From Wayne Gretzky to Snoop Dogg: tasting celebrity wine
I just finished writing a story for Edify about celebrity wines. The story will be in the September issue; I’ll share the link here when it’s out.
Celebrity wine was one of the first topics I wrote about way back when I started doing a wine column for SEE Magazine (RIP). Back then – this was in 2008 – Wayne Gretzky’s wine was brand new to the market. I remember tasting these, as well as wines by Fess Parker (aka the actor who played Davy Crockett), Francis Ford Coppola, Dan Aykroyd (this was before he went on to launch Crystal Head vodka), and Mario Andretti. I also tried tribute bottles featuring Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
All of these wines were shit. OK, that’s not quite fair – according to my notes, the Fess Parker Viognier and Coppola Rosso were alright. Apparently I didn’t mind the Marilyn Monroe wine either, despite it’s lame name (“Marilyn Merlot” – ugh).
All the others were quite bad, which is pretty typical for celebrity wines. Think about it: if there’s a famous name and/or face splashed across the label, they’ve obviously spent most of their money on getting the rights to that, not on the juice inside the bottle. They’re banking on selling it to fans; the quality of the wine is irrelevant. That’s why so many celeb wines are short-lived. They come and go quickly, knowing that there aren’t going to be repeat customers.
Yes, there are exceptions. Wayne Gretzky’s wines are still going strong: in 2017, he launched a flagship winery, Wayne Gretzky Estates, in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He’s also added beer and spirits to his No.99 line of booze. The original Gretzky wines were made by Ontario winery Creekside Estate for a couple years, and then by Peller Estates. I found both versions to be pretty bad. I recently tried the newest iteration of the No.99 red, made at his own estate, and it was acceptable. Very fruity and hardly any tannins. It’s not a style I enjoy, but it’s good for people who like their reds to be juicy and uncomplicated. My dad liked it.
Since I made that first exploration into the world of celebrity wines, hundreds of others have come to the Alberta market. In fact, wine has become just another line item in many a celebrity’s brand portfolio. (The same is true for spirits and, to a lesser extent – probably because there’s not enough money in it – beer.) In recent years, we’ve also seen the advent of tribute bottles styled after TV shows, similar to the original tribute bottles that showcased famous actors/musicians/bands.
I remember trying Duck Dynasty wine several years ago (it was wretched). More recently, I tried The Tragically Hip wine, Fully Completely, because I was suckered in by nostalgia. It was bad. Sorry, Gord – I really wanted to like it.
I think the only good celebrity wines I’ve tried are the ones where the celebrity is also the winemaker, and not just lending their name to sell bottles. I’ve tried several of the wines made by Maynard James Keenan, frontman of TOOL/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer, and they are all quite good. Expensive, though – the wines under his Caduceus label are around $80. I don’t think they justify that price based on their merit alone; they are good but not THAT good. But hey, if he can sell wines for that much, good on him. He’s also a pioneer in the fledgling Arizona wine industry, which lacks the infrastructure that established regions like California have, so it’s probably more expensive to make wine there.
There are always a handful of celebrity wines on the market at any given time, even in Alberta. (We only see a tiny fraction of all the different celeb wines out there.) Right now, you’ll find Coppola and Gretzky’s wines, those Tragically Hip tribute bottles, and Maynard’s Caduceus and Merkin Vineyards series.
And you’re sure to find a big display of Snoop Dogg’s wines, which are the latest entry under Australia’s 19 Crimes brand. All of the names and faces on 19 Crimes’ other wines are 19th-century convicts who were sent to Australia when it was a prison colony of the British empire. Truthfully, I don’t think that a 21st-century Californian rapper really fits in with this roster of miscreants, but what do I know?
Against my better judgement, I tried a bottle of the Cali Rosé. It’s hard to fuck up rosé, I thought, and even the cheap stuff tends to be easy enough to drink if you chill it really well. Right?
Yeah, so it turns out I’ve had so much good, dry rosé over the last few years that I forgot what pink wine used to mean. It used to mean White Zinfandel: cloyingly sweet and one-dimensional, something that my mom and aunties used to knock back in the 80s and 90s.
The Snoop Cali Rosé is a throwback to the White Zinfandels of years past. It’s even made from 75% Zinfandel. I guess if you’re used to sipping on gin and juice, you’re used to sweet drinks – but at least gin has a nice bitter edge. This rosé is just sickeningly sweet without any acidity to liven things up. And at least White Zin was cheap – this stuff will run you back $25. Dammit, Snoop Dogg.
Name: 19 Crimes Snoop Cali Rosé
Grape: 75% Zinfandel, 20% Grenache, 5% Pinot Noir
Taste: strawberry bubblegum
Texture: like sucking on a sugar cube