Famous People. Amazing wines.
At least once a week at my day job, it seems like I field a phone call from a customer on the hunt for some wine with a celebrity connection.
The most recent four represent, in no particular order, Duck Commander, “Downton Abbey,” singer Nicki Minaj and rapper Rick Ross. Other notable requests from previous years include “Tears of Jupiter,” a wine linked with the band Train, and the Dreaming Tree label, a project involving Dave Matthews of the eponymous band.
What these labels have in common is that they have little besides the celebrity connection to recommend them. Take away the fame connection, and what you have are wines that would struggle to compete with most grocery store wines. At worst, they are quick cash-ins for a hot category.
This is not to say that there aren’t celebrities who take wine and vineyards seriously. Last year an importer had me taste a rose from a property called Chateau Miraval in Provence. It had a nice designer bottle and was a little expensive for a pink wine, but it was very good. The importer told me it was the first wine from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s new French summer estate, but “they don’t really want it marketed that way.” The wine is made with the Perrin family of the legendary Chateau Beaucastel, and by the time you read this, the 2013 vintage will be available.
One of the most serious wine celebrities has almost single-handedly put Arizona on the map as a wine region. Maynard James Keenan, the singer and leader of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, owns a winery called Caduceus and is partners in another winery called Arizona Stronghold. Unlike most celebrity wine people, Keenan is involved with many of the details of grape-growing and winemaking. His bands work their touring schedules around the winery harvest and the actual bottling of the wine. Keenan is featured in a 2010 documentary called “Blood Into Wine” about making wine in Arizona.
Director Francis Ford Coppola is perhaps the most important wine celebrity. Riding high with the success of the “Godfather” franchise, Coppola bought one of Napa Valley’s most historic properties: the storied Inglenook.
During the post-prohibition era, winemaker John Daniel produced legendary cabernet sauvignon from the estate vineyard, but the sale of the estate to a large company led to a decline in the wines, and by the end of the 20th century, Inglenook was a non-alcohol grocery store wine brand.
Coppola produced wines under the Niebaum-Coppola label from the mid-'70s until the 2006 vintage, when the name was changed to Rubicon. In 2011, Coppola obtained the rights to the Inglenook name and redesigned the labels in tribute to one of the world’s great wineries.
The estate’s two flagship reds, Rubicon and the Cask Cabernet, are well worth a hunt for a special occasion, but Coppola also put his efforts toward delivering quality wines at an affordable price. The construction of a new facility in Sonoma, in turn, led to the Director’s Cut series of wines, and the Diamond Series of wines has long been synonymous with great value and wide availability.
Recommended Celebrity Wines
Inglenook Napa Valley Cask Cabernet — The Rubicon is beautiful, but you can get most of its quality for about half the price with the Inglenook Cask Cabernet. The 2009 is classic, deep and rich Napa cabernet, and will reward cellaring. The 2010, from a cooler vintage, is more elegant and aromatic.
Coppola Diamond Collection — There are many strong wines in this widely available line to write about in detail, but the Ivory Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Blue Label Merlot and Black Label Claret, a cabernet-dominated blend, are all great weeknight wines.
Miraval Rose — This is a classic dry pink wine from Provence, with aromas of white flowers, peaches and strawberries. It is dry and stylish, with red fruit and hints of tropical flavors that build to a big finish. It’s a lovely summer wine.
Caduceus and Arizona Stronghold — These wines can be difficult to find, but many are available through the winery’s website at Caduceus.org. I love the Nagual de Naga, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a good Super Tuscan.