This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007.

Marilyn unwrapped

Last summer we took a look at Marilyn Merlot from Napa, a wine that's arguably good value for its middle-$20s price as a sipping Merlot, but that's snapped up, mostly, by investors hoping to take advantage of the celebrity label's track record for appreciation in value thanks to collectors who'd rather own a bottle than open it.

Today let's return to the wacky world of wine collectibles with another "Marilyn" wine, the very-high-end Cabernet-Merlot blend called "The Velvet Collection." Available at retail only in 1.5-liter magnum bottles (twice the size of a standard bottle of wine), the 2004 vintage comes adorned with a bright color photo of a scantily clad Ms. Monroe posing on a scarlet background. The bottle comes with strategically placed sparkly gold designs, apparently to ensure that the bottle can be displayed in public; but the consumer is free, if he wishes, to peel off a vinyl overlay, unveiling the starlet in all her au naturel glory.

A small image of the label with the overlay is featured below (in our Graphics Edition). To deter objections, I won't include the peeled version in this E-mail bulletin, but if you'd like to check it out - for educational purposes only, of course! - I've placed a photo of it online at

The original image, by the way, ran as the foldout center page in the inaugural edition of Playboy magazine in 1953, and it must have seemed mighty racy by the standards of the time. Some might say that it still does.

But how about the wine behind the label? Is this Napa red blend worthy of a $200 price tag without its celebrity hook? At the equivalent of $100 for a standard bottle, that places it in competitive territory, jousting against such worthies as Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet or Chateau Cos d'Estournel.

Bottom line, I accepted a trade sample (a special 750ml bottle, not a magnum) from Nova Wines, the producers of Marilyn, making an exception to my usual rule about not accepting freebies because that's the only way I'm going to be sampling this stuff. Opened in a non-blind setting and tasted both analytically and afterward with food, I'll put it this way: It's a competitive high-end Napa Bordeaux-style blend, fruity and well-balanced and complex, blending Cabernet fruit and Napa eucalyptus. It's not a laugher at this price. But if I were standing in the wine shop with a full wallet and a hankering to enjoy an excellent wine with dinner tonight - or five years down the road - I think I'd pick the Cos or the Monte Bello first.

As an investment collectible, who can say? Marilyn Merlot has a fairly impressive track record for gaining value over time, with the inaugural 1985 vintage going for $3,800 at the winery, and all vintages before 1990 selling for four-figure price tags. The Velvet Collection, which comes only in magnums packaged in velvet-lined wood presentation boxes, is a relatively recent innovation, and secondary-market prices on are currently topping out only around $300. But give it time, I say, if your idea of a good investment involves sitting on wine that you'll never open and enjoy.

(For the record, to license the starlet's name and image on wine bottles, Nova Wines pays royalties on sales to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York and Los Angeles and the Anna Freud Centre in London.)

The Velvet Collection Marilyn 2004 Napa Valley Red Wine "The Velvet Collection" ($200/magnum)

This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, shading to black at the center. With distinct blackcurrant and eucalyptus scents, the Cabernet Sauvignon seems dominant over the Merlot, although the blend is a nearly balanced 54% Cab, 45% Merlot. It's a big, mouth-filling wine, showing concentrated fruit and mouth-watering acidity, with smooth tannins present but very much in the background, and it Carries its 14.6% alcohol well. Despite the "pop" label, this is a serious Napa red. It went well on its own and as partner with a hearty stew-like Italian beef dish. (Jan. 15, 2007)

The Website of the producer, Nova Wines Inc., of Oakville, Calif., contains information on the winery and its various bottlings, including Marilyn Merlot, The Velvet Collection and the more budget-priced Norma Jeane.

Find Marilyn The Velvet Collection on