Best Celebrity Wines
By Paul Howard
Celebrities are everywhere these days, clamouring for our attention. Our lives are saturated with their latest images, activities and gossip. Celebrity status for some is based on achievement, notably in politics, the arts and sport. Others achieve it through notoriety or sleeping through reality TV. The nature of celebrity goes far beyond mere fame and, regardless of talent (or a lack of it), all celebs have one thing in common – they are famous for being famous.
Whether on the A-List or the Z-List they’ll happily promote a new range of merchandise to stay in the public eye, make money and massage their ego. Hence those familiar product ranges, from perfume to clothing, cookware to wine. It’s because we’re worth it.
Those that protest against the rise of celebrity-backed wines will assert that celebrity is simply another merchandising tool, exploiting the brand value of a well-known name for popularity, sales and profit while boosting the self-importance of the celebrity concerned. Meanwhile, the fans, hapless but happy consumers, are frankly duped in to drinking costly rubbish. Others however, will argue precisely the opposite, pointing to the fact that some celebrities are extremely passionate about wine and furthermore, that they are actually responsible for wines that have real credibility and taste good too. In any event, what’s wrong with a little commercialism? The reality of course, is that both these opinions are true.
“Would Elvis approve of his Jailhouse Red?”
First then, those celebrity-endorsed wines: generally speaking such wines are far more about what’s on the outside of the bottle than the contents inside. Open one up and you can almost smell the conceit, while what you’ll taste is unlikely to tempt you back for another glass. What’s on offer is no more than overpriced memorabilia. There are plenty of these on offer and the list is growing rapidly. In sport, golf seems particularly well endorsed, while there’s a cellar full of wines from film and TV actors – including Marilyn Merlot. From the Rolling Stones to Barry Manilow, the music industry is equally guilty. Would Elvis approve of his Jailhouse Red or Jerry Garcia like his own Chardonnay?
I have more interest in discovering and drinking those celebrity wines that actually taste good. My top six are well worth seeking out. I’ve chosen these on the merits of the wine rather than whether or not I like the celebrity. Wine quality tends to depend on how active and involved the celebrity is, if not as outright owner then at least by having a say about how the wine finally tastes. Hence both the celebrity and the wine drinker can enjoy the results in the glass.
My all-time favourite is Rubicon from the Napa Valley. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine from ﬁlm director Francis Ford Coppola, maker of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He bought and restored an historic California winery back in 1975 and is still very actively involved. Rubicon is one of California’s top wines and is expensive, but all the wines in the Coppola wine range, even the cheapest available, are well worth investigating.
“Serious about the operation”
Not far behind in my estimation is actor Sam Neill. He is one of New Zealand’s best exports and famous for roles in Jurassic Park to Reilly Ace of Spies. When speaking about his winery he says: “if all I do is act I’d go out of my mind.” He owns the Two Paddocks organic winery in Central Otagoin New Zealand. Their award-winning Pinot Noir is one of the best examples. It sells out fast – and rightly so.
Staying with acting, Gerard Depardieu is France’s most iconic actor, with over 150 ﬁlms to his credit. His passport states his profession as acteur/vigneron and he insists that he’d rather spend his time with grape growers than actors and directors. With several wine investments to his name in France, the beautiful Châteaude Tigné in the Loire produces white and red wines. The red Cuvée Cyrano, named after his award-winning performance in Cyrano de Bergerac is the best.
Money obviously wasn’t Too Tight (To Mention) when Mick Hucknall of Simply Red bought an eighteenth century wine estate to create Il Cantante. This is a red wine whose name translates as ‘The Singer’, from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Hucknall enlisted Italian winemaker of the year Salvatore Foti and the results are impressive. Foti had, amazingly, never heard of Hucknall but was impressed enough with the estate’s potential to sign on. I’m a big fan of Etna wines but this must surely be the only example ever reviewed in Hello! magazine. Not calling the wine Simply Red suggests that this operation is serious.
“Botham’s big personality stamped all over it”
By far the best wine with a sporting connection is from golﬁng superstar Ernie Els. He teamed up with acclaimed winemaker Jean Engelbrecht in 1999 to create the Engelbrecht-Els winery. They call their ﬂagship wine Ernie Els. It’s a classic Bordeaux blend that has received great acclaim from wine critics around the world. No other sporting wine comes anywhere near this for sheer quality.
Continuing the sporting theme, England cricket legends Ian Botham and Bob Willis teamed up with Australian winemaker Geoﬀ Merrill in 2001 to create the BMW wine range, a big seller and available in UK supermarkets. Plain-speaking Beefy has long preferred wine to beer and BMW is an unpretentious, honest quaﬃng wine that has Botham’s big personality stamped all over it. A reasonable price too – I’ll be making sure there’s a bottle to hand for the next Ashes series to invoke the spirit of Headingley 1981.
But sadly, celebrity involvement is no guarantee of good wine. Sir Cliﬀ Richard is well-known for Vida Nova, his Portuguese wine venture. However, he was duped in to criticising his own wine by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay on TV programme The F-Word. After tasting it blind he said: “That’s rubbish. I’d never buy that.” We can debate whether Ramsay tricked Cliﬀ in to such an admission. But he shouldn’t need to worry. Sales of Vida Nova have been enormous since it was launched in UK supermarkets back in 2002. When all’s said and done, it’s the fans that count.