Friday, 15 March 2013

Do the stars make wines taste better?

Ha!  I bet you thought I was going to return to one of my favourite wine hobbyhorses:  biodynamic wines, where the movements of the moon and planets are used to guide vine growing and wine-making. Mais non, this time it’s the other sort of star, the sort that appears on red carpets.

Does a wine taste better because a big name from the world of sport or entertainment is linked to it?  Well of course not, famous people are just like us (though generally better looking) and do not sprinkle a bit of magical stardust over the contents of a bottle of wine, rendering it more delicious.

And yet many actors, singers and sportspeople seem keen to get into this wine making thing, or at least putting their name to a bottle.  And we drinkers get a little vicarious taste of the celebrity lifestyle by shelling out a few more (or sometimes many more) pennies for a bottle that bears their name.  Or do we?

Here’s a rundown of some of the famous names who have decided to add wine to the list of their credentials. 

Retired Formula 1 racing drivers

Mario Andretti, an Italian American who won many Grand Prix in the 1960s, 70s and 80s is also a “very rich man”, according to his website, which undoubtedly helps him fit right in with the other vineyard owners in California’s Napa Valley (who include film director Francis Ford Coppola, now in control of California legend, Inglenook).

Amorino Pecorino 2009 - £13.50 from Eton Vintners
Jarno Trulli, also of Italian parentage, despite his Finnish name, retired from F1 last year.  He co-owns a vineyard in Abruzzo in Italy.  This is clearly more than a vanity project as Abruzzo is not a region known for grand wines – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, that stalwart of pizza and pasta chain wine lists, is its most well-known wine in this country.  Pecorino is a native Italian white variety and, while this has undoubtedly had plenty of wine-making lavished on it, it remains a well-made, modest quality wine.


Brad and Angelina (surnames not required) have just launched the first wine from their property, Château Miraval, in Provence.  No fools they, they took the precaution of buying a château that already had a reputation for well-made wines and enlisted the help of the Perrin family, who own Château de Beaucastel, one of Châteauneuf du Pape’s most famous names.  Apparently the whole lot sold out in hours last week, though none of the people who ordered it can reaslistically have tasted it yet.

Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2010 - £17.43 from Haynes Hanson and Clark
Sam Neill is often assumed to be Australian, but is, however, a New Zealander and he turned to his native country to undertake his wine project.  Reilly Ace of Spies (now do you know who I mean?) bought a vineyard, named Two Paddocks, in the highly-regarded Central Otago region in the far south of New Zealand’s South Island, where his winemaking team produce a range of wines, including the region’s hallmark variety, Pinot Noir.

Elegant, bordering on austere, it seems Mr Neill is keen to pay homage to the red wines of Burgundy rather than express the piercingly bright fruit that Otago is more usually known for.

Gerard Depardieu, actor, bon viveur, “Russian” tax exile and scourge of flight attendants  everywhere, looms large in many ways.  He lists his profession as vigneron  (winemaker) on his passport nowadays and has wine interests in various regions of France, as well as in Morocco. 


Vida Nova Tinto - £9.29 from Waitrose
Sir Cliff Richard needs no introduction.  Obviously fond of the sun, he has had an estate in the Algarve region in the far south of Portugal for many years, and now also a winery known as Adega do Cantor.  Algarve wines have no real reputation for quality, but Sir Cliff is determined to change that, hiring renowned Australian (but Portuguese-based) winemaking consultant David Baverstock and constructing a custom-built winery.   The red is a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo, locally known as Aragonez and has plenty of southern warmth and ripeness.

Mick Hucknell, the red-haired Mancunian crooner, is using some of his millions making wines from his vineyard in Sicily.  Released under the name Il Cantante (I sense a theme here), the vines are in the Etna region, whose wines are becoming highly valued.   They are not available in the UK.

Olivia Newton-John, country-lite triller turned Eighties lycra and headband-wearing pop princess, produces a sparkling wine in her native Australia called “Let’s Get Fizzical”.  Nah, not really, the truth is much more prosaic.  In reality she puts her name to a South Australian Chardonnay and Shiraz under the Blue Koala label.  I think my idea is better.


Botham Merrill Willis Shiraz 2006 - £15.82 Christopher Piper Wines
This two for the price of one wine label combines Beefy himself with his old pal, fast bowler Bob Willis.  They leave the wine-making duties to the extravagantly moustachioed Geoff Merrill, a long-established winemaker in McLaren Vale, but they do get involved in blending I am told.  Tempting as it is to describe this wine as beefy, it actually has more in the way of bright fruit and crunchy acidity.

Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2010 - £22.99 from SA Wines online
Ernie Els, nicknamed The Big Easy, hasn’t waited for his career to wane before getting stuck into the winemaking business in his native South Africa.  He has a range of wines made at his eponymous winery, which are predominantly red.  Big Easy Red is his entry level wine (available from SA Wines Online for £14.99 a bottle), but you can spend plenty more, up to £40 for his Signature Blend.  The wines are big, certainly, though I wouldn’t describe the Proprietor’s Blend as easy.  It’s dense, structured and needs a hefty slab of steak from the braai to stand up to its fearsome tannins. 

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