Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Sideways author Rex Pickett releases Pinot Noir

It had to happen. Rex Pickett, author of the popular wine-themed novel Sideways, which inspired the Oscar winning movie of the same name featuring dynamic duo Miles and Jack – the former in love with Pinot and the latter looking to get his pinot serviced on one final road trip before he ties the knot, has released his first Pinot Noir onto the market.
Christened Ne Plus Ultra, meaning “the highest point of excellence” in Latin, the 2011 Pinot Noir hails from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. For Pickett, it could only ever have been Pinot – his protagonist Miles in Sideways is obsessed with the temperamental grape variety, waxing lyrical about its ethereal beauty throughout the book to the ever-patient object of his affection, Maya.
"When I decided to produce my own wine, I knew immediately it would be a Pinot Noir, the grape variety so rhapsodically celebrated in Sideways. I looked to the Willamette, home to some of the worlds finest Pinot, and the stage on which the misadventures of Miles and Jack continue my second book Vertical,” Pickett told Wine and the City.
The Pinot, a collaboration with Oregon winemakers Drew Voit and Darcy Pendergrass, is made from grapes grown at high altitude on Laurelwood soils at Twelve Oaks Estate Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Previously winemaker at Shea Wine Cellars, Voit now consults for a number of wineries in the Willamette Valley and is launching a custom winemaking operation for boutique wine brands. Pendergrass meanwhile, is the head winemaker for Amity Vineyards
Just 195 cases of the 2011 vintage were produced and are being sold through Quigley Fine Wines at $45 a bottle. Pickett is currently working on a third novel in the Sideways series, to be set in Chile. “Events will conspire to take Miles and Jack to Chile. It will be a journey and wine will play a part, but I don’t know what that journey is yet,” Pickett admitted. In addition, he's also pushing director of the Sideways film Alexander Payne for a sequel based on his second novel Vertical.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Ace of Spades launches $500k ‘Dynastie’ collection

If you’re jaded with Jeroboams and bored of Balthazars, fear not – Jay-Z’s favourite fizz, Armand de Brignac, better known as Ace of Spades, has taken the larger format bottle concept to a new level with Dynastie – a nine bottle collection running the gamut from the standard 75cl to the behemoth that is the 30L Midas.
But you’ll need some serious cash to be able to pop all nine corks from this boutique Champagne house, as the collection is making its debut this week at recently opened restaurant-cum-nightclub Hakkasan Las Vegas (where Calvin Harris has a regular DJ slot) at the MGM Grand Hotel for a whopping $500k.
Dynastie is formed of nine bottles of Armand de Brignac Brut Gold NV, including three new bottle sizes – the 4.5L Rehoboam, the 9L Salmanazar and the 12L Balthazar, which go on general sale on 1 June. A 1.5L Magnum, 3L Jeroboam, 6L Methuselah and 15L Nebuchadnezzar will also make an appearance in the Dynastie fleet.
Party time - Jay-Z will surely be snapping up the Armand de Brignac Dynastie
The über bling range makes its European debut at the Billionaire Club in Monaco on 24 May ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix on 26 May, with a list price of €300k.When ordered, save for the Midas, which will be carried by hand, the remaining eight bottles will be presented to their buyer in gold plated, bath-shaped, Armand de Brignac branded ice buckets – natch.
“Dynastie is an unparalleled concept in the Champagne industry, and the same can be said about Hakkasan Las Vegas for global nightlife. We’re only able to make very few large formats, especially our 30L Midas, so production of the Armand de Brignac Dynastie will be highly limited,” Armand de Brignac’s global director of brand communications told Yvonne Lardner Wine and the City.

She also hinted that plans are afoot for an Armand de Brignac Rosé Midas. A small number of Brut Gold Midas’ were made for the global market last year and were sold on a first come first served basis. Armand de Brignac is made by Champagne Cattier and distributed in the US by Sovereign Brands. Champagne Cattier celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa

The Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa cuts a swath through the Place de la Comédie in the heart of the city’s historic Golden Triangle. Its eighteenth century neoclassical façade is watched over by statues of Juno, Venus and Minerva, which line the roof of the Grand Théâtre opposite. The two buildings share an architect – Victor Louis, after which the bar at the Grand takes its name, or at least shares it with French author Victor Hugo.
Having been refurbished in 2007 by Parisian designer Jacques Garcia, the Grand is helping to put Bordeaux on the map as a tourist destination in addition to its status as a second home for the UK wine trade. Behind the façade, the Grand has much to offer – Michelin-starred restaurant Le Pressoir d’Argent is one of only five restaurants worldwide to use a lobster press. Not for the faint hearted, Brittany blue lobsters are presented alive to guests then fried in the kitchen and finished in the dining room, where the legs and coral are pressed to make the sauce.
A delux room at the Grand
If you need to recover from the trauma of seeing your dinner alive before eating it, the hotel’s Bains de Léa spa offers “gourmet fruit scrubs”, “Kashmir” massages and hydrotherapy, while a rooftop jacuzzi affords delicious views across the city. Rooms are empirical in style, prettified with toile wallpaper in regal purple, pastel coloured period furniture, ornate fabric headboards, sumptuous tassel tied curtains and opulent marble bathrooms.
For wine lovers keen to take advantage of the myriad of châteaux dotted throughout the city, the Grand’s wine consierge service – the first of its kind in Europe, has launched a Wine Journey series, allowing guests enviable access to some of the most prestigious châteaux in the region, from Pichon Baron on the Left Bank to Cheval Blanc on the Right. Three voyages are on offer: the “classic car”, the “Jefferson” and the “Hemingway”.
Classic cars outside Château Pichon Baron
On the classic car tour, guests can hop into a vintage car and head out into the vineyards, making pit stops at three of their chosen châteaux across the appellations of Margaux, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes, with the option of an al fresco lunch among the vines at one of the properties prepared by Michelin-starred chef Pascal Nibaudeau. The experience costs €1,140 and includes one night in a deluxe room.
In honour of wine loving American President Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson excursion retraces the president’s journey to Bordeaux in May 1787, from which he drafted his classification of Bordeaux 68 years prior to the official 1855 Classification. During the tour, guests can choose from a selection of châteaux Jefferson visited during his trip, including first growths Château Margaux and Haut-Brion and esteemed Sauternes estate Château d’Yquem. 
Ernest Hemingway enjoying a glass of red
In addition, Jefferson’s original tasting notes will be shared and guests are invited to meet the US consul in Bordeaux. The experience doesn’t come cheap – the tour costs  €2,170, but includes limousine transfers, two nights in a deluxe room and a dinner for two at the Le Pressoir d’Argent. And finally, one for the bibliophiles. While it’s well documented that El Papa loved a daiquiri or three, less is written about his love of fine wine. The Hemingway tour centres around the Margaux appellation, after which his granddaughter is named. 
Hemingway arrived in Bordeaux in 1818 via a ship called the Chicago. Charmed by the wines being made in the region, he noted that wine offers “a greater range for enjoyment than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing”. €2,200 will bag you a place on the tour, one night in a deluxe room and dinner for two at Le Pressoir d’Argent with a bottle of Château Margaux, though I’m guessing it won’t be the 1982.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Pandas threatened by Chinese vineyard expansion

While the flourishing Chinese wine market is good news for foreign investors keen to get in on a slice of the action, China’s endangered giant pandas are being put at risk by planned vineyard expansion in the Chinese provinces of Shaanxi and Sichuan.

As reported on, authorities in Shaanxi plan to plant 18,000 hectares of vineyards, and similar schemes are planned for Sichuan, putting the 1,600 wild giant pandas that inhabit the provinces at risk. And while the Chinese government has set up reserves for giant pandas, they don’t always keen inside them.

"Vineyards around a panda reserve can affect the animals. Pandas move outside of reserves, so the forest outside is an important habitat. If forest is cleared to plant grapes, there may be direct loss of panda habitat," climate change specialist Dr. Lee Hannah said, adding, “If grapes are grown on land used for grazing, livestock may be displaced into panda habitats.”  
Winemakers from France, Spain, Australia and the US are showing increasing interest in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu as a spot for grape growing. Meanwhile, the prefectures of Liangshan, Aba and Ganzi, all of which are recognised as natural habitats for giant pandas, have also been earmarked for future planting.

Aba plans to expand its vineyards six-fold to more than 6,600 hectares by 2020 and convert more than 40,000 Tibetan farmers into vineyard workers. "We will turn Aba into the Bordeaux of China," the Aba government said online. In Liangshan, a government employee said that the creation of vineyards was at the top of their agricultural agenda, and that they had signed contracts with overseas investors.

Despite the risk to the endangered species, a government employee in Danba county, Ganzi, said that while the protection of giant pandas was important, the benefits of planting and cultivating vineyards were “immediate” and “irresistible”.