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Best of Unfiltered 2017

From Barack Obama to big boats, José Andrés to J-Law, the world of wine collided with pop culture in 2017; here are your favorite Unfiltered scoops of 2017
Photo by: Omaze
In these tumultuous times, Jennifer Lawrence's simple yet inspiring message made sense.

Posted: December 28, 2017

In our weekly celebration of the wild, weird and wonderful news in wine, the Unfiltered column kept readers up to date on the latest all-important developments in booze-loving koalas and 40 oz. rosé—but also found A-listers stepping up for wine-country wildfire charities and ladling out food in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

This year, Unfiltered readers were particularly tickled to see that world leaders are just like us (in their wine habits), from the blind-tasting heroics of French now-president Emmanuel Macron to the gastronomic adventures of American once-president Barack Obama (with Canada's Justin Trudeau making an appearance as well). The Hollywood set came through with their usual antics: Wine inspired endeavors from Eleanor Coppola's directorial debut in Paris Can Wait to Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay's curious choice of a suitor. But most of all, in this crazy, mixed-up year, Unfiltered readers were drawn to the most formidable, elemental forces: of protest, of war and of Jennifer Lawrence.

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10. José Andrés Cooks Up Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Champions for Masters Maestro Sergio García

Taste of the Master Chefs
Hungry for the win (L to R): José Andrés, chef Rich Rosendale of Roots 657, Masters champ Sergio García and García's fiancée Angela Akins.

Last week at the 81st Masters Tournament, Spanish golfer Sergio García finally won his first major title after two decades of near-misses, earning him Augusta's coveted green jacket and a lifetime of bragging rights. But Unfiltered is most envious of a less official prize: García's week spent with el jefe of Spanish-American cuisine and García family friend José Andrés. The affable chef behind 16 Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners, from his original Jaleo to culinary funhouse Minibar, stayed with the García family during Masters week in Augusta. The chef made himself a useful guest, cooking up Spanish specialties for Sergio and crew when they weren't on the links, even teaming with Garcia's longtime caddie, Glen Murray, to make paella for the bunch. When García sunk the final putt, Andrés jumped in as a translator for the champion's father, Victor. "It was like a little kid, seeing the expression of joy on his face," Andrés told Unfiltered, calling it "a dream" to see his friend don the green jacket. Then, they celebrated the Unfiltered way: with copious amounts of wine. "We got our hands on anything available and we finished it," Andrés said, probably not joking. "We celebrated with a lot of Champagne."

Par for the course for the altruism-minded toque, Andrés also stepped up as chair of the first-ever Taste of the Master Chefs charity dinner, where talents like Hugo Ortega of Caracol, Steve DiFillippo of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse and E.J. Hodgkinson of King + Duke cooked up their finest for golf greats to raise money for the Augusta chapter of the Salvation Army. Andrés is already making return plans: Next year, García will be in charge of the Masters Champions Dinner menu, and Andrés hopes once again to lend a hand. "We'll see what Sergio wants to eat and serve; it will probably be Spanish. It's a club with great traditions, I understand that, and hopefully they will let me help advise the menu." Slow (golf) clap all around. Posted April 13.

9. French Protesters Dump More Spanish Wine

Courtesy of Jeunes Agriculteurs
Thousands of liters of Spanish wine were destroyed last week in France.

In the early hours of Jan. 17, several dozen young vignerons and their supporters descended upon Prodis, a wine subsidiary of Carrefour, at their site in Nîmes, France, hoping to catch tanker trucks carrying Spanish wine. They had spied on the site for weeks, and knew the big buyer of bulk wine purchased cheap Spanish wine. But that morning, the activists came up dry. “There weren’t any trucks carrying Spanish wine—maybe they were forewarned, maybe it was a coincidence,” Anais Amalric, co-president of Jeunes Agriculteurs of the Gard region, told Unfiltered.

The activists then drove 30 minutes south to the toll booth at Gallargues-le-Montueux on the A9 autoroute, circling tanker trucks, demanding to see the bills of lading. “We made sure they understood we would not hurt them or their truck,” said Amalric. One French truck driver, employed by a French négociant and who Amalric described as "polite," was found to have picked up Spanish wine in the port town of Sète, with orders to deliver it to Saone et Loire to be used for the production of flavored wine. The activists emptied the tanker on the spot.

In a separate action a few hours earlier, the shadowy militant vintners group now known as Comité d’Action Viticole (CAV) emptied the contents of a tank truck carrying Spanish wine while it was parked in the lot of a shopping center in Narbonne. The malefactors spray-painted the initials "CAV" on the truck.

Last year, irate French vintners, claiming that inferior Spanish bulk wines are diluting the market in France, emptied five tankers of Spanish wine. While French prosecutors have gone after CAV in the past—the organization's actions have included kidnapping, vandalism and bombing—it’s unclear whether the Jeunes Agriculteurs activists will be prosecuted. “We’re waiting for the phone to ring,” admitted Amalric. On Wednesday, French Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll “firmly condemned the abuses against tanker trucks carrying Spanish wine in the Aude and the Gard,” calling for “appeasement and dialogue." Posted Jan. 19.

8. Ultimate Test for French Presidency: Candidate Emmanuel Macron's Blind-Tasting Challenge

Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images
Smells like ... victory?

With the topsy-turvy French presidential race swirling into its final weeks, candidate Emmanuel Macron headed to Bordeaux late last month to talk policy and personal preference regarding the country's most beloved beverage. But Macron would also attempt to prove, in his chat with wine multimedia outlet Terre de Vins, he's got one of the most important qualifications the French look for in a leader (Unfiltered assumes): the ability to identify wine in a blind tasting.

"I adopt the philosophy that [red wine] is an antioxidant," said Macron, explaining that he would ideally have "at least one [glass] at noon and one in the evening" if he were at the Elysées (the French White House). While he's partial to Bordeaux, Macron mentioned having discovered gems from the Southwest, Corsica and Bandol in Provence, clearly appealing to the hipster Millennial demographic (Macron himself is just 39).

The former Minister of the Economy also got more serious on wine policy. Among important issues facing the wine industry, Macron pinpointed the need to fight against pesticides—through both organics and innovation—and loosen the strictures of the controversial Evin law, which prohibits on-screen alcohol advertisements.

The folks at Terre de Vins did not let Macron go before testing his blind-tasting chops as well, however. After some brow furrowing, Macron showed admirable insight on the white and rosé wines, correctly nailing Bordeaux blanc (from Château Lauduc) and Côteaux d'Aix en Provence (from Château Vignelaure). But he made a slight misstep late in the race, misidentifying a 2005 Château Pape-Clément (from Pessac-Léognan in the Graves) as a Pauillac. Good effort, but will voters see it as merely une gaffe or un scandale? Posted March 9.

7. A Tempranillo Tango for the 'Bachelorette' in Rioja

Rachel might be developing a crush—but is Peter treading too lightly?

It has been a dry five years for Bachelor Wine Nation since Courtney stole winemaker-bachelor Ben F. (known off-screen as Envolve Winery's Ben Flajnik) away from us. So Unfiltered had reason to rejoice when, midway through Monday's episode of The Bachelorette, star Rachel Lindsay whisked her three final suitors—Eric, Peter and Bryan—off to romantic Rioja, Spain! (We know it's romantic, because the cast pronounces Rioja “romantic” no fewer than five times in the span of 15 minutes.)

The rest of the episode is a veritable fiesta of vino y amor: First, our girl and happy-go-lucky personal trainer Eric take in the region’s vineyard vistas via helicopter. “It’s like wine country on steroids,” Rachel muses, while Eric proclaims Rioja “the most romantic place I've ever been in my whole life.”

Then came Unfiltered’s favorite scene of the night: tasting time in the old caves at the Eguren Ugarte winery. Rach and eligible “business owner”* Peter (*also a personal trainer) get serenaded with a Spanish love song by Eguren’s charismatic owner, Vitorino Eguren, taste through some reds—rated “so good” by Rachel—and are given a key to their very own “Raquel y Pedro” wine locker.

Peter selects a bottle of what Vitorino told Unfiltered is his estate’s signature Tempranillo "Cincuenta" bottling, and the pair enjoy a glass outside in the sun. And then a final stop at the most romantic part of the winery: That would be the crushpad, obviamente, where Raquel y Pedro perform the delicate dance of grape stomping.

The cliffhanger episode doesn’t even get to chiropractor Bryan’s date—Unfiltered has learned the Aug. 7 finale was filmed at Bodegas Ontañon and Viñedos del Contino—but if we had a rose to give, it would definitely go to Vitorino. “It was a pleasure being chosen for this date!” the singing vintner told us. “I am honored.” Posted July 27.

6. Eleanor Coppola Dishes on 'Paris Can Wait' Wine Inspiration

Eric Caro, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Alec Baldwin brings the heat ... and the strawberry basket.

"There's so many films out there that cover such dark subjects that I just wanted a film that you can go in to enjoy, and you come out hungry and wanting a nice glass of wine." OK, you've got our attention, Ms. Coppola.

Paris Can Wait is the first narrative feature from award-winning documentarian, Hollywood dynasty matriarch and wine muse Eleanor Coppola. Loosely based on a Frenchman-guided journey to Paris that Coppola herself once took, the film depicts Anne (Diane Lane), agreeing to join the dashing Jacques (Arnaud Viard) on a quick road trip from Cannes to Paris when her big-shot movie mogul husband, played by Alec Baldwin, derails their plans for a romantic getaway. But while Lane's Anne expects to be in Paris by nightfall, Jacques has other plans. What ensues is a two-day adventure, as the mismatched pair eats, drinks and flirts their way through Provence and Burgundy to get to the city of lights.

Aside from coy smiles and arched brows, the film keeps it pretty chaste, for a French flick, but the bounty of art, landscape and #foodporn imagery will certainly leave foodies and Francophiles panting. "I really wanted to show the different aspects of French food, paired with the wines of the regions," Coppola told Unfiltered. She consulted with Maria Helm Sinskey, culinary director at Napa's Robert Sinskey Vineyards, to put together pairings for the on-screen pair, like carré d'agneau (rack of lamb) with Côte-Rôtie reds, red mullet with Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex, and prosciutto and melon with various Châteauneuf-du-Papes. Wine lovers' ears will perk when, in a sudden rush of rare non-amorous passion, poor Jacques reveals his true wine-geekiness to Anne, only to be shut down by her boredom. Even Coppola admits, "I had to cut way back on the esoteric facts he knew about the soil that grew the grapes. I was afraid that the audience would get too crazy bored with it." Mais non! Posted May 25.

5. Barack Obama Takes Ferrari Italian Fizz for a Spin

Ferrari Trento Archive
Party like it's 2009?

After a few months of post-White House hibernation, President Barack Obama made his first international appearance as POTUS emeritus for a most Unfiltered-approved purpose: to talk and taste food and wine. Obama, an ardent sustainable agriculture advocate, traveled to Milan earlier this month to deliver the keynote address at the Seeds & Chips Global Food Innovation Summit. But before the big speech, the known wine aficionado indulged in an evening of ex-world leader merrymaking with former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi at the historic Palazzo Clerici. Dinner guests toasted with bottles of Ferrari Trentodoc bubbly, paired with dishes from acclaimed restaurant Da Vittorio.

"Very delicious," was 44's personal review of the bubbly to Ferrari president Matteo Lunelli when the two met the following day. Lunelli was over the moon about the presidential seal of approval. "He's a person we admire a lot, so it was a great honor to meet him and get this very nice comment from him," Lunelli told Unfiltered. Perhaps angling to gain a new regular customer, "we also mentioned to him something that we are very proud [of], that all Ferrari estate vineyards are certified organic." According to Lunelli, eco-conscientiousness is part of why Ferrari was tapped for a special place at the table. "People talked a lot on the theme of sustainability, and sustainability is something that we care a lot about." Posted May 18.

4. A Priorat Wine 'Rockumentary'

Much of the action was filmed in front of a ... green screen.

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

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

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

But not long after their first vintage, 1989, hits the market, things change fast, as the winemakers court international buyers with unabashedly bold, rich reds that '90s collectors craved. "Why did Priorat become famous? I think because partly it was the communication, the story, this unknown group of people colonizing an ancient region: That was romantic … And so the story plus the quality—boom!" That's none other than Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, who appears throughout the film (our offices circa 1997 also make a cameo). "We'd gone straight from Woodstock to La Scala in Milan," says winemaker Daphne Glorian. No longer scrappy, they'd brought the region back from the brink. Posted June 1.

3. French Vandals Smash More Wineries, Must Be a Day Ending in 'I'

After last month's sans-vandalism protest by winemakers in southern France, a rather blasé affair, Unfiltered feared the days of peaceful-protest crashing and wine tank–emptying were over. Had the wine vandals of yore simply achieved their goal of ridding France of Spanish wine? Nope, and turns out it wouldn't have mattered anyway!

In the past week and change, the Comité d'Action Viticole (CAV) struck two wineries in the Aude and the Hérault, in the Languedoc-Roussillon viticultural region. The anonymous group of vintner-militants has become notorious in recent years for vandalizing properties to protest the importation of Spanish table wine which, they claim, undercuts French juice in the market. They target bulk wineries that store and sell wine of Spanish origin.

Approximately 5,000 hectoliters of wine was spilled at Lalande Galetis on the night of June 7 and another 2,000 poured out at Domaine du Mas du Pont on Tuesday; in both attacks, masked individuals hacked into the wineries' vats with a mace (ouch!). The group claimed the attacks by spray-painting the messages "here Spanish wine" and "stop imports," along with "CAV," on walls.

But what these so-called men d'action viticole possess in reactionary bravado they seem to lack in wine-identifying skills: Most of the wine they spilled was French, not Spanish. "It's really a gratuitous act of barbarity," said Nicolas Vellas of Domaine Mas du Pont, according to Midi Libre. His vats were clearly labeled, he claimed, and the protesters should have known what they were destroying. "It's a pity," said Pierre Degroote of Lalande Galetis about his lost Languedoc wine, as reported in L'Independant. Only 2 percent of his production is Spanish wine, which he sells to China, he said. Unfiltered is starting to think maybe these CAV guys aren't the purely principled warriors for economic justice we thought we knew! Posted June 15.

2. $300 Million Warship Christened with $8 Wine

Lockheed Martin Photo
They might have given the U.S.S. Billings a little too much wine.

Is there a more American wine tradition than smashing a bottle of bubbly, preferably across the bow of a 3,900-ton, 389-foot-long floating hulk of steel and ammo that will strike fear in the hearts of all enemies of freedom? On July 1, the United States Navy welcomed its newest combat ship to American waters at a shipyard in Wisconsin. In keeping with centuries of tradition, the ship was christened with a bottle of wine. But as befits a vessel of the newest and arguably hippest class of ship in the Navy, the U.S.S. Billings was served not with fusty old Cali Cab, but a much more #grammable pop.

“For the United States of America, I christen thee 'Billings.' May God bless this ship, and all who sail in her,” intoned Sharla Tester, the ship's sponsor and wife of Montana Sen. Jon Tester. And with that, Tester welcomed the Billings to the fleet with a thwack across the hull—from a bottle of Barefoot Bubbly Moscato. Off the docks into the water the boat slid, with a colossal splash and a military band striking up the rousing chords of Moscato aficionado Drake's "Hotline Bling" "Anchors Aweigh."

Lockheed Martin Photo
Is christening the new sabering?

Because it’s considered bad luck to require multiple attempts before shatter is achieved, Tester actually practiced her swing, both against her tractor and with a wooden replica bottle. And John Torrisi of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the company that built the ship, told Unfiltered via email that Barefoot was hardly a last-minute supermarket pick-up. "We settled on using the Barefoot sparkling wine after doing a study using various Champagne brands and bottle types. In the end, we chose the one that broke most consistently when scored. For whatever reason, the Barefoot bottle breaks in all climates from 10° below to 100° F and always produces a consistent splash for photography/videography."

As it turns out, bottles for christening have always been on-trend: The Navy typically uses wine, but Madeira, brandy and whiskey have all been smashed, plus grape juice and even plain old water during Prohibition ("Great, more water"—a boat). Unfiltered expects to see the near-future U.S.S. Lower East Side get its patriotic launch with a 40-ounce bottle of frosé. Posted July 6.

1. Thirst Games: Jennifer Lawrence Guesses Wine vs. Movie Reviews, Seeks Drinking Buddy

A page from the Red Winings Playbook.

Jennifer Lawrence is looking for a costar in her upcoming wine-country vacation. As part of a charity fund-raising campaign, the Hollywood leading lady—of Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle fame—is offering fans a chance to join her on a trip to California vineland for a day of picnic lunching, lawn games among the vines and lots—and lots—of wine. "It'll be great," Lawrence says of the boozy bonanza in a promo video. "We'll hang out, we'll drink some wine, talk politics, drink wine, maybe we'll call your ex, maybe we'll call my ex. Who knows?"

To prove her chops as a knowledgeable wine-tasting companion, the Oscar winner plays a game of "Wine Review or Movie Review." Can J-Law guess whether "full-bodied, strongly grounded, simply sensational" refers to a fine vintage of Domaine Leroy—or is it a cringe-worthy comment on her, uh, talents?

Lawrence's charity of choice is Represent.Us, an anti-political corruption organization that's close to her heart, right up there with a good Cabernet (though which winery's Cabernet she'll be tasting is still under wraps). The competition is hosted by the fund-raising site Omaze, and every $10 donated buys 100 entries in the J-Lawttery. May the odds be ever in your favor. Posted Aug. 17.

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