John JuergensCelebrity wines: The good, the bad, the ugly

You probably have noticed in wine shops some names that sound familiar but in a different context. I'm talking about Celebrity Wines. That is, wines made by people who have risen to fame and fortune in some other career. We have had wines made by all sorts of movie and TV personalities, including people like The Smothers Brothers, comedian Pat Paulsen, and golfers Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. Francis Ford Coppola is another recognizable name, and even Davy Crockett (a.k.a. Fess Parker) is in the wine business.

I'm sure there are many others around the world who own wineries, but don't display their names as prominently as some of these folks. As far as I know, Tiger Woods has not come out with a wine under his name, and I don't think I have yet seen a wine called Newman's Own.

Whenever I see one of these celebrity wines I wonder what got them interested in wine to the point that they would want to dump a ton of money into such an enterprise rather than just buying really good stuff made by real wine makers. I suppose if you are fabulously wealthy and you live in a great wine making place such as California, Oregon, Washington, Australia, France or Italy, it might be very tempting to invest some of your disposable millions in what appears to be a very idyllic way of life.

I have tried many of the wines that carry celebrity names, but with very few exceptions, I have never really been impressed by any of them, especially at the premium prices most of them carry. This got me to wondering about how much actual input the celebrities have in the wine making process. For sure, they all have a hired-gun wine maker out in the vineyards and on the winery floor taking care of the technical production details, but just how much of the celebrity's personality and taste preferences influence the wine character?

Taking this line of thinking just a bit too far, I started speculating on the kinds of wines other notable public figures might make if they decided to get into the business. Let's pick a few and see what they might come up with.

First up, Hillary Clinton. Hillary has had more than her fair share of limelight over the years, and drags a lot of baggage around with her. But now that she is running for president she is trying very hard to redefine herself because, as she has admitted, she is one of the most famous candidates nobody really knows. Hmmm. But running with that thought, Hillary probably would take some old wine and try to breathe new life into it by mixing it with some new and possibly unrecognizable fruit flavors, which may or may not be all natural.

The resulting wine would be a confusing blend of the new and the old, with multiple personalities jumping forward and receding as the tasting environment would require. This is the kind of wine that might be interesting with the first glass, but not something you would want to serve throughout the meal because its loosely bound component parts would quickly fall apart.

Next is that energetic Jack Russell of a candidate nipping at Hillary's heels, Barack Obama. He has been referred to as one of the most refreshing political personalities to come along in a very long time. Without a doubt, he would make a fresh and lively Mosel-style wine with a balance of nice crispness, a touch of sweetness, and just a hint of latent spritz to energize the crowds but without popping its cork. The big question would be whether the wine had enough substance to carry through for the long term.

Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would team up and try to steal the name Folie a Deux because it fits their personalities perfectly, but they would have to settle for Ménage à Deux Bêtes. They would buy from Charles Swan whatever wine was not good enough to go into that month's vintage of Two Buck Chuck, which is now actually Three Buck Chuck. The catchy name for their wine would be Up Chuck Bimbo, and it would become the drink of choice of the "A-List" glitterati social scene. In spite of its flashy style the wine would have absolutely no staying power, so it would need to be fully consumed at an early age. It would start down the path of degradation as soon as it hit the bubble shaped glass that comes with each bottle.

Of course, we can't leave out George W. Bush and his rough and ready VP, Dick "Shotgun" Cheney. Lordy, where do I start?

Frankly, I think good ol' Dick is chronically pissed off at being an understudy playing second kazoo to the big W's noisemaker because he is almost always combative and on the defensive. Therefore, he would most likely make a wine starting with very sour grapes, probably half-ripe Chancellor grapes, which are very common to the D.C. surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia. Being a consummate large corporation CEO type, in the interest of efficiency Dick would harvest the grapes all by himself using a pump action 12-gauge shotgun, which would also eliminate the need for the de-stemming and crushing operations. And like Dick, these grapes, even in full ripeness, would produce a meaty and sometimes caustic wine that could blister you just by coming into the slightest contact with the juice, or in this case, venom (he's not called "Dick" for nothing). The wines would never mellow with age because of their excessive astringency, but they would be very effective in curing animal hides.

Last but not least, what kind of wine would our fearless leader make? For starters, George would select a grape type that is simple, straightforward, and easy to pronounce, such as the Thompson Seedless table grape. Of course, we all know that this is not a wine grape, and all attempts to make a palatable and viable wine from it have failed.

But, true to form, George wouldn't let a silly little fact like that stand in his way. Ignoring the advice of all his seasoned wine consultants and historical records, not to mention common sense, he would promote his new strategy for cultivating this one-dimensional varietal of nondescript character to a victorious conclusion. That is, instead of training the vines on trellises he would prune the vines to grow in the shape of, what else, a bush, and he would direct the fruit-bearing canes into the highly fertilized but shallow earth of Crawford, Texas. His strategy would be to grow the grapes underground like the humble but highly successful potato. This way the crop would be much safer from potential WMDs called "birds," which Homeland Security would eradicate, if they could find any in the area.

If George's plan bore any fruit whatsoever, it would result in a very insipid wine with an astronomical and escalating price tag, but with no practicality or future for aging. It would have a lingering finish of bloody dirt that would leave a bad taste in the mouth for years to come. But, of course, this is just speculation and the true history of this great wine making plan is yet to be written.

Wine Picks of the Week

I have three interesting wines for you this week, a white and two reds. The white is one of the recent wave of inexpensive and new world style wines from France. It is the Gala Rouge 2004 Chardonnay. This is a simple, straightforward wine with good clean aromas and flavors of pear and ripe yellow apples. This is one white wine that is far better at about 60 degrees because it is fairly delicate and refrigeration wipes out almost all of its fruit aromas and flavors. It has no oak to suffocate the fruit flavors and with the alcohol content at just 12.5%, this is a great party wine. Vin-Test scores: Sweetness: 0.3; Crispness: 6; Tannins: N/A; Body: 4. About $11.

Next is the cousin to the white, the Gala Rouge 2004 Pinot Noir, which bears no resemblance to any Pinot Noir I have ever tasted. Tasting it blind I would have thought it was a Syrah or a Rhone blend. So don't buy this because it is a Pinot, but because it is a great sipping wine with lots of fruit flavors of red cherries and a little bit of smoky earth. As with the Chardonnay, the alcohol is 12.5%, and it has a nice balance of acidity to give it a little snap on the finish, and very soft tannins, so no pucker. This could be a good every day dinner wine or just as a cocktail. Vin-Test scores: Sweetness: 0.2; Crispness: 5.5; Tannins: 2.5; Body: 5. About $11.

Going up a notch is the 2003 Wildhurst Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County California. This is a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon with rich velvety textures and aromas of cedar, nutmeg, leather, and coffee that come through on the palate. At about $13 it would be difficult to find a better Cabernet with this kind of complexity and richness. Great food wine for beef. Vin-Test scores: Sweetness: 0.3; Crispness: 4.5; Tannins: 7; Body 9.

February 2007

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