in life more than anything."

Chris Bilbro is survived by four sons and six grandchildren.

Sommelier Talk: A Day in the Life: Chris Cannon Remakes a New Jersey Landmark—and Himself (Wine Spectator)

January 25, 2019 - 12:00pm
6:00 a.m. Early to Rise

It’s early in the morning in Mountain Lakes, N.J., and restaurateur Chris Cannon is the only one in his family awake. His first task of the day: get his teenage daughters, Sadie and Tess, out of bed.

“To get them out of bed is like, ‘Oh my god!’ If you left them alone, they wouldn’t get up until 1:30 p.m. So I’m the one who gets up in the morning and makes them breakfast,” Cannon says.

This is a decidedly different pace of life for Cannon, who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and made his name as a heavy hitter on the New York restaurant scene. In the 2000s, he was among the hottest restaurant moguls in Manhattan, launching highly acclaimed, ultra-chic eateries Alto, Convivio, Osteria Morini and Marea with chef Michael White under the Altamarea Group umbrella. But the partnership went south, and the two parted ways in 2010.

After a brief hiatus from the restaurant world following the split, Cannon and his family moved to his wife’s home state, New Jersey. There, he began a new chapter in his career, opening a 15,000-square-foot restaurant concept, Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, in 2014.

After the children leave for school, Cannon gets in a workout and checks emails before he hits the road to get to his restaurant in Morristown, the county seat, about 10 miles away.

Courtesy of Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen Chris Cannon's personal touches can be seen in the eclectic décor around the restaurant. 12 p.m. From George Washington to Millionaire's Row to Jockey Hollow

Morristown's history goes back further than the country's; George Washington's Continental Army encamped here twice, and, being only 35 miles west of Manhattan, the town has long been home to the city's 1-percenters. Mansions and ornate buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries are scattered throughout the town and surrounding areas. The Vail Mansion is a perfect example.

When Cannon first came across the Vail Mansion, located near the center of town on South Street (known as Millionaire’s Row in the late 1800s and early 1900s), it had been abandoned for over two decades. Constructed in 1916 in the Italian Renaissance style, it originally served as a museum and residence for Theodore Vail and his family. Vail was president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co.—AT&T—and is considered by many to be the chief architect of the Bell System monopoly.

“I subsequently found out about two years ago that all the marble here is the exact same marble at the AT&T building in downtown Manhattan, which was built at the same time,” notes Cannon.

“When it came to the building, I walked in and immediately saw the possibilities,” he says; here, he decided, he'd begin anew as a restaurateur with Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen. Today, the mansion, designated a historical landmark, boasts many of its original grandiose features, such as the dramatic main marble staircase, the 17-foot-high ceilings, several fireplaces and substantial columns. Like Vail, Cannon is a collector of art. He curated and owns the eclectic art collection and decorations found throughout the mansion.

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen comprises four different concepts on three floors: the more formal, seafood-driven daPesca on the top level, the Vail Bar and the Oyster Bar on the main level, and the Rathskeller, a beer hall and private event space, in the basement.

2:30 p.m. Tasting New Hits and Old Favorites

Carolyn DeFir-Hunter, a wine representative for importer and distributor Skurnik Wines, is no stranger to Cannon: She used to work for him at his restaurants in New York City. Their interaction is more akin to close friends than work professionals; Cannon finds out she hasn’t had lunch yet, so right away he orders her a dish of pasta from the kitchen.

In the Vail Bar, DeFir-Hunter sets up a line of wines for Cannon to taste through. The only other people in the room are bartenders preparing for the night’s opening. Cannon turns on some throwback crooner music before he and DeFir-Hunter begin the tasting, which includes grower Champagne and diverse South African, Portuguese and French wines.

Gillian Sciaretta Chris Cannon (foreground) settles in for a tasting session with Skurnik rep Carolyn DeFir-Hunter.

When it comes to Jockey Hollow’s wine program, Cannon is the person in charge. Because of his expansive knowledge of wine and experience running wine-centric restaurants for over 30 years, Cannon has developed an acute vision of what he wants the Jockey Hollow wine program to be.

“Almost everything we buy ends up being under a 5,000-case production,” says Cannon. “It’s through continuing to taste and taste and taste that we found we always gravitate toward these kinds of wines. Most of these wines are pretty much organic, a lot are biodynamic. Some are maybe not organic or biodynamic because the wineries are so small that they cannot afford to certify themselves, but they basically are.” Cannon is also looking for wines that overdeliver for their price.

He comments as he tastes. Of the Mullineux Old Vines Swartland White 2017, he says, “I look at wines like this, and I’m like, ‘OK, this is a wine that someone who knows nothing about wine would say is delicious. And somebody who knows a ton about wine would be wowed.'”

Of the Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully Le Meix Cadot Vieilles Vignes 2016: “I’d rather sell you this than some shitty Meursault from some producer that’s not even that good … It’s got density, it’s got great balance.”

During these tastings, Cannon also keeps an eye out for wines that would be a fit for his Cannonball Blind Wine Dinner series, which the restaurant hosts every Friday night. Each dinner ($95 per person) consists of five courses with a different wine served blind for each course, picked by Cannon and his head sommelier, Adam Wechsler.

“It’s not a gimmick or anything,” says Cannon. “We want you to try this and that. We want you to try stuff that, the people behind this, you know this is their life. It’s not a beverage. All they think about is how they are going to make their wine better. And to me that’s magical and beautiful.”

After Cannon tastes a dozen or so wines, another wine rep appears with more off-the-beaten-path selections for Cannon to mull over. Kurt Fauerbach, a sales representative for another distributor, V.O.S. Selections, pours Cannon a splash of the Leah Jorgensen Blanc de Cabernet Franc 2017—a still white wine made from Cab Franc in Oregon—and Holus Bolus Roussanne from Black Sheep Finds in California’s Santa Maria Valley. “For a long time I hardly bought American wine," he admits. "Now I am like, ‘Oh god there is so much good stuff!’ They finally hit their stride.”

4 p.m. Class Is in Session with Sommelier Adam Wechsler

With a wine list that changes constantly, it’s important for Jockey Hollow’s servers to be up to date and knowledgeable on the wine program, so Wechsler holds "class" for the servers every month or two. “The good thing about Chris is that nothing is so precious where we can’t open to taste it," he says. "I have learned a ridiculous amount because he’s like, ‘Oh let me open this. Let me see what this is tasting like these days.’”

Courtesy of Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen Upstairs, Jockey Hollow is all white tablecloth; the "bar" part is downstairs.

Today’s tasting focuses on South America, and Wechsler discusses the background, flavor profile and winemaking behind each wine.

"For me, part of it is about supporting the food; part of it is the pragmatic approach to running a restaurant," says Wechsler after the session, of his job's appeal. "Part of the fun of working here—especially in Morristown and not Brooklyn or Central Park South—is [it is] the future of great American restaurants. If you go to any weird, off-the-beaten path restaurant in a town that has less than 50,000 people, there’s a very good chance you are going to have an amazing culinary experience.”

Cannon has also come to appreciate the charms of smaller-town dining: "Because in New York you're paying $250 a square foot, you can only have wines that are $90 and over on your list. You go to the best restaurants in New York and there's nothing under $100, nothing. And here we have literally 150 wines under $60. When you're paying 12 to 14 bucks [wholesale], you can open anything and just pour for somebody. You can just be hospitable. You're in our house, we're gonna pour you whatever the hell you want. Have a good time.

"In New York, it's like a contract. 'Hey, sit down, you're gonna spend $300.'"

6:30 p.m. Cannonball Wine Dinner Takes Off

Cannonball Wine Dinner attendees sit among other diners upstairs in daPesca. Cannon or Wechsler pour wines from a decanter and keep mum about their identities. Once each course is complete, the wine is revealed, usually followed by guests saying, “Wow! I had no idea,” or, rarely, “I knew it!”

Tonight, Cannon can be seen working his way around the entire building: Between preparing a table for a dinner hosted by a newly minted CEO of a Fortune 500 company, talking to Cannonball Wine Dinner attendees, greeting people arriving on the main level, and overseeing the party in the basement, Cannon's decades of experience as a multitasking master and hospitality guru show.

Time flies, and it’s not long before the clock strikes 10:30 p.m. Cannon leaves the restaurant and heads home to his family, as another day of discovering exciting wines and delivering one of the most singular dining experiences around awaits.

Want to stay up on the latest news and incisive features about the world's best restaurants for wine? Sign up now for our free Private Guide to Dining email newsletter, delivered every other week. Plus, follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and Instagram at @WSRestaurantAwards.

Global Wine Auction Market Exceeds $479 Million in 2018 (Wine Spectator)

January 24, 2019 - 2:30pm

While 2018 was a volatile year for Wall Street, it was a winning year for wine auctions. Bidders paid record prices for a host of rarities ranging from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1945 to Sassicaia 1985 to The Macallan 60-year-old Whisky 1926.

In 2018, worldwide wine-auction totals (culled from sales conducted in the U.S., U.K., Geneva, Hong Kong and Shanghai markets, plus online sales) rose an impressive 26 percent to $479.7 million, up from $381.7 million in 2017, and narrowly eclipsing the previous global record of $478 million in 2011. The last quarter of 2018 more than matched the impressive performances in the first half and third quarter of the year.

Sales in the U.S. climbed nearly 20 percent over 2017 to $222 million. The combined London and Geneva markets rose 12 percent to $46.4 million. Hong Kong and Shanghai soared 40 percent to $137.2 million. Online totals rose a hefty 30 percent to $74.9 million, signaling the increased popularity of digital bidding.

Among the major auction houses, Acker Merrall & Condit led the pack with $105.2 million in overall sales, followed by Sotheby's at $98.1 million and Zachys at $80.7 million. Hart Davis Hart realized $67.9 million in live auction sales, a record for them, and another $9.2 million in auctions on their mobile app, the highest combined domestic tally. For the eighth year in a row, the firm sold 100 percent of the lots on offer.

Want to get the latest news on collectible wines and the auction market? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Collecting e-mail newsletter and get a new top-rated wine review, collecting Q&As and more, delivered straight to your inbox every other week!

What was driving the auction market? "I think the interest in the Burgundy market has brought the demand, as more people realize how great and rare these wines are, and the high prices have brought supply," said Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby's Wine, in an email. "People who purchase Burgundy generally buy it with the intention of drinking it, so they pay even closer attention to provenance and condition, which also gets reflected across the entire market, making mature Bordeaux and other wines more valuable."

Jeff Zacharia, president of Zachys, concurred. "In 2017, we sold more Burgundy [by value] than Bordeaux for the first time ever, and that trend continued in 2018. What's more, all of our top 10 wines in 2018 were Burgundy."

A year of records

The year's top selling bottle was not a wine, but a whiskey. At Christie's London last November, a lot of the exceedingly rare The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old whisky, presented in a unique bottle painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon, sold for more than $1.5 million. It was the fourth bottle of The Macallan 1926 to go on the block in 2018, with the others selling for between $843,299 to $1.2 million.

Making major headlines at a Sotheby's New York in October were two extremely scarce 750ml bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1945 (only 600 bottles were made), which shattered all previous records for wine lots. They sold for a staggering $558,000 and $496,000 respectively, far exceeding the prior top wine price of $310,700 paid for a jeroboam of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 at Sotheby's in 2007.

The first bottle of '45 DRC went to an anonymous bidder from Asia. The second was snapped up by veteran American collector and real-estate investor Rob Rosania. For a large part, provenance accounted for the stratospheric prices. All the wines in the sale were consigned from the personal cellar of famed Beaune viticulteur Robert Drouhin, whose family was a one-time distributor of DRC. The auction brought in a total of $7.3 million, more than five times the high estimate.

Not just Burgundy booms

Case lots of DRC sold at a premium throughout the year. At Christie's London last October, a dozen bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1988 brought a record $379,008 against a pre-sale high estimate of $250,000.

Rarely seen DRCs were offered in full force at Acker Merrall & Condit's "Time Capsule" auction in November, consigned by an unnamed East Coast collector. A 12-bottle lot of DRC Romanée-Conti 1980, selling for $235,600, was followed by a dozen bottles of the 1982 at $173,600.

Zachys October sale "The Vault III" topped $20 million, the highest individual tally of the year. The auction set new records for bottles from G. Roumier, Armand Rousseau and Jean-Louis Chave. But it was Zachys' Holiday Sale in late November that established an American first for the most expensive California wine ever sold: A six-liter bottle of the celebrated Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, one of only three made, sold for $96,330 against a top estimate of $80,000.

Hart Davis Hart's "Celebration of Bordeaux" auction in November showed Bordeaux still sells too. The firm offered 1,461 lots of Bordeaux, which brought in more than $5.3 million in sales against a pre-sale estimate of $3.7 million to $5.5 million. The auction was choc-a-bloc with treasures: six magnums of Château Pétrus 2006 that sold for $28,680 (the pre-sale estimate was $16,000-24,000); six bottles of Château Léoville Las Cases 1986 which brought in $4,182 (estimate $1,600-2,400); and a double-magnum of Château Trotanoy 1982 which realized $4,541 (estimate $1,900-2,800).

Fortified wines and pre-Prohibition whiskey are becoming frequent components of wine auctions. Although expensive, they boast a longer shelf life than table wine, once opened. In December at the joint Christie's and Wally's New York sale, a 5-gallon demijohn of Old Sercial Madeira 1846 from The Liberty Hall Museum Collection of Historic Madeira sold for $39,200. A bottle of Lenox Madeira 1798 fetched $15,925 against an estimate of $6,000-8,000. Twelve quarts of pre-Prohibition Old Crow Bourbon 1912 sold for $22,050 against an estimate of $8,500-$10,000.

Stock market jitters have prompted many auction-goers to question the future of collectible wine in 2019. A bullish John Kapon, CEO of Acker Merrall & Condit, believes that history has proven any decreases in wine values are merely short-term hiccups, and that the world's finest and rarest wines continue to be not only great beverages, but also great assets. "The [wine] market remains firm, active and healthy, and we expect another banner year," he said in an email.

Sotheby's Jamie Ritchie sounded a more cautious note. "In the short term the wine market tends to remain strong, but in the longer term it reacts to the financial markets and would be affected by uncertainty and volatility," he said.

A classic wine remains a classic wine regardless of price. The question remains at what point it becomes a buy or a sell.


Click here for a full-sized PDF version of this chart.

Unfiltered: Inside the NBA's Latest Wine Country Adventure (Wine Spectator)

January 24, 2019 - 2:00pm

Nothing gets NBA players more stoked these days than an away game against the Golden State Warriors. But it's not just the glory of getting dominated in front of a hostile crowd—it's because the Warriors are where all the wine is. Last week, the New Orleans Pelicans became the latest team to detour through North Bay wine country on the way to Oracle Arena, with a visit to Petaluma's McEvoy Ranch for a tour and tasting of wine and olive oil. It would be “one of the best experiences on a road trip during my time in the NBA,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told us.

The Pels' journey to Marin County began last October, when Jrue Holiday made a wine wager with Nikola Mirotic, promising to buy his teammate a bottle of wine every time the power forward scored 30 points or more. After posting back-to-back 30-plus point games to open the season, Mirotic earned himself a bottle of McEvoy Ranch Montepulciano 2014.

Courtesy of McEvoy Ranch McEvoy GM Samantha Dorsey, courtside with Jrue Holiday (left) and Nikola Mirotic

Hearing the news, Samantha Dorsey, general manger at McEvoy, invited members of the team and coaching staff to the ranch, and last week, the team was in town for a game against the Warriors with an off-day to spare. Dorsey and her staff hosted the tour and tasting, as well as a dinner prepared by McEvoy's in-house chef. The menu included braised beef brisket with winter vegetables, with an assist from the famed Montepulciano.

“The entire McEvoy Ranch team really rolled out the red carpet for us—their hospitality was exceptional in every sense of the word," Gentry said in an email. "They made us feel right at home and could not have been any nicer to us.”

“The natural team mentality fits perfectly with food and wine, which is meant to be enjoyed in good company,” said Dorsey. “Everyone took a genuine interest in the winemaking and olive oil making, and we had a very fun evening.”

[videoPlayerTag videoId="5993536573001"]

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry tickles the ivories of the red piano that appears on some McEvoy Ranch wine labels.

The Pelicans reciprocated the hospitality, inviting Dorsey to the game the next night, complete with VIP floor passes during pre-game shoot-around. She, in turn, delivered a bottle of Cabernet for all-star forward Anthony Davis, who'd been unable to attend the dinner. There was seemingly no food and wine hangover for the Pelicans, who engaged in a shootout with the defending NBA champions, but ended up losing the game, 147-140. Mirotic, alas, was one point shy of another bottle of wine in his locker.

Still, the Pels may be leading the league in tasting exercises this season; this is perhaps the most decisive wine-country performance since the dissolution of the legendary Cleveland Caberniers and their superstar supertasters LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Notorious Australian Prison Rehabilitated as Maximum-Security Wine Cellar

If the idea of a filling up a maximum-security prison with fine wine sounds like a novel one, it's not. Enterprising Britons set up a penitentiary-winery more than 200 years ago; they called it "Australia." And Australians have had trouble figuring out where the crime part ends and the wine part begins ever since, as amply demonstrated by the rest of this week's Unfiltered column!

Pentridge prison opened its doors in the Coburg suburb of Melbourne in 1851 and housed some of Australia's most infamous criminals in its 146-year run—outback outlaw Ned Kelly, gangster Joseph "Squizzy" Taylor, the Russell Street Bomber, "Mr. Rent-a-Kill," that sort of character.

Photos courtesy of Pentridge Cellars

But the historic building, shuttered in 1997, has been given new life. Last August, the former "D Division" wing opened as Pentridge Cellars, still functioning as a maximum-security facility—this time not for convicts, but for wine. "My dream has always been to create a wine emporium out of the building [to] be a hive of activity for wine lovers," director and founder Michael Woodworth told Unfiltered via email. "Gaols [Australian for "jails"] are very secure places for obvious reasons … I have always said that it looks like the building was meant to be wine cellars."

Before that could be possible, though, the place needed a major, years-long upgrade: The thick walls were maintained through the renovation, but cells became cellars, with climate-control units and ambient lighting. Collectors who spring for one can customize the color of the walls and wood for the wine racks, and the price they pay starts at $81,500. You get 24/7 access to your wines—under the vigilant eye, of course, of state-of-the-art security monitoring. So far, 40 customers have committed their wines; next up, Woolworth hopes to unlock the space's potential for a museum and public events like wine auctions.

Aussie Feds Find 96 Liters of Ecstasy Hidden in Champagne Bottles

The Australian Border Force (ABF) is at it again. Mere months after discovering $808,000 worth of cocaine being smuggled in bottles of wine, the law enforcement agency has foiled yet another drug trafficking attempt disguised as a vino shipment, except this time, it was Champagne bottles, and they were filled with the party drug ecstasy.

Courtesy of Australian Border Force Bubbly bust bursts drug dealers' bubble.

In late 2018, officers at an international mail center in Sydney noticed anomalies when performing an X-ray on an otherwise innocuous package from Belgium containing four bottles of "Champagne" (no word on the brand). A test of a sample of the liquid inside returned positive results for MDMA. Since then, the ABF has intercepted 23 more packages from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, resulting in the confiscation of a total of 96 liters of MDMA—presumably enough liquid to manufacture tens of thousands of pills—all hidden within bottles of bubbly.

"Our officers will continue to do everything they can to stop [this drug] at the Australian border, before it has the chance to cause harm,” ABF regional commander Danielle Yannopoulos said in a press release about the bust. “ABF officers have cutting-edge technology and unique skills at their disposal, giving them the ability to see further into each package. This detection shows their methods are working—even on highly sophisticated consignments.” No word on the identities of the perps, honorific criminal nicknames the Aussies plan to bestow on them, or prison where they'll be cellared.

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.

Exclusive: Rombauer Vineyards Buys Renwood's Winery in Amador County (Wine Spectator)

January 24, 2019 - 9:30am

Napa-based Chardonnay specialist Rombauer Vineyards is staking a claim in California's Gold Country. Wine Spectator has learned that the family-owned wine company has purchased the 65,000-square-foot Renwood winery in Amador County from Ren Acquisitions, Inc., an Argentine investment group whose owners include billionaire vintner Alejandro Bulgheroni and winemaking veteran Carlos Pulenta of Vistalba.

The sale includes the winery, a 20-acre estate vineyard planted mostly to Zinfandel, and a tasting room, but it does not include the Renwood brand. Rombauer will move production of its Zinfandel to the facility, which will reopen in April. The sale price was not disclosed.

Rombauer had been looking to increase its production capacity and approached Ren Acquisitions to buy the winery. "The demand for our Zinfandel is continuing to grow at a pace that really required us to do something in terms of capacity in the near-term," Rombauer president Bob Knebel told Wine Spectator. Known for its fruit-forward and creamy Chardonnays, the winery has been developing its red wine program in recent years and produces five Zinfandels from the Sierra Foothills and Napa Valley. Rombauer currently produces 300,000 cases of wine a year.

"My dad loved the Sierra Foothills and always envisioned Rombauer crafting more wine from this unique and special area," said second-generation proprietor Koerner "KR" Rombauer III, in a statement. His father, who died in 2018, attempted to buy the Renwood property eight years ago, but missed his chance when Ren Acquisitions purchased it.

Founded by Robert Smerling in 1993, Renwood is one of the largest producers in the Sierra Foothills, known for its Zinfandel, Barbera and Syrah. The company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, and Ren Acquisitions bought it in 2011 for nearly $7 million.

In a statement, Renwood executives announced that the company will move production to a nearby facility. Renwood still owns Renwood Ranch, which includes 135 acres of vines.

The Renwood property provides Rombauer with a base of operations in the Sierra Foothills, long the leading source of grapes for its lineup of Zins. The late Rombauer began farming grapes and making Zin from the region starting in the mid-1990s. "He loved the fruit up here for its intensity, its richness and its complexity," said Knebel. The winery purchased the Twin Rivers Vineyard in neighboring El Dorado County in 2010 and currently owns 148 acres of vines in the region.

Rombauer plans to develop the estate vineyard and invest in the winemaking facility. "It matches our current and anticipated needs for the next several years," said Knebel.

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

Wine 'Apparently Safe' for Type 2 Diabetics: New Report (Wine Spectator)

January 23, 2019 - 1:45pm

Though numerous studies have shown the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, most researchers are hesitant to recommend that someone who doesn't drink should start for their health. Many scientific reports do just the opposite, cautioning readers that, just because wine was shown to have a certain health benefit in a particular study, doesn't mean nondrinkers should suddenly begin enjoying a daily glass.

But now a recent report from a study on wine and type 2 diabetes suggests that those with the disease might experience benefits if they switch from abstention to moderate drinking, with evidence to back up the claim.

The paper, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a summary of findings from the CASCADE (CArdiovaSCulAr Diabetes and Ethanol) trial, in which 224 participants with type 2 diabetes who previously abstained from alcohol were instructed to drink a glass of either red wine, white wine, or water each day, and follow a Mediterranean diet. The researchers, a team from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, have previously published papers on specific aspects of the trial, but the new report rounds up the major findings.

"Although several ... studies demonstrated protective associations between moderate drinking and cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and metabolic syndrome, no conclusive recommendations exist regarding moderate wine consumption," state the authors. "Here, we … suggest that initiating moderate alcohol consumption among well controlled persons with type 2 diabetes is apparently safe."

They point to two key substudies of the trial that illustrate this conclusion. One substudy, as previously reported, reveals that wine was shown to slow the progression of atherosclerosis in diabetics.

The second substudy focused on heart rate variability (HRV), or the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. (Poor HRV is common in type 2 diabetics, and is a predictor of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.)

To determine whether moderate, regular wine consumption had an effect on HRV in type 2 diabetics, the researchers selected 45 of the trial's participants—22 of whom were assigned to drink red wine and 23 of whom were assigned to drink water—to participate in 24-hour electrocardiogram tests, both at the beginning of the trial and after two years. They found no significant changes, meaning that while there wasn't necessarily a positive long-term impact on HRV for abstainers who began drinking, there wasn't any apparent danger, either. Coupled with the atherosclerosis findings, this suggests wine is a healthy option.

The study also found differences between men and women: Women who drank red wine had significantly increased HDL (known as "the good cholesterol") levels compared to those who drank white wine or water; the men's groups saw no such differences in these levels. This finding, along with other differential effects of alcohol between men and women, should be taken into consideration when thinking about drinking and your health, the researchers say.

It's worth noting that the study used funding from the Mediterranean Diet Foundation, a Barcelona-based nonprofit that promotes research on the Mediterranean diet, of which moderate wine consumption is a traditional part; the researchers declare that they have no conflict of interest in regard to this study.

Of course, any study on wine and health—whether it's good news or bad—does not replace medical advice from a professional. Individuals, regardless of whether they have diabetes, or any other disease for that matter, should check with their doctor before making decisions about drinking for their health.

As the study's text notes: "Although both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association discuss moderate alcohol consumption in their guidelines, a conclusive recommendation is not given, [nor is] a recommendation to initiate moderate intake." This research might help change that.

Want to learn more about how wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Wine & Healthy Living e-mail newsletter and get the latest health news, feel-good recipes, wellness tips and more delivered straight to your inbox every other week!

Your Rosé May Be Late this Year: Wine and the Government Shutdown (Wine Spectator)

January 22, 2019 - 3:20pm

Updated Jan. 28: On Jan. 25, lawmakers on Capitol Hill reached a deal to reopen the federal government; President Donald J. Trump signed the stopgap spending bill late that evening. The resolution will keep federal agencies open until Feb. 15, while negotiations over border security continue. Vintners are hoping the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau can process the backlog of label applications within these three weeks, as another government shutdown is possible if negotiations fail.

Benovia winery in the Russian River Valley was planning to label and release its first Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine this spring, but the partial government shutdown has put those plans on hold. Due to the lapse in funding, the government agency responsible for approving Benovia's wine labels, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), has shut its doors and suspended its approval process for new alcoholic beverages, leaving the winery in a bind.

"Until you have label approval they won't let you label and ship the wine," Benovia co-owner and winemaker Mike Sullivan told Wine Spectator. "It's sort of in limbo until the government opens up."

Similar stories are playing out across the country as wineries and breweries feel the sting of the shutdown. Without label approval, some winemakers may have to wait to bottle their wines currently sitting in tanks and barrels. Those delays could eventually mean financial consequences for winemakers and fewer choices for consumers on store shelves.

Spring releases are in limbo

During the shutdown, wineries may continue to send their labels to the TTB, but the labels won't be approved, a process that normally takes up to 36 days. That's creating headaches for winemakers since they are required to submit new labels, as well as existing labels that have been changed, to the TTB for a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA), in order to sell their wines.

Last year the TTB, which enforces laws regulating alcohol production, importation and distribution, processed more than 192,000 labels.

The good news for wine lovers is that the shutdown will only impact wines that require approval. Winemakers can change the vintage and other exempted information on a previously approved wine label without obtaining a COLA. That means many wineries such as Benovia will still be able to bottle and release the majority of their wines without any delays.

"For any wine that requires a COLA for a new label, it's extremely problematic," said Kent Humphrey of Eric Kent in Sonoma, who is awaiting approval on several labels. Like many wineries, Eric Kent releases some of its wines, including its rosé, in the spring, with a second set of releases in the fall. Humphrey didn't need a new COLA for his blush wine but he says one of the wineries he consults for is still waiting for its new rosé to be approved.

As the shutdown drags into its fifth week, winemakers are now facing a dilemma. Do they attempt to bottle and label the wines without approval and risk the TTB rejecting them? Or do they wait to bottle the wine and release them late, potentially impacting deals with restaurants and retail shops?

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the largest wine company in Washington State, hasn't seen any significant delays, according to Ryan Pennington, senior director of communications. But Pennington acknowledges that the shutdown could become a serious issue if it continues, ultimately affecting some of Ste. Michelle's planned new product launches.

But the greatest impact will be felt by small wineries; especially those that use custom-crush facilities and mobile bottling lines. It can cost more than $2 to bottle and label a case of wine. And wineries will have to find space to store the wine if they can't legally sell it. Bottling without approval or labels comes with risks. "If you are a small winery and you have a decent-sized lot [of wine] and have to label it a second time, you could be out $20,000," said Adam Lee, who makes the wines at Siduri, as well as his new Pinot Noir label, Clarice.

The shutdown will also affect imported wines. Imported wine labels have to be approved by the TTB before they can reach the market in the U.S. "We have 20 to 30 [labels] at the TTB that haven't been approved yet," said Gavin Speight, vice president of Old Bridge Cellars, which imports wines from Australia, France, Italy and New Zealand. "It's going to put us back a month or so on shipping."

Label approval is not the only issue facing winemakers. The shutdown could also delay new wineries from opening their doors since they require a permit from the TTB to operate their business.

How bad is it? That depends on how long it lasts.

How big of a financial impact the shutdown will have on the industry is still undetermined. "It's hard to quantify," said Michael Kaiser, vice president of WineAmerica. The trade association, which represents 600 wine producers around the country, is conducting an industry-wide survey on the shutdown and its impacts on wineries. Kaiser says that over 70 percent of respondents so far have indicated that they are waiting on label approval.

Wine, beer and spirits groups are now taking their case to Capitol Hill. Kaiser is meeting with members of Congress to voice the association's concerns. "This is getting some notice," he said.

Even after the shutdown ends, winemakers will have to wait for the TTB to work through its backlog of labels. That could delay approval by months. "We need to get past this," said Lee. "It is hurting business in ways that's not currently being thought of."

With no end to the government shutdown in sight, winemakers will have to decide what their next steps will be. Some winemakers are already devising strategies for potential future shutdowns. For some that would mean submitting their labels months in advance of bottling. "It will make me think about label approval in a different way," said Sullivan.

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

8 & $20 Recipe: Chicken Thighs with Pan Sauce, Lemon and Kale (Wine Spectator)

January 22, 2019 - 9:00am

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Searing meat or poultry adds appealing color and flavors, but it also creates something else: those oils and crispy bits at the bottom of the pan. Too often neglected, the juices and particles left behind after a sear are an excellent way to lend depth to a dish, thanks to the French technique of deglazing, or adding liquid to a hot pan with browned bits in it, releasing them and infusing the dish with their concentrated flavor.

This recipe builds rich flavors in less than an hour. You’ll sear the chicken with the skin on to release those key components, deglaze the pan with the help of some of the wine you're drinking, and then remove the skin to avoid sogginess once the chicken is largely covered in the liquid, which is later reduced into a savory pan sauce. Kale, a green that’s sturdy enough to stand up to prolonged heat, helps take this from a simple chicken preparation to a nutritious one-pot dinner. You can also serve this with plain white rice or noodles to soak up the sauce.

For the wine pairing, I looked for something with a medium body that would bring a little richness to the combo, but with enough freshness to play off the citrus in the dish. First I tried a Viognier from southern France, but my choice had a prominent floral character that I found distracting, as it didn't meld with the various components on the plate. Instead, I went for a Portuguese pick—Casa Santos Lima Lisboa White Colossal 2017—that showed bright fruit flavors but finished on a savory, creamy note, complementing both the acidic lemon and the umami of the chicken.

Since this hearty, healthy dish is simple enough to whip up on a weeknight, you can turn to it to keep you cozy—and fill your kitchen with intoxicating savory scents—all winter long.

Chicken Thighs with Pan Sauce, Lemon and Kale

Pair with a medium-bodied white such as Casa Santos Lima Lisboa White Colossal 2017 (88 points, $15).

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Approximate food costs: $20

  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 2/3 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 32 ounces (4 cups) chicken broth, or enough to cover all ingredients 3/4 of the way in a Dutch oven
  • 8 ounces kale, chopped
  • 1 lemon, sliced and seeded

1. Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven (or other heavy sauté pan or stockpot) over medium-low heat. Add garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes and thyme. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the garlic and shallots have softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Working in batches as needed to prevent overcrowding in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil, increase heat to medium-high and add chicken, skin-side down. Let chicken sear for 5 to 7 minutes until the skin is golden-brown. Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool slightly. (It will not be cooked through at this point.) For each batch, heat another tablespoon of olive oil before adding more chicken and repeating the remaining steps.

3. While the chicken is cooling, deglaze the pan by adding the wine to the Dutch oven and using a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape any stuck bits off the bottom. Add the chicken broth, eyeballing an amount that will cover the ingredients about three-quarters of the way once the chicken, kale and lemons are added. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Remove skin from cooled chicken and discard. Add the skinless chicken, kale and lemon slices to the pot. (If the chicken is completely submerged, use a ladle to remove broth as needed.) Cover and let simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a chicken thigh, away from the bone, registers 165 F.

4. Remove chicken and set aside. Discard lemon slices and let the liquid simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by about one-third.

5. Serve the chicken with the kale, and spoon the pan sauce on top. Serves 4.

Wine Talk: Country-Music Star Carly Pearce Doesn't Hide Her Love of Wine (Wine Spectator)

January 18, 2019 - 12:00pm

With chart-topping songs and a network of devoted fans across the United States, Carly Pearce, 28, is one of the leading ladies of country music right now. After nearly a decade of trying to "make it" in Nashville, the singer-songwriter notched a breakout hit in 2017 with her emotional ballad "Every Little Thing," leading to a record deal, touring gigs with Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, and an appearance in last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

She followed her debut success with "Hide the Wine," a tune that introduced fans to her real-life love of wine. (The music video, featuring goblets of wine and bottles of Elouan—donated by the winery—drives the sentiment home.) "It's really funny," Pearce says. "I feel like something that fans are really latching onto is the fact that I drink wine!"

Between promoting her latest single, "Closer to You," gearing up to co-headline "The Way Back Tour" with vocalist Russell Dickerson (kicking off Jan. 24), and preparing for the release of her second album later this year, Pearce took some time to chat with assistant editor Lexi Williams about how she first got into wine, the bottles she keeps stocked on her tour bus, and that time she attempted blind-tasting with her band.

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

Wine Spectator: When did you first get into wine?
Carly Pearce: It's kind of funny. My mom was a huge wine drinker. When I came of age, I actually hated it and didn't understand why she loved it so much. I think it was a couple years into being of age, I found a strong liking [of] red wine, and it has been my drink of choice since I was probably 23 years old.

WS: Do you have any go-tos?
CP: I really like Cabernet; I tend to go for more California wines. I really like the more dry, full-bodied [wines], but I'll drink pretty much anything that's red.

If I'm just kind of drinking everyday, Conundrum is my go-to. I pretty much have that on my bus at all times—I think because I love Caymus so much, I found Conundrum, and it's a lot cheaper, which is great. For special occasions, I'm a Caymus girl, I'm a Silver Oak girl. Also, I really like Stag's Leap, and I really like Trilogy.

WS: Did your vinous interests inspire the song "Hide the Wine"?
CP: This is one of the very few on my album that I didn't write, shockingly. It was actually originally recorded by Little Big Town. I heard this song before I even had a record deal, and I freaked out over it, but I knew that Little Big Town was going to [record] it. Fast-forward to literally the day that their album came out: I had a record deal at this point and was looking for songs, and they didn't put it on their album … so I got it! I do believe that it was made for me.

WS: There's also a video of you and your band doing a blind tasting based on lyrics in the song. What was that like?
CP: My band, they're just hilarious, and it's fun to have winos on the bus. We thought it would be really funny because of the "Two-Buck Chuck, high-dollar good stuff" [line in the song] to just kind of figure out if we could really tell the difference between the two. But my photographer, who went and got all of the wine, ended up just buying all Two-Buck Chuck, so we thought we were drinking expensive wine at one point, but we weren't, which is just really funny.

WS: Do you have any other special wine memories?
CP: I fell in love this [past] year, with another country music artist [fiancé Michael Ray], and [on] our first date—I've actually never told this story!—he brought a bottle of Silver Oak to my house when he came over. That was kind of the bottle of wine that sparked our love.

WS: Did he know at the time that you were really into wine?
CP: Oh yes. Everybody who knows me knows that's the way to my heart!

WS: Why do you think your love of wine has become so well-known among your fans and others in the industry?
CP: [When] I was on tour with Blake Shelton at the beginning of 2018, he told me, "Find those things about you that are authentic and that people really resonate with." I think it's become a part of my brand that will stay. As I'm even writing songs for this next record, wine is in the lyrics.

WS: Do you think you'll get more involved in wine, beyond singing about it?
CP: I hope one day to partner with a wine company and come out with my own wine, maybe have my own vineyard like Kix Brooks. I genuinely want to learn more about wine, because it's something that I'm really passionate about and something that I love.

It's Harvesttime for Wine in … Tahiti?! (Wine Spectator)

January 17, 2019 - 3:00pm

In the Northern Hemisphere right about now, winemakers are trimming, pruning and frost-proofing their vines, and hibernating their selves; south of the equator, veraison and the pesky birds and bugs that come with it are here, or will be soon.

But in one most unusual vineyard, the Carignan and Muscat grapes have reached peak ripeness, the pickers have pulled on their gloves and grabbed their shears, and the cellar hands have fired up their skiffs to transport the grape bins down the shore to the winery. It's mid-January, and harvest is just finishing up for Vin de Tahiti on the Rangiroa atoll in Tahiti, 3,100 miles from the nearest continent. This was a special vendange for the vineyard—the 50th harvest since it first began bearing fruit in 1999.

From the Mosel to Mendoza, virtually all winegrowing regions have winter dormancy, spring growth and fall harvest, but in the town of Avatoru, where the Cave de Tahiti is processing a successful harvest bounty, it's 83 F right now, and it will be 83 this time come July. Where there's endless summer, you can have two, sometimes even three, grape harvests per year (a phenomenon that can also occur in hotbeds of unusual viticulture like Brazil and India). "It’s so incredible to have a vineyard in such a place," longtime winemaker Sébastien Thépénier told Unfiltered via email.

Photos courtesy of Vin de Tahiti

But for Vin de Tahiti (also called Domaine Dominique Auroy), it's not always clear skies and sunny days. Auroy, a French businessman, began experimenting with European cuttings in sites around French Polynesia in 1992; his team eventually planted own-rooted vines on Rangiroa and learned how to navigate the unique coral soil—the defining characteristic of the terroir, according to Thépénier. Today, the vineyard encompasses about 15 acres yielding 3,000 cases annually.

Every year, the start and length of harvest, which takes place every five to five-and-a-half months, is dependent on the unpredictable precipitation conditions that hit the island. Through vigorous pruning, Thépénier tricks the vines into brief dormancy and new growth after harvest, but the picking dates are always in flux, and there's no off-season. Still, the "biggest challenge" today is one familiar to vintners this side of paradise as well: conversion to organic, and now biodynamic, practices.

Looking toward round No. 51, Thépénier has introduced a fancy pneumatic press—and, he told Unfiltered, a new drink: the first cane-sugar rum made in Tahiti, which will be available only to in-person visitors. And upon learning that, Unfiltered checked our local weather ("freezing rain"), sighed, and searched "NYC to Tahiti flights tomorrow."

Australian Animal Antics: Tasmanian Winery Gets 'Seal' of Approval

Down Under, vintners know that surprise visits from wild animals—such as thirsty koalas and movie-spoofing Chris Hemsworths—are part of the outback's charm. But when one such visitor is a 550-pound sea dweller, it's understandable to be a little shocked, as workers at La Villa Wines in Spreyton, Tasmania, were when they were greeted by the sight of a seal lounging outside the winery on the morning of Jan. 2.

Courtesy of La Villa Wines Flipper day

"When staff were arriving at 7:00 for work that morning, they encountered Mr. Seal on the driveway," said Gail Burns, who owns the winery with her husband, Marcus. The wayward critter is thought to have made its way from the ocean, swimming about 3 miles up the Mersey River and ambling another half-mile on land to its destination.

Courtesy of La Villa Wines Cooldown

"It's pretty tough going to get where he was," Burns told Unfiltered. "We called Parks and Wildlife, and they came to assess the situation. They recommended to let him be, and that after a rest amongst the Pinot Grigio block he would find his way back to the river."

A nap in a vineyard followed by a nice swim? Sounds like Unfiltered's ideal Sunday afternoon.

Why Are Tesla Owners Pouring Red Wine All Over Their Car Seats?

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is credited for a lot of questionable ideas, but his most recent claim is something even Unfiltered could not have predicted. The Tesla CEO recently tweeted that the car seats in the Tesla Model 3—even those outfitted with the hot "Ultra White" interior upgrade—are extremely stain resistant, so much so that "you can spill red wine on the seats and just wipe it off." Now Tesla fanboys are putting that assertion to the test on their own brand-new cars, and recording it for all the Internet to see.

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

The first video came just one day after Musk's tweet. A Twitter user with the handle @TeslaAmit519 posted a video of himself drizzling a splash of Blackstone Merlot on his Tesla's pure-white passenger seat, hastily wiping away the wine with a paper towel, and revealing no stain in the aftermath; Tesla superfan Vincent Yu upped the ante by pouring not one, but two splashes of Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck Cabernet all over the seat of his luxury vehicle. But after a quick toweling, again, there was no sign of the spillage.

Twitter Having fun on Twitter.

Of course, these videos are being met with the requisite, "Why would you have an open bottle of wine in your car in the first place?!" But as Yu tweet-splained to the haters, "It's a test of the stain-resistant level. It's a test [based] on Elon's statement," and Tesla stans made the videos to demonstrate its accuracy … and to demonstrate their unwavering trust in Elon Musk, of course.

Prosecco Protest Goes Viral, Prosecco Conquest Remains Unimpeded

Prosecco is everywhere, from bottomless boozy brunches to fine-dining pairing menus to Shake Shack milkshakes. But one Friulian eatery, which stands firmly in the latter camp of "love it or hate it," is mounting a lonely protest to speak truth to Prosecco power.

Osteria di Ramandolo, run by husband-and-wife owners Ilenia Vidoni and Pietro Greco, stopped serving Prosecco about a year ago, and now, the restaurant is agitating to get other businesses to dump the fizz as well. Over the holidays, the restaurant spread its message, along with a meme-friendly say-no-to-Prosecco logo, on social media, bringing publicity to its movement, dubbed "Locale Deprosecchizzato."

"As you know, about a year ago … we completely excluded Prosecco from our cellar to focus on promoting quality sparkling wines produced in our region," slams a translated post on the business' Facebook page, which continues, "those who do our job should not only sell what is fashionable, but also have the task of communicating their territory and its excellence."

Among the likes, comments and shares the Facebook post has racked up, reactions are misto. While some applauded the eatery for shedding light on other quality Italian bubblies, others were offended by the stance. So far, at least one other restaurant has hopped on board, but elsewhere the globale Prosecchitzzato proceeds apace.

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.

Ace Australian Wine Restaurants (Wine Spectator)

January 17, 2019 - 8:30am

These Australian spots span the culinary spectrum, from classic Italian plates to creative preparations of kangaroo, but they share a common thread. Each holds a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award for a carefully curated wine list, and together they represent some of the country’s best collections. Discover 12 eateries Down Under with well-rounded wine lists that champion Australia’s renowned regions. All prices are listed here in U.S. dollars.

To check out more wine-and-food destinations around the world, see Wine Spectator’s more than 3,500 Restaurant Award–winning picks, including the 91 Grand Award recipients worldwide that hold our highest honor.

Do you have a favorite you’d like to see on this list? Send your recommendations to restaurantawards@mshanken.com. We want to hear from you!

Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel gives guests a peek at their 30,000-bottle cellar through a glass enclosure.

WICKENS AT ROYAL MAIL HOTEL
A wine destination worth the detour
98 Parker St., Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia
(61) 3-5577-2241
www.royalmail.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday

Grand Award
Wine list selections 3,000
Inventory 30,000
Wine strengths Wine lovers flock here for the comprehensive program that excels in Australia, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Spain, the Rhône, Italy and Germany. Guests can make their selection from the list or choose from several wine pairings. The starting prices for the five-course menu are a standard pairing for $90, the Australian pairing for $97 or the French pairing for $180.
Recent rebranding Formerly sharing a name with the hotel, the restaurant is now named after executive chef Robin Wickens and boasts a new space with views of the surrounding mountains of Grampians National Park.
Cuisine Wickens presents regional dishes through various tasting menus that change daily, ranging from five courses for $123 and eight courses for $140 to a chef’s-table experience for $162. The 2017 renovations also brought a stronger connection between the cuisine and its source, with at least 80 percent of the restaurant’s produce now coming from the hotel garden.
Distinct experiences The restaurant offers sommelier-guided tours of the cellar with comparative tastings and bottles from the collection available for purchase. The wine list provides special tasting opportunities as well: Premium labels available by the glass include Penfolds Shiraz South Australia Grange and Dominique Laurent.

Bacchus Bacchus’ dining room is as chic as the outdoor pool area.

BACCHUS
Enjoy a global wine list poolside
9 Glenelg St., South Bank, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
(61) 7-3364-0870
www.bacchussouthbank.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 610
Inventory 3,000
Wine strengths Head sommelier Andrew Giblin views his list as a tour of the world’s great wine regions. The program covers Old and New World labels from international producers but focuses on Australian picks, showcasing names like Grosset, Torbreck and Kaesler. Italy and France (especially Burgundy and Champagne) also stand out.
Unexpected selections Rounding out the classic wine regions are lesser-known names like Japan’s Grace Winery and Uruguay’s Viñedo de los Vientos.
Cuisine Chef Massimo Speroni serves creative takes on seasonal Australian cuisine, like a starter of 24 hour–cooked tongue with char-grilled avocado and white balsalmic gel. There’s also a variety of pastas and entrées with regional ingredients, including kangaroo.
Indoor-outdoor experience Bacchus is set on the Brisbane River but features a waterfront view of its own in the glamorous poolside area. The space is in addition to an indoor dining room with a warm, modern look by Los Angeles designer Tracy Beckmann.

Black Bar & Grill Black Bar & Grill's chef brings international influence to the steak-house menu.

BLACK BAR & GRILL
A stylish Sydney steak house
The Star, 80 Pyrmont St., Sydney, Australia
(61) 2-9777-9109
www.star.com.au/sydney/eat-and-drink/signature-dining/black-bar-and-grill
Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 1,200
Inventory 5,000
Wine strengths Australia and Burgundy make up the bulk of the wine program, which also excels in Champagne and New Zealand. Nearly 50 wines are available by the glass, including 12 premium pours by Coravin.
Cuisine Chef Dany Karam was born in Lebanon, where he trained for five years before working in France and eventually settling in Australia. Karam brings this global perspective to Black Bar & Grill, spicing up the steak-house menu with starters like kingfish sashimi with horseradish cream and sides like fattoush salad with pomegranate molasses.
Guiding guests Head sommelier Addy Lam provides valuable descriptions and context throughout the list, like background on benchmark producers, grape variety origins and full-page wine region maps.
Australian champion Designated sections spotlight domestic producers such as Brokenwood and Cambrien, listing several vintages of each, accompanied by background information on the region and labels.

The Crafers Hotel A love of French wine drives the wine list at the Crafers Hotel.

THE CRAFERS HOTEL
A regional restaurant in a historic hotel
8 Main St., Crafers, Australia
(61) 8-8339-2050
www.crafershotel.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 1,885
Inventory 14,000
Wine strengths Overseen by wine director Jonathan Brook, the program emphasizes Australian wines and boasts an extensive French collection. The most impressive sections include Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire and Champagne.
Propelled by passion Owners Ed Peter, Julie Peter and Brett Matthews have a particular affinity for French wines and supplement the restaurant’s list with picks from their personal collections. The wine team also selects a “Winery of the Month” to showcase South Australian producers they’re excited about.
Easy to enjoy The Crafers Hotel’s “Big Book of Wine” includes maps, tasting notes and contextual tidbits on the selections. In addition to the full wine list, there’s an abbreviated “Little Book of Wine,” with by-the-glass selections and approchable, value-driven bottles.
Cuisine Chef Stephane Brizard works with locally sourced ingredients on the regional menu, creating dishes that are distinct yet familiar. For example, the fresh market fish is served with olive dust and saffron pommes fondantes, and the chicken Parmigiana is made with ham and verjuice vinaigrette.

Golden Century Seafood Restaurant The wine program at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant complements dishes like sliced live abalone.

GOLDEN CENTURY SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Local go-to for live seafood and fine wine
393-399 Sussex St., Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
(61) 2-9212-3901
www.goldencentury.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 590
Inventory 5,000
Wine strengths Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is open until 4 a.m., so there’s plenty of time to enjoy owner and wine director Eric Wong’s outstanding list. His selections are strongest in Australia, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Cuisine Chef Ho Li’s extensive Asian menu focuses on Chinese cuisine. Li is also the chef at another Best of Award of Excellence winner owned by Wong, the Century.
As fresh as it gets One of the restaurant’s biggest draws is its selection of live seafood that goes far beyond basics like crab and lobster. Dine on daily catches like prawn, perch, scallop and more, and choose the preparation style from options like steamed, braised and pan-fried with gravy.
Accentuating an icon Peruse the lengthy collection of labels from Australia's Penfolds, including more than 40 vintages of Grange and 15 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707.

Jonah’s Restaurant Jonah’s Restaurant serves up seasonal cuisine by the ocean.

JONAH’S RESTAURANT
Outstanding wines at an intimate retreat
Jonah’s Boutique Hotel, 69 Bynya Road, Whale Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
(61) 2-9974-5599
www.jonahs.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 1,710
Inventory 12,500
Wine strengths Open since 1929, Jonah’s Restaurant relies on longstanding relationships with beverage suppliers for its extensive wine list. Wine director Niels Sluiman’s program excels in Australia, France (especially Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne), Italy and Germany.
Cuisine Straightforward dishes keep the spotlight on local ingredients and chef Matteo Zamboni’s technique. The seasonal Australian menu offers items like seared pork belly, mushroom risotto and wild-caught fish with herbs, lemon and brown butter.
Associated spot Owner Peter Montgomery also owns Award of Excellence winner the Flooded Gums Restaurant in Bonville, Australia, several hundred miles up the coast. Sluiman is in charge of the wine program there too, which has 250 selections and an Australian focus.
Breathtaking beach views With floor-to-ceiling windows and a white-washed aesthetic, the restaurant has a beachy yet modern feel. The dining room overlooks the clear waters and rocky coast of Whale Beach. For guests seeking an even better view, there’s an outdoor terrace with a menu of light bites and shareable small plates.

Masani Italian Dining & Terrace Daughter-father team Kara and Richard Maisano work together at Masani Italian Dining & Terrace.

MASANI ITALIAN DINING & TERRACE
Traditional Italian eats on the outskirts of Melbourne
313 Drummond St., Carlton, Victoria, Australia
(61) 3-9347-5610
www.masani.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 630
Inventory 7,100
Cuisine Chef-owner Richard Maisano trained in Switzerland and Italy before opening Masani in 1983. He’s known for his from-scratch Italian fare honoring both his roots and the region, particularly handmade pastas and wild game specialties.
Well-established setting The restaurant's Victorian-style building dates to the 1880s, and the dining room conveys a sense of classic European comfort, with exposed brick walls and a fireplace.
Wine strengths Maisano’s daughter, Kara, is the restaurant’s wine director. Her program covers a broad range of Italian regions and shows similar strength in Australian and French labels.
Accessible tasting The “Gusti da Masani” menu consists of five special courses for just $58 per person, or $105 with wine pairings. This value is reflected on the moderately priced wine list, which has 19 wines by the glass and 60 half-bottles.

Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth Perth is one of three locations of Rockpool Bar & Grill.

ROCKPOOL BAR & GRILL PERTH
Beyond your basic steak house
Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Victoria Park, Perth, Australia
(61) 8-6252-1900
www.rockpoolbarandgrill.com.au/perth/home/
Open for lunch, Sunday to Friday and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 2,445
Inventory 12,000
Wine strengths Head sommelier Andrew Symes emphasizes Australia on the wide-ranging list, with a heavy focus on Western Australia’s Margaret River region. The program also shines in classic regions around the world such as Burgundy, Italy, the Rhône, Bordeaux and Champagne.
Domestic depth The wine list is peppered with strong verticals, particularly from Australia. Highlights include eight vintages of Grosset Riesling Clare Valley Polish Hill, 10 vintages of Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River, and eight vintages of Mount Mary Quintet Yarra Valley.
Cuisine Chef Dan Masters’ lengthy menu extends beyond traditional steak-house offerings with pastas, regional entrées and more. In the dining room, the open kitchen provides a peek at the dry-aged cuts from Australian farms cooking on the wood-fired grill.
Part of the family Rockpool Bar & Grill has another Best of Award of Excellence–winning location in Sydney. Both restaurants are owned by Rockpool Dining Group, which also includes Best of Award of Excellence winners the Cut Bar & Grill, Jade Temple and Rosetta, and Award of Excellence winners Saké Restaurant & Bar and Spice Temple.

The Source at MONA The Source serves artfully plated food that rivals the pieces in the encompassing museum.

THE SOURCE AT MONA
Fine dining with an artsy edge
MONA, 655 Berriedale Road, Berriedale, Tasmania, Australia
(61) 3-6277-9904
www.mona.net.au/mona/restaurant
Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Monday

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 1,970
Inventory 20,000
Untraditional setting The Source is inside MONA, Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art. Exhibits tend to be avant-garde, and that modern approach is reflected in the dining room. The glass-enclosed space features sleek table settings and wraparound views of the Derwent River.
On-site wine producer MONA is located at Moorilla winery, which was founded in 1947 and now has a partnership with the museum. The Source showcases the label on the opening page of the wine list, offering more than two dozen bottlings of sparkling, white and red wines.
Wine strengths A wide range of regions shine in wine director Pip Anderson’s program. Burgundy and Australia are the biggest standouts, followed by Germany, Champagne, Bordeaux and Spain.
Cuisine Chef Vince Trim combines regional ingredients, French technique and a hint of whimsy on the à-la-carte menu. Offerings change seasonally, but expect memorable dishes like wallaby with beetroot and hazelnuts and lamb collar with harissa and spelt.

Harvard Wang Vue de Monde serves an extensive wine list in a modern setting.

VUE DE MONDE
A sky-high, time-tested concept
Rialto Tower, 525 Collins St., Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
(61) 3-9691-3888
www.vuedemonde.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Best of Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 1,800
Inventory 12,000
Evolving concept Shannon Bennett opened Vue de Monde in 2000, when he was just 24 years old. The restaurant has relocated several times since then, most recently to the 55th floor of the Rialto building.
Contemporary space Diners can now peer out at panoramic views of Melbourne and beyond. The dramatic room is adorned with modern details like fur-lined chairs and illuminated art.
Cuisine Chef Justin James' cuisine has also evolved. Vue de Monde opened as a classic French restaurant and has shifted to a more locally-focused menu that aims to celebrate the bounty of nearby growers. The prix-fixe menus vary but typically offer about 15 courses, priced at either $197 for the seasonal tasting or $222 for the chef’s tasting.
Wine strengths The wine program reflects the menu’s local focus with an outstanding Australian collection. Head sommelier Carlos Simoes Santos also provides an extensive selection of French wines, with highlights in Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux.

Doot Doot Doot Doot Doot Doot creates a memorable experience with its fun name and dramatic dining room.

DOOT DOOT DOOT
A tasting-menu spot with vineyard views
Jackalope Hotel, 166 Balnarring Road, Melbourne, Australia
(61) 3-5931-2500
www.jackalopehotels.com
Open for lunch and dinner, daily

Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 250
Inventory 1,000
Local focus Doot Doot Doot overlooks Willow Creek Vineyard in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula wine region. The restaurant aims to highlight the bounty in its backyard through carefully sourced ingredients and a wine list emphasizing small producers as well as the on-site vineyard.
Wine strengths The restaurant has a playful name but a serious, Australian-focused wine program, run by head sommelier Susei Ko. The list mostly offers wines from vineyards that are the same size or smaller than Willow Creek Vineyard, which is 27 acres.
Cuisine The five-course tasting costs $80, with wine pairings for an additional $144. Chef Elliott Pinn helms the kitchen, serving a constantly-evolving menu of dishes like prawn with summer peas and cod with sweet potato, radish pods and spiced tomato.
Luxury among the vines The encompassing Jackalope Hotel is a destination itself, with contemporary art installations and sculptural pieces throughout the property. Most of the 45 rooms and suites overlook the surrounding vines.

Ezard Guests can choose their own adventure at Ezard, with several kinds of menus available.

EZARD
Melbourne hot spot with a flexible format
187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia
(61) 3-9639-6811
www.ezard.com.au
Open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday

Award of Excellence
Wine list selections 330
Inventory 1,550
Cuisine Chef-owner Teage Ezard helped establish Flinders Lane as the dining hub it is today. At his eponymous restaurant, he treats Australia-grown ingredients with Asian techniques on the refined yet moderately priced menu.
Wine strengths Sommelier Brendan Bennett manages the wine program, which is strongest in Australia. The list also impresses in France, particularly Burgundy, where you’ll find prized bottlings from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leflaive and more.
Customizable meal In addition to the standard à-la-carte menu, Ezard offers five- and eight-course tasting menus with optional beverage pairings. Monday through Friday, during lunch, guests can take advantage of “Ezard 45,” a 45-minute meal of two courses and a glass of wine for AUS$45 (about $33).

Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and Instagram at @WSRestaurantAwards.

Restaurant Spotlight: 1919 Restaurant (Wine Spectator)

January 17, 2019 - 8:00am

1919 Restaurant brings a classic fine-dining feel to a waterfront space on the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Set in the luxurious Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, the dining room offers stunning sights of the ocean, but guests can also take in the view of a floor-to-ceiling glass cellar. Inside is some of the restaurant’s 1,495-bottle inventory that supplies the 330-selection wine list, overseen by director of food and beverage Danisael Walker. The well-balanced, Wine Spectator Award of Excellence–winning program is strongest in California, France and Spain, but offers plenty of interesting picks from regions around the world such as Hungary, Portugal and Argentina. Chef Juan José Cuevas serves eclectic American plates, from small dishes like organic local beet salad and a trio of crudos to grilled meats with delectable add-ons like potato churros. A four-course prix-fixe option is available for $75 per person, with “classic” wine pairings for an additional $72 and “prestige” wine pairings for an additional $120.

Turning Tables: Chef Thomas Keller Opens Mexican Restaurant; Quince Owners Debut Casual Wine Bar (Wine Spectator)

January 17, 2019 - 7:30am
Thomas Keller Opens Casual Mexican Concept in Yountville

Fine-dining authority chef Thomas Keller ventures outside his wheelhouse with the opening of La Calenda, a casual Mexican restaurant. The concept debuted Jan. 3 in Yountville, Calif., just down the road from Keller's Wine Spectator Grand Award winning the French Laundry and Best of Award of Excellence winning Bouchon. The chef's group also owns Grand Award winner Per Se in New York.

La Calenda's menu offers approachable, classic Mexican staples such as tacos, tamales and enchiladas. Oaxaca-born executive chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling sources ingredients from Mexican producers, local farmers and the French Laundry's own culinary garden.

The wine program also has a Mexican focus. The French Laundry's head sommelier, Erik Johnson, worked with La Calenda's team to create the 50-selection list, which highlights regions like Valle de Guadalupe and Santo Tomas. Nearby Napa Valley is also well-represented, including many small-production labels.

"Unquestionably the most exciting part is that this is the first time we have been afforded the opportunity to build a wine list around this style of cuisine," general manager Eric Jefferson told Wine Spectator. "We honor the history of Mexican Americans in Napa Valley through the lens of the wines highlighted on our list."

A New Wine Bar from the Quince Team Courtesy of Verjus Verjus is part–bar and restaurant and part-retail.

The owners of Quince in San Francisco's Jackson Square, Michael and Lindsay Tusk, are opening a new wine bar in the neighborhood later this week. Verjus will be more casual than their nearby Best of Award of Excellence–winning destination.

Inspired by the low-key yet high-quality eateries of Europe—like caves à manger in Paris and tapas bars in Barcelona—Verjus is a multispace, no-reservations concept where everything is ordered at the bar. Beverage director Matt Cirne describes it as a place to show up, drink great wine and eat in a casual setting. "Your experience might last 10 minutes—a quick glass of wine and an anchovy [dish]—or it might be three hours," he said.

Verjus also features a retail shop, which includes a bar that serves cheese, canned fish snacks and other bar bites. The space opens into a secondary dining area with more seating and a larger bar. The menu of European eats by chef Michael Tusk changes daily, from snacks like black pepper and asiago cheese puffs to larger plates like duck confit with quince jam. There's also a charcuterie program of house-made pâté, sausages and more.

The wine list has about 400 selections, with 10 wines by the glass and plenty of good-value bottles. The program is about 60 percent French, balanced by picks from all over the world, especially Italy and California. Cirne focuses on low-intervention wines from small producers with bright, bold flavors to match the cuisine.

San Francisco Mediterranean Spot Tawla Has Closed Courtesy of Azhar Hashem Tawla had earned a Restaurant Award since 2017.

Award of Excellence winner Tawla in San Francisco's Mission District has closed. Owner Azhar Hashem cited the increasing struggles of operating a restaurant in the city as among the reasons for the closure.

Overseen by wine director and general manager Christina Sanger, the 135-selection wine list was strong in classic wines from France and California, but also highlighted under-the-radar regions like Lebanon. Chef Joseph Magidow served a Mediterranean menu of shareable small plates, such as a trio of house-made labanehs.

Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at wsrestaurantawards.

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Wine Law (Wine Spectator)

January 16, 2019 - 3:45pm

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Shay Dvoretzky, a lawyer for the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA), was mere seconds into an argument when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor interjected. She had a fundamental question about the case before the court: Does the TWSRA believe that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution allows discrimination against out-of-state interests? And if so, does that mean the court was wrong when it decided Granholm v. Heald, the case that opened the door to winery direct shipping in more than three dozen states today, as well as other cases before it?

"I know you want to limit [Granholm's impact] to producers," she said. "But that's not the way that Granholm talked about this issue."

Wine was on the docket at the highest court in the land today, as eight Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Zackary Blair, the most important wine case to go before the high court in 14 years. (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was absent, recovering from cancer surgery at home, but she will read argument transcripts and plans to participate in the decision.) At the heart of the case is a Tennessee law that mandates liquor retailers reside in the state for several years. But some hope the court will rule broadly, striking down restrictions on how consumers buy wine in multiple states.

For a comprehensive analysis of the case's origin and the arguments involved, read our companion article.

The crux of the case is the Tennessee law under challenge. It mandates a two-year residency to obtain an initial liquor retail license, and a 10-year residency for a renewal (even though the license expires after one year). Additionally, 100 percent of owners, directors and officers have to satisfy these criteria. Two lower courts ruled that this violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state businesses—and they cited Granholm, the 2005 case that struck down bans on direct shipping by out-of-state wineries in states that allowed shipping by in-state wineries, as a precedent.

But several justices raised the larger question: How powerful is the 21st Amendment? It gives states the power to pass laws to regulate alcohol sales, but how far can they go before running afoul of the Commerce Clause, which forbids states from erecting barriers to out-of-state economic interests?

The petitioner, the TWSRA, had 20 minutes to argue its position; 10 minutes were accorded to the state of Illinois, which filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioner, along with other states. The respondents, Total Wine & More and Affluere Investments, Doug and Mary Ketchum's company, were given 30 minutes. Both are retailers who had sought Tennessee licenses.

Dvoretzky argued for the TWSRA that Granholm was decided through a historical lens: What were the states' powers before Prohibition? States were free to structure their liquor distribution systems free from Commerce Clause scrutiny, as long as in-state and out-of-state alcohol were treated the same. Those protections, he said, were enshrined in the 21st Amendment upon the repeal of Prohibition. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, on that point, argued that because the amendment dealt with the "transportation and importation" of liquor, it could be read as simply allowing states to remain dry, as opposed to allowing them to discriminate.

But how does a durational residency requirement fit into this? Justice Sotomayor expressed that she wasn't sure why a person's previous residence needs to come into question. Isn't simple residency enough? Many states have regulated, three-tier systems that don't have a law like Tennessee's, and they function well, she said. Dvoretzky argued that this was up to the states to decide, not the courts. Requiring an applicant to be a resident for longer gives the state more time to do a thorough background check before granting a license.

Institute for Justice Doug and Mary Ketchum and their daughter Stacie on the Supreme Court steps. When they moved to Memphis and bought a wine store, they didn’t know it would create a constitutional clash.

The durational aspect of Tennessee's requirement was largely debated: How long is too long? Justice Elena Kagan stated that Tennessee is on one end of the spectrum; surely there is a threshold where a law is so extreme it stops being about public health and safety and crosses over into economic protectionism. If there isn't, then "the sky is the limit," she said.

David Franklin, the Solicitor General of Illinois, argued that respondents Total Wine and Affluere were claiming that no discrimination of any kind was allowed under the 21st Amendment. But that would leave "no meaningful role" for the amendment, he said, as well as invalidate the three-tier system, which in its essence disadvantages out-of-state business interests. "In the end, respondents are asking this court to treat alcohol like any other article of commerce. But it's not," said Franklin.

"We are not challenging the three-tier system. All we are seeking is the opportunity to compete in this market," said attorney Carter Phillips, arguing on behalf of the respondents. The fact that the product in question is alcohol explains all the other liquor regulations Tennessee passed at the same time in order to protect public safety, but it does not explain the durational residency requirement, he said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was interested in the wider implications of a decision. The next lawsuit, he wondered, could be that the three-tier system is discriminatory because it requires some sort of physical presence in a state. "Why isn't this just the camel's nose under the tent?" he asked, adding that an "Amazon of liquor" business model could emerge as a result of such a challenge. Phillips cautioned that this was not what he was arguing. His client, Total Wine, has a brick-and-mortar business model and is not looking to undo the three-tier system.

But this argument piqued the interest of Justice Kagan. "I'm trying to figure out what kind of opinion we could write, Mr. Phillips, that says you win, but then, when the next case comes along and the next case is somebody that says we don't like this brick-and-mortar stuff, we don't want to have any physical presence at all, and the state is preventing that, and in doing so, the state is discriminating against out-of-state companies," she said.

Those issues, if they come up, can be argued another day, said Phillips. But both Kagan and Gorsuch seemed not to want to dissociate potential future challenges to the one before them at this time. Dvoretzky, in his reply at the end of oral arguments, latched onto this sentiment, saying there "would be challenges to dozens of state laws" if the court struck down Tennessee's law.

That debate now moves behind closed doors. The Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in the spring.

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

Exclusive: Former Apple Execs Buy Napa's Brand Winery (Wine Spectator)

January 15, 2019 - 10:00am

When Ed Fitts bought 110 acres on Pritchard Hill in 2005, it was a dream come true. The packaging executive fell in love with the view of Napa Valley and decided to retire on the hillside. Now Fitts and his wife, Deb, are passing the dream off to another couple that loves the view and the valley. Wine Spectator has learned that former Apple executives Jim Bean and Christine O'Sullivan have purchased the Fitts' winery, Brand, as well as 15 acres of vines, the cellars and inventory. The purchase price was not disclosed.

"We were very aware of the spectacular wines being made on Pritchard Hill, wines like Colgin, Ovid," O'Sullivan told Wine Spectator. The couple had been looking for some time for the right opportunity. "We have enjoyed these wines for a long time. Brand was very much in line with our philosophy."

Jim and Christine met while both working at Apple. Bean is the former vice president of retail at the computer titan, where he oversaw the operations of more than 450 stores in 17 countries. Christine worked in software engineering, managing the release of the Mac OS X operating system before leaving to raise their two children. Today both work as investors in technology startups.

Wine has been a lifelong passion for both, and Napa Valley has been their deepest love. They were married at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, later bought a house there and purchased a vineyard in 2013.

"We've been part of the Napa Valley for a while," said Bean. "We got married there, had a home there, became growers there. And for us, this is part of a natural progression of our dreams."

Brand produces about 1,000 cases a year. The 110-acre estate, at an elevation of 1,200 feet, includes approximately 15 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The wines have consistently earned outstanding scores.

Ed Fitts, 79, spent 40 years in the business world, more than half of that as a partner at Dopaco Inc., which manufactures environmentally friendly packaging for fast-food restaurants. He knew little of the wine industry when he retired and purchased the property in 2005.

He was drawn to the area by its natural beauty and stunning views. “Once we understood where we were, we had to take advantage of what was here,” Fitts told Wine Spectator in 2014. He hired high-profile winemaker Philippe Melka, who was familiar with the region. Their first vintage was in 2009. Over the past decade, the Fittses and Melka built a winery and gradually planted more vines.

Bean and O'Sullivan say that Melka and his team will remain at the winery. They plan to spend at least two years getting to know the estate and its wines before they decide if they want to plant additional vines. "We want to get to know the property and get to know our customers better," said Bean. "We're just starting to build a relationship with Philippe Melka, who has been incredibly welcoming. The Fittses were very selective. It was a two-way interview. We're humbled that they felt we had the skills."

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

Private Cellars: An Educated Palate (Wine Spectator)

January 15, 2019 - 8:00am

Note: This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator.

It was the Torrontés that did it. In preparation for the notoriously difficult WSET Level III exam, Christine Bae had memorized the regions, varieties and winemaking styles of Italy, Germany, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Then came the fateful question: What is the Torrontés wine from Argentina? "And I said, ‘Oh, my goodness,' " Bae recalls. " ‘Why?' "

Bae, a Fort Lee, N.J.-based lawyer, had never failed a test in her life. "I passed my bar exam on my first try, the thousands of tests I needed to pass in order to take the bar exam, my driver's license test," she says. "And I failed my wine exam."

Bae had sailed through the first two levels of the WSET on the strengths of her decade-long deep dive into wine. Her path from enthusiast to expert is a familiar one. Beginning with a 500-bottle-capacity cellar she believed she would never fill, she was soon facing an overflow problem. When she moved to her current house, she decided she needed a bigger storage space. Now, with her 1,500-bottle wine room nearing its limit, she wonders if she shouldn't have splurged on accommodations for 2,000.

A penchant for superlatives runs through Bae's connoisseurship. From her rigorous wine education to the pedigree of the bottles she purchases, she craves the best. She describes her trajectory as an enological monomyth, a set of stages comparable to those of Joseph Cambell's The Hero's Journey: "We all begin with California Cabernet. That's what we first get exposed to, and it's such a big wine, and you say, ‘Wow, this is what wine is!' It's fruits and all the tannins and all the volume. And then you get tired of that and you discover Bordeaux or Malbec or Carmenère. And then you move on to Burgundy. That's where I am."

Among her most prized wines is a group of 2008 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti bottlings—the La Tâche, Romanée St.-Vivant, Grands Echézeaux and Echézeaux, as well as a magnum of the Grands Echézeaux—bought to commemorate the birth of her son. Verticals of Dujac Clos de la Roche and Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes (both 2002-2012), and Ponsot Clos de la Roche (1998-2010), show impressive depth in the category. On the Italian front, she holds Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo dating to 1974 and a set of 40- to 50-year-old Barolos she says are drinking spectacularly. "In my wine club, we tasted 1961, 1962, 1966 La Tâche," she notes by way of comparison. "We liked it; we loved it. You can still get the rose, the hint of strawberries. But it was nothing compared to the Barolos I'm tasting now. They're so full of flavor and life. You feel astonished."

Bae revels in the shared experience of wine. Her wine club meets monthly, in the homes of members or at BYOB restaurants. They frequently taste blind, discussing nuances and trying to guess the grape, region, year and producer. The atmosphere of these events is convivial but also illuminating. Bae has made numerous discoveries in the setting, including a new love of hers: white Burgundy. "I never drank white wine until recently," she says. "It wasn't my cup of tea. But one night a guest brought two bottles of white Burgundy from 1982, Chevalier-Montrachet. And out of respect to our guest, I took a sip. What I experienced was the most incredible minerality and complexity. It was done so right: the acidity, the balance, the finish. I was in heaven."

As her horizons expand, she makes an effort to pay her knowledge forward. Over dinner one night, the editor in chief of Korea Daily, among the most widely read Korean-language newspapers in the world, asked her to pen a column to help demystify wine for novice drinkers. "Everybody in Korea, they're all interested in wine," she says. "But they don't have a forum. I think it's very intimidating."

To solidify her credentials as a columnist, she registered for classes at the WSET. "I thought I would learn about different wines and what I should be drinking," she says. "Instead, I learned about the different soils and the climates of the winemaking regions." After blazing through the Level I and II exams, Bae floundered at Level III, failing twice.

But a few weeks after our initial conversation, she relayed some exciting news: She'd passed on her third try, with flying colors.

WHAT'S IN CHRISTINE BAE'S CELLAR

Number of wines: 1,500
Focus of Collection: Burgundy, Italy
Prized bottles: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, Romanée St.-Vivant, Grands Echézeaux and Echézeaux  2008
Verticals: Dujac Clos de la Roche and Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes (both 2002-2012), Ponsot Clos de la Roche (1998-2010), Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (1974-2013)
Large-format: Jeroboam of Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin VV 2012; magnums of Ponsot Clos de la Roche 2002, Emidio Pepe 1985, Château Haut-Brion 2008, Bruno Paillard Champagne 1996, J.L. Chave Hermitage 2007, Mascarello e Figlio Monprivato 2008 Photo Gallery

Want to get the latest news on collectible wines, cellaring and the auction market? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Collecting e-mail newsletter and get a new top-rated wine review, collecting Q&As and more, delivered straight to your inbox every other week!

Will the U.S. Supreme Court Upend Wine Laws Across the Nation? (Wine Spectator)

January 11, 2019 - 10:20am

In 2016, Doug and Mary Ketchum decided to leave Salt Lake City for Tennessee and buy a wine store. Their daughter, Stacie, has cerebral palsy and, after she contracted pneumonia and had a lung collapse, her doctor urged the family to move to a different climate. After weighing available options, the Ketchums found a store, Kimbrough Fine Wine and Spirits in Memphis. Their daughter would be in a healthier environment, and being owners of a store would allow them the flexibility to care for her.

"I really never was much of a drinker, but Mary loves wine," said Doug. "I thought this could be a really fun thing, because it's something she's really passionate about." They had never been business owners, but they'd figure it out, he said.

But when the Ketchums applied for a liquor license, the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA) pointed out to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) that the Ketchums did not satisfy a state law requiring applicants to live in the state for at least two years before obtaining a license. The TABC was also considering an application from the retail chain Total Wine & More to open a Tennessee store. The TWSRA threatened to sue the state if it approved the licenses.

The TABC executive director at the time, Clayton Byrd, was unsure whether the residency law was actually constitutional, and referred it to the courts. (Byrd has since been replaced by Zackary Blair.) Both a federal district judge and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the law was unconstitutional.

The TWSRA petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. On Jan. 16, the justices will do just that, as the parties present oral arguments.

Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Zackary Blair et al has the potential to change the way American consumers buy wine. At the heart of it is a Tennessee law that requires liquor retailers to be residents of the state for a certain amount of time before getting and renewing a license. Is the law protected by the 21st Amendment, which has given states control over alcohol laws since Prohibition was repealed? Or does the law violate the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which prevents states from erecting business barriers with other states?

And Tennessee isn't the only state facing potential change. A broad ruling by the court could challenge other barriers to interstate wine commerce, including bans on direct-to-consumer wine shipping by retailers.

On one side, the TWSRA (the petitioner) will try to convince the justices to overturn the lower courts' decision. On the other, Total Wine and the Ketchums (the respondents) will ask them to sustain it. And then there are more than 20 other groups, including the governments of 35 states and a coalition of wine consumers, who have filed amicus briefs, arguments by interested parties, all arguing on various aspects of the case. Here's your guide to the fight.

How strong is the 21st Amendment?

Many Americans, especially those who enjoy the occasional drink, know that the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, ending the nationwide ban on alcohol sales. But that's Section 1 of the Amendment. Section 2 gives states broad authority to regulate alcohol within their borders. The idea was that individual states might still want strong restrictions, or even outright bans, on alcohol.

This principle is still in place today. The Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that state restrictions on alcohol sales are constitutional as long as they maintain the goals of the 21st Amendment: promoting temperance among citizens or maintaining an orderly alcohol market.

The TWSRA's brief to the court argues that when Americans ratified the 21st Amendment, "they rejected Prohibition—but not the temperance goals that motivated it." Alcohol is still a product with the potential for abuse and shouldn't be regulated like other commercial goods, they say. (The TWSRA did not respond to requests for comment.)

An amicus brief submitted by six different associations representing local governments, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities, cite figures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the cost of alcohol abuse (including health-care expenses and vehicle crashes): In 2010, the problem cost $249 billion in the U.S., from $488 million in North Dakota to $35 billion in California. Their point is that local communities are impacted first by alcohol abuse, so local solutions are the best way to regulate its sale.

Karen Pulfer Focht/Institute for Justice Doug and Mary Ketchum, with their daughter Stacie, moved to Memphis and bought a wine store, not knowing it would create a constitutional clash.Tennessee's residency rule: legitimate law or economic protectionism?

But the courts have ruled that states do not have unlimited power over alcohol sales. In 2005, the Supreme Court's Granholm v. Heald decision struck down bans on out-of-state winery shipping in New York and Michigan, claiming they violated the Commerce Clause as the states allowed in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers. The majority ruled that the 21st Amendment did not allow the states to discriminate against out-of-state wineries. Since then, 43 states have allowed some form of winery-direct shipping to their residents, opening up more wine options to consumers.

The Sixth Circuit Court cited Granholm as one of the reasons it found Tennessee's residency law unconstitutional: It discriminates against out-of-state retailers who want to do business in the state, while allowing in-state retailers to do so without a waiting period.

When the state of Tennessee legalized the sale of alcohol in 1939, it created a three-tier system and imposed residency requirements for retail liquor licensees. A licensee must have been a resident of the state for two years before obtaining an initial license. And while that license expires after one year, the licensee must be a resident for 10 years in order to renew. Additionally, 100 percent of the retail company's officers, directors and stockholders must meet these requirements.

Does this requirement maintain an orderly market in Tennessee and promote temperance, or is it economic protectionism against out-of-state interests, therefore violating the Commerce Clause?

One of the main arguments in favor of the residency law is that it requires the licensee be acquainted with the community they will be selling alcohol in, making them more attuned to its needs and accountable to its welfare. "The longtime resident who attends football games on Fridays is less likely to be duped by the drum major's fake ID on Saturdays," says a brief by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee (WSWT). "She is also less likely to do business with the town drunk if she knows he will drive around on the same streets that her family and friends use."

"Duration requirements also allow the state to better evaluate the applicant's qualifications and history," states the amicus brief of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), a strong opponent of direct shipping.

But supporters of the respondents don't buy this argument, since the licensee doesn't need to reside in the community itself, but rather in the state. "The notion that someone living in Memphis is more in touch with Knoxville than someone living in Asheville, N.C., which is 250 miles closer, is silly," states the Total Wine brief. (Total Wine executives declined to comment for this article.)

The respondents also argue that rules can be put in place to promote temperance that are not discriminatory. Total's brief points out that Tennessee laws require liquor license applicants to go through a criminal background check and demonstrate that they have adequate moral character and business experience. Why add a durational residency requirement on top of that? "The only conceivable purpose of these requirements is to exclude nonresident owners from Tennessee's market for off-premises sales of alcohol and thereby protect in-state retailers from competition," their brief states.

The brief for Affluere Investments (Doug and Mary Ketchum's business) cites not just the Commerce Clause, but also the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment. That clause gives a newly arrived resident of a state the same rights as a citizen of that state, and was enshrined in the Constitution during Reconstruction. "The original public understanding of the clause was that it would protect the ability of the newly-freed slaves—and all Americans—to travel pursuing their own free labor," states the brief.

In their lawyers' opinion, the Ketchums were not granted the same rights as long-term Tennessee residents when they arrived in the state. With its residency requirement, Tennessee is regulating not just the sale of alcohol products in the state but also "who can and cannot engage in economic activities."

Courtesy Total Wine & More Total Wine opened its Knoxville store after the law was struck down. The chain owns stores in 23 states.What does Granholm really mean?

Since the Granholm decision, two questions remain in dispute: Was the case about products or business interests? And did it apply only to producers or to retailers also?

In its amicus brief, the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that opposes monopolies, urges the court to overrule Granholm in order to "reestablish the states' full constitutional authority to structure markets in alcohol to advance public ends."

Other supporters of the petitioner believe Tennessee's law should stand regardless of Granholm."The court doesn't need to overturn Granholm to reach a decision here," said Spencer Nevins of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, which filed an amicus brief because of its involvement in other cases challenging Michigan laws. "Granholm made a very narrow exception to the 21st Amendment in that you cannot discriminate against out-of-state products or producers." Supporters of Tennessee's law claim that Granholm applies to products, not retailers or other business entities.

But Total Wine argues that products cannot be separated from the people and businesses that produce and sell them. The National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR), which supports retailer direct shipping, opines that nothing in Granholm says that retailers cannot enjoy the protections against discrimination that wineries now do. "If wineries [selling by direct shipping] are doing anything, it's retailing," said Tom Wark, executive director of NAWR.

The states and wholesalers repeatedly cite the majority ruling in Granholm's statement that the three-tier system is "unquestionably legitimate" (a quote from the 1990 North Dakota v. United States case). But while no party in this case believes the three-tier system should be done away with, Affluere Investments' brief argues, "Granholm's observation that the court had previously recognized the constitutional legitimacy of the three-tier system says nothing about whether every aspect of a state's implementation of that system will pass constitutional muster."

We the wine drinkers

Some opponents of Tennessee's law hope that if the Supreme Court strikes it down, it could also endanger other states' bans on out-of-state retailer direct shipping, which are currently being challenged in Illinois, Michigan and other states.

If the Supreme Court does issue a broad ruling on regulating retailers, the case could have a major impact on alcohol consumers nationwide. Lawyer Robert Epstein, who represented a plaintiff in the Granholm case, co-wrote an amicus brief called "81 Wine Consumers" with the aim of showing the court how its decision could impact them. "We wanted them to see that we as consumers have a stake in this as well," Epstein told Wine Spectator.

The NAWR and Epstein argue that laws like Tennessee's not only hinder retailers' ability to access markets, they also negatively affect consumer choice. "Wine availability is not a question of quantity—it is a matter of variety and selection," states the 81 Wine Consumers brief. "Wines are not interchangeable."

The consumers who attached their names to this brief (who all contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to finance it), live in 25 different states and are frustrated that they cannot buy the wines they want locally and are prohibited from buying them from out-of-state retailers. In many regional markets in the U.S., access to small-production wines or older vintages, for example, is very limited to nonexistent.

"The Internet has fulfilled the Founders' vision of a national economic union," declares the 81 Wine Consumers brief. But alcohol sales have not enjoyed such freedom across state lines because of its nature as an intoxicant and a desire for temperance and an orderly market. Whether or not this is a necessary or an outdated mode of thinking will be up to the highest court to decide. The justices will hear the arguments in Tennessee Retailers v. Blair on Jan. 16. A ruling is expected in the spring.

Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

Restaurant Talk: The Dynamic Duo Behind a San Francisco Classic (Wine Spectator)

January 11, 2019 - 10:00am

Nancy Oakes and John Lancaster sometimes finish each other’s sentences, they've worked side by side so long. The rare level of synergy between chef and wine director they've attained over two decades has helped keep Boulevard at the top of San Francisco’s dining scene.

Oakes grew up in Northern California and worked in several San Francisco kitchens before establishing her own place, L’Avenue, in 1988. That restaurant closed in 1993, but Oakes opened Boulevard the same year with business partner Pat Kuleto; the restaurant in the waterfront Embarcadero district quickly became a fine-dining go-to, and a quarter-century later reigns as a modern classic with its impeccable setting and finely tuned wine program. Oakes later opened another Best of Award of Excellence winner in San Francisco, Prospect.

Lancaster has been the wine director at Boulevard since 1996 and has elevated the wine program to keep pace with Oakes' cuisine over the years. Today, Boulevard offers 825 selections, with an emphasis on regions such as California, Burgundy and the Rhône, and keeps a rotation of 30-plus wines by the glass.

The time-tested team spoke with assistant editor Julie Harans about tasting life-changing Château d'Yquem, "bending" dish preparations to pair with wine, and how to balance meeting expectations without getting "bored."

Wine Spectator: What initially sparked your interest in wine?
Nancy Oakes: I think it was traveling. In the early ‘80s I went to France, and it’s just naturally how it occurs there, and I think I loved it. Wine hadn’t really been a part of my past because my parents were not particularly wine drinkers; in fact, I wasn’t much of a drinker at all. So the first golden moment—I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant—but it’s where I had a tasting of all different goose preparations paired with Château d'Yquem. I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since that. That changed me forever.

WS: How do you work together to create wine pairings that complement the cuisine, and vice versa?
NO: I tend to like wine-friendly food, because if I sit down for a special occasion, I’m thinking wine, and I’m thinking the wines I love to drink. So I think it’s just very enmeshed, it’s synchronized. When people ask me to do a course and a dinner that has fabulous wines, and the wine is really the big focal point of that dinner, I put the wine first. It is easier for me to bend the food. You can’t bend the wine; it’s in the bottle.
John Lancaster: And I think that kind of thing just comes naturally to Nancy. We’ve written so many menus together that it’s just nature for Nancy, the way she can work a dish to fit the wine. We endlessly change and evolve, so that makes it fun for us and it makes it interesting. I always wonder when I go back to a restaurant 10 years later and all the dishes are the same. I think, “God, how are you not bored with that?”

WS: What does that collaboration look like on a day-to-day basis?
JL: We do tastings together, and we’ve worked together so long that I think we finish each other’s sentences at times. It’s kind of a natural thing, and certainly I do have a lot of conversations with the kitchen on new dishes and things. We work five days a week together, so we’re around each other quite a bit … Every time there’s a new dish on the menu, Nancy makes it for lineup, and we all try it and talk about it.
NO: I tried to say we’ve worked together for 18 years the other weekend and John corrected me—it’s more like 20 years. He’s my first go-to when I set off to do something paired with a wine. I come to him and I say, “This is what I’m thinking,” and he’ll either go, “Yes, yes, yes,” or “Oh, no, that’s not going to work.” He’s a great resource for me. I think mostly because my training is French and Italian, it makes it automatically wine-friendly. But some of the younger people, like my chef de cuisine, [are] very strong in Asian ingredients, and I think that’s more of a challenge, wine-wise.

WS: How has Boulevard evolved since opening?
NO: Some of the basic proteins we’ve always had on the menu, but if the basic menu item—like the pork chop—is the little black dress, what I really love are the accessories. So that’s what’s always evolving. But what’s interesting is that now, for children of our original customers, this is their special-occasion place, and they bring their children. This restaurant has such a stated look that it feels familiar and there’s a touchstone, but actually it has been changing beneath their feet, and they’ve changed also.

There’s so much food media that everyone’s exposed to, they’re expecting to see those new ingredients and new styles. But yet, the way the restaurant feels and looks is the same, which I think sets a tradition, which is hard to find now—a tradition.

WS: And how has the wine list evolved?
JL: Well, just in more depth and scope ... Way back in the day it was a lot smaller, a lot less inventory, a lot more California-driven, and now we’ve got a little bit of everything from everywhere. I look at what we did 15 or 20 years ago compared to what we do now and I go, “Wow.”

WS: What’s the secret to Boulevard’s longevity?
NO: At the end of the day, it’s about hospitality. Recognition of your guests, quality of service and quality of the product, and knowing the people in your dining room. If I go to a place four times and they look at me like I’m a complete stranger, I’m probably going to cross it off my list. I think everybody’s really involved in the new thing, but I think that there is some comfort in familiarity.

Want to stay up on the latest news and incisive features about the world's best restaurants for wine? Sign up now for our free Private Guide to Dining e-mail newsletter, delivered every other week. Plus, follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and Instagram at @WSRestaurantAwards.

'Game of Thrones' Dornish Wine Brought to Real Life by St.-Emilion Vintner (Wine Spectator)

January 10, 2019 - 2:00pm

The end is coming: The final season of everyone's favorite medieval-fantasy-gorefest-drama debuts on HBO this April, and we're not quite prepared to say goodbye to all the incredible wine references made throughout the show (we'll always have Tyrion Lannister's immortal credo "I drink and I know things"). But one winery in Bordeaux has come up with a way for wine-loving superfans to give a proper sendoff to the beloved series: a taste of a real-life version of that fantastic Dornish wine all those Westerosi enophiles, Tyrion in particular, have been rav(en)ing about for the past seven seasons.

Vigneron Thibault Bardet of Vignobles Bardet, across the Narrow Sea over in St.-Emilion, got the idea to research how wine from Dorne would actually taste based on how it has been described in the GoT books and series, as well as how the climate of the arid southernmost region of Westeros is portrayed.

"The project began after watching an episode of Game of Thrones with a friend," Bardet told Unfiltered. "We thought that it may be very interesting to have the possibility to drink the wine from Dorne. Sadly, after some research, I discovered that there wasn’t a wine like that. So I decided to make my own." (His libation is not to be confused with HBO's branded GoT merch wine.)

Rarely an episode goes by that we don't see a noble character holding a goblet of wine aloft as they make covert alliances or order death sentences, so we know the juice is likely quite good. Still, "in the TV show, they don’t speak a lot about the Dornish wine taste, but in the book, there are so many descriptions about it," Bardet said. "After reading all [of the books], I had more than 40 pages of wine information. The main information was: fruity, powerful but easy to drink, and [with] intense dark color."

For Thibault and his father, Philippe, that description had Merlot written all over it. Once they had their grape, they knew they would need to source it from vines in sandy soils, to mimic the terrain of the fictional peninsula that is Dorne; a warm, dry summer in Bordeaux in 2016 gave them appropriately Dornish weather.

The result is not one but two cuvées made in the Dornish style: Dornish Wine Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Red 2016 and The Imp's Delight St.-Emilion Red 2016. The latter—named after the wine Tyrion hopes to one day make when he retires from the spotlight and purchases his own vineyard—is vinted without sulfites, which Thibault thinks is probably how Dornish wine would have been made in those mythical days.

And while Westerosis (and Wine Spectators) typically prefer wine, those seeking the harder stuff might enjoy a new collection from HBO and Diageo of eight single-malt Scotch whiskies, each one corresponding with a major royal house in the GoT universe—the Lagavulin 9 Year Old House Lannister, the Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost House Stark, and so on. "Valar dohaeris," as they say—"all must serve."

HBO / Diageo A Scotch of fire and ice Nail Salon Puts Tiny Champagne Flutes, Vodka Bottles at/on Your Fingertips

Russia-based nail-salon chain Nail Sunny wants to help you to keep your favorite glass of bubbly on hand at all times—literally. That’s the idea behind one of the salon’s new nail-art concepts: Mini acrylic-like molds of Champagne, vodka and brandy bottles (plus a mimosa pitcher) are sculpted and decorated, sealed to nails on one hand, then filled with actual alcohol using a small syringe. The party really gets out of hand—again, literally, of course—when the wearer "pours" the bottles' contents into the molds perched atop their other hand, of tiny Champagne flutes and cocktail glasses.

Instagram / @nail_sunny Pair with knuckle sandwiches.

From the looks of Nail Sunny’s Instagram account, the whimsical manicurists previously topped nails with baby bottles, flower corsages, chess pieces, lightbulbs, bottle openers and hand tools (once more, literally): functional fingertip Phillips-head and slotted screwdriver bits. Unfiltered is now headed to Moscow to get a set of corkscrews on one hand, and on the other, a foil cutter, Port tongs (two fingers), Champagne saber and Coravin.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Nail Sunny (@nail_sunny) on Dec 29, 2018 at 10:17am PST

Scots Call for House of Lords to be Disgorged Over Champagne Habits

Britons deploy the euphemism "tired and emotional" to describe one's state after imbibing, say, a mite too much Champagne. And Parliament's House of Lords has been getting frequently tired and emotional on a not-insignificant amount of Pol Roger, according to figures obtained by the Scottish National Party. This while the Scots are getting very (literally) tired and emotional at all the antics of their neighbors south of the wall in the lead-up to their Brexit bugbear.

This latest hurly-burly began when the SNP discovered that the House of Lords' mostly private watering holes in Parliament served 679 bottles of Champagne and Prosecco in the 2017-18 session, at what the SNP characterizes as discounted prices, subsidized by taxpayers who rarely have access to the members' wine and dining venues. The subjects of the Crown pay about $1.5 million in taxes annually that goes toward catering and other Parli parties, including $894,000 on the Lords' dining room.

“The House of Lords is a democratic disgrace—with party donors and cronies given a say on our laws without the chance for voters to kick them out," Member of the Scottish Parliament Bill Kidd told the National ("the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland," it should be noted). “It’ll stick in the craw of voters to hear that these unelected Lords are guzzling Champagne and Prosecco while others are struggling."

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.

Perfect Match Recipe: Meat, Leek and Potato Casserole with Riesling (Wine Spectator)

January 10, 2019 - 2:00pm

“All the crazy techniques of doing something with nothing come from very poor people,” chef Gabriel Kreuther reflects. His case in point is baeckeoffe (“baker’s oven”), the traditional meat-and-potatoes casserole he grew up eating in Alsace.

The story goes that, once upon a time, Alsatian village women would marinate pork, beef and lamb in white wine the day before laundry day. The next morning, they’d throw the meat and its marinade into a lidded terrine along with potatoes, onions and spices, sealing the pot with a ribbon of dough to ensure that no steam could escape. En route to the washbasin, they’d drop off their dishes with the village baker, whose massive stone oven would by then be cooling slowly after the morning bake. The baker would set the pots inside.

Over the course of the day, the oven’s residual warmth would melt the meat to buttery tenderness, simmer the sliced onion into sweet, translucent threads of gold, and release the potatoes’ starch to thicken the broth. Come evening, each woman would pick up her hot casserole and bring it home for dinner. The dough seal, once broken at the dinner table, would shatter into bolts of crunchy crust—perfect for soaking up the steaming broth.

Today, of course, this all sounds terribly quaint. What would these women have given for an Instant Pot, or even a standard-issue home oven? (To say nothing of takeout menus, or a partner whom they could reasonably expect to perform a share of the domestic work.)

Nonetheless, the origin story of baeckeoffe suggests that multitasking is nothing new. Certainly today, a dinner that more or less cooks itself while you tend to other parts of life has not lost its appeal.

Kreuther is quick to note that, paradoxically, one of the most traditional aspects of the dish is that it varies from kitchen to kitchen. “Every single town, every single village has a slightly different way of doing it,” he explains. “Some places will say, ‘Oh, you’re putting carrots in? I’m not [putting] carrots in mine.’”

In your own kitchen, feel free to tweak the recipe to suit. You might swap out some of the pork shoulder for thick-cut bacon, Kreuther suggests, or use a single type of meat rather than three.

Given that it’s so variable, what makes for a successful baeckeoffe? “It’s good potatoes, the seasoning and a good dry wine,” he says. Many recipes call for a splash or two of vino; here, you’ll need a bottle and a half. In that quantity, the wine’s quality will be apparent. “At the end of the day, I’m not saying you should use a $600 bottle of wine for cooking, but if you buy a $3 bottle of wine, if the cork already costs $1.75, what’s the wine worth?” he implores. So spring for something decent. “And if you really want to extend the whole thing to perfection,” he adds, “then you should just use the same wine as you [plan to] drink.”

Aim to be equally discerning in your choice of potato. “For this, you should use a potato that, when it’s fully cooked, doesn’t finish up in mush,” Kreuther says. He also suggests seeking out a variety whose color leans more yellow than white. “The whiter it is, the more starchy it gets.” Waxy—i.e., not starchy—potatoes such as German Butterball hold up the best, but middle-of-the-road, lightly starchy Yukon Golds are a great choice, because while they’re sturdy enough not to break down in liquid, the little bit of starch helps thicken the broth. By not washing the potatoes after they’re sliced, “you preserve the starch from the potato, so when everything cooks together, the wine gets slurpy, almost soupy.”

Though it may seem precious, “The [dough] seal is actually important, because when it’s not sealed at all, the risk that you’re having, depending on what kind of pot you’re using, is that all the vapor goes away and your dish is dry,” Kreuther explains. The dough is a quick mixture of flour and water, but if you’d rather not go there, he notes, you can buy packages of frozen puff pastry and use those instead. Aside from keeping the moisture in, the crust makes for a dramatic presentation as you open the dish and it shatters apart—and it’s great for dunking. But if you choose to forgo the seal entirely, be sure to use a good quality pot with a very tight, heavy lid, and resist the urge to check on the casserole before time’s up, lest you release all that nice steam.

At home, Kreuther garnishes his baeckeoffe with fresh chives and serves it alongside a salad of Bibb lettuce with Dijon vinaigrette. He occasionally cooks versions of it at his self-named New York fine-dining temple, a winner of Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. One such treatment showcases a high-low mix of black truffles and beans in a mason jar. But he loves his home-style version too. It ain’t fancy, he concedes, but so much the better: “That simple thing is what makes people happy.”

Pairing Tip: Why Riesling Works with This Dish[videoPlayerTag videoId="5986830790001"]

Visit our YouTube channel to watch a version of this Perfect Match video with closed captions.

For more tips on how to approach pairing this dish with wine, recommended bottlings and notes on chef Gabriel Kreuther’s inspiration, read the companion article, "Baeckeoffe With Riesling," in the Jan. 31–Feb. 28, 2019, issue, via our online archives or by ordering a digital edition (Zinio or Google Play) or a back issue of the print magazine. For even more wine pairing options, WineSpectator.com members can find other Alsatian Rieslings or German Silvaners in our Wine Ratings Search.

Baeckeoffe

For the casserole

  • 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound boneless beef chuck-eye, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 small to medium yellow onions
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • Whites of 2 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and chopped 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 parsley branches
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 bottles dry white wine, such as Alsatian Sylvaner or Riesling
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 marjoram branch
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

For the dough seal (optional)

  • 1/2 pound all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Poppy seeds
  • Salt

1. Season the meat with salt and pepper and place it in a very large plastic or glass container. Slice 1 onion 1/8-inch thick. Add the carrot, leek and sliced onion, followed by the thyme, bay leaf, parsley and cloves. Pour the wine over. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Preheat the oven to 300 F with a rack in the bottom-third position. Butter the bottom and sides of a large Dutch oven. Peel the potatoes and slice them 1/8-inch thick. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

3. Slice the remaining onions 1/8-inch thick. Remove the meat and vegetables from the refrigerator. Set a colander with a bowl underneath and strain the solids, reserving the liquid. Separate the meat from the vegetables and set the meat aside. Add the vegetables to the potatoes, followed by the garlic, remaining onions, marjoram and coriander, and stir to combine. Discard the parsley.

4. Spread half the vegetable mixture evenly on the bottom of the pot. Next, add all of the meat. Spread the rest of the vegetable mixture evenly on top, pressing down gently. Pour the reserved marinade over so that it is almost level with the top of the ingredients. If necessary, add a bit of water or chicken stock. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.

5. Optional: To make the dough seal, in a small bowl, combine the flour with 1/2 cup water, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to a floured surface and knead briefly. Roll into a rope long enough to tightly encircle the pot. (Alternatively, thaw frozen puff pastry and form it into a roll in the same way.) Brush egg wash onto the rim where the pot and the lid meet, then press the dough into the egg wash to seal the pot. Brush the dough seal with more egg wash and, if desired, sprinkle with salt and poppy seeds.

5. Place the pot in the oven and bake for about 4 hours. Let rest 10 minutes. Discard bay leaves and marjoram. Serve family-style, garnished with chives. If you made the dough seal, serve pieces of the baked crust alongside. Serves 8 to 10.