It’s not insightful to say America is obsessed with celebrity. It’s downright obvious. As oenophiles, however, our celebrities tend to differ from mainstream (dare I say “normal”) culture. We don’t covet Hollywood. We covet Screaming Eagle, Lafite Rothschild, Gaja. Beyond labels, we worship at the alter of personalities like Parker, Tanzer and Robinson.
There is, however, a growing movement towards so-called normal celebs getting in the wine game. Some, like Francis Ford Coppola, come from winemaking families, while others seem to just lend their name to a label (and are often credited with participating in “blending and tasting trails”, whatever that means).
As celebrities are, for the most part, primarily concerned with maintaining their celebrity, and, because wine producers putting a celebrity name on a label are likely counting on the fact that many of these bottles will be purchased solely because of said name, one might assume that the majority of these wines will be aimed at a mass audience, which, with regards to wine, means fruity, oaky, and lacking personality.
Not wanting to make assumptions, however, we set out to taste a few and find out.
Miraval Rose de Provence 2012, $22.99
Blew it all on the suit
Perhaps most notable about a wine that’s backed by one of the biggest celebrity couples in the world is the lack of notable star power on the label. Look hard enough and you’ll find Jolie-Pitt there, but certainly not in a way to catch the attention of wine-store paparazzi. After supposedly slow sales in 2013, don’t be surprised to see the Brangelina brand amped up next summer.
Personally, I like my Roses to have a bit of Lara Croft in them. To paraphrase Charles Smith, to be bad ass. This is not that. Very light in flavor, it features some of the more feminine notes found in Roses – apricots, bubble gum and lavender. And I love me some garrigue, but this was like walking into Bath & Body Works and inhaling deeply. It’s a wine that will inspire people who like it (of which there surely will be some) to call elegant, but I failed to find any personality. Not even “like you and forget you the moment you’ve left my side personality”– I forgot it, yes, but I never really liked it either.
2009 Dreaming Tree “Crush” Red Blend, $16.99
It’ll keep you floating, for just a while
Dave Matthews, who also owns Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, makes this wine in partnership with Simi Winery’s Steve Reeder and mega-corporation Constellation Wines. The brand, which is named after a DMB song, aims to make “complex yet approachable” wines, and be environmentally conscious by using lighter bottles, sustainable cork and recycled labels. This particular wine is a blend of Merlot (67%) and Zin from the North Coast AVA.
Like the song from which it takes its name, Crush is technically sound and perhaps a little funky, but ultimately safe and banal. Lots of vanilla and sweet dark fruits lead the way, resulting in a wine that’s smooth and inoffensive. After letting it breathe for a full day, a subtle two-step of earth and game emerged, leaving me with two things to remember about my Dreaming Tree experience.
Coppola Diamond Collection Scarlet Red Blend 2010, $17.99
Francis: The Man and His Dream
Francis Coppola’s wines resemble his career in movies. Borne of true commitment (the purchase of Napa’s historic Inglenook back when his films mattered) and pursuit of serious California winemaking (the Rubicon label), the Coppola brand has shown mixed results and come to represent a mash-up of mediocre mass-market and elite enology. The casual observer most likely knows Coppola’s Diamond Collection wines, a line that’s arguably more Godfather III than II. A recent experience, for example, had me wishing their Malbec slept with the fishes.
Happily, there’s nothing distractingly wrong with the 2010 Diamond Collection Red Blend. It’s yeoman’s mix of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cab Sauv and Merlot that’s pleasingly concentrated with medium body and acidity. There’s an Old World flavor (the fruity/meaty/metallic edge found in Rhone blends), begging whether Grenache had been worked in. Though a disappointingly dull nose won’t cause anyone to love its smell in the morning, the palate features herbal elements, cinnamon and a dusty, tannic cling on the finish. It’s an approachable and uncomplicated Coppola that’s well suited for barbecue, pizza and pasta dishes.
2008 Tenuta Il Palagio Sister Moon, $58.99
A humiliating kick in the crotch
Sting and his wife Trudie own an estate in Tuscany. They make olive oil, honey and wine. It is surely magnificent. And tantric. (Do I really have to say anything else about this?)
As for this SuperTuscan blend of 45% Sangiovese, 45% Merlot and 10% Cab Sauv, a funky, compelling nose leaps out of the glass with notes of spices, green veggies and earth. On the palate, oak plays the starring role (aged 24mo in new french barriques), and desperately longs for fruit’s embrace. It finishes with bitter, stinging tannins (that’s my soul up there) that should resolve over time. Though this wine’s obvious personality takes it outside the expected mold of mainstream appeal, it’s over-the-top oakiness makes me hesitant to recommend it at close to $60.
Because the styles of wines we tried varied widely (with only 2 of the 4 fitting the mainstream hypothesis), it’s safe to say that a celebrity name on a label doesn’t say all that much about what’s inside the bottle. It does, however, suggest that you’ll probably be paying a couple bucks more than if it weren’t for that name.
Jeff Alexander also contributed to this article.