Sleb Wines – A NEWTS Tasting

Celebrity wine; a damning phrase to some people but a must-have piece of memorabilia for die-hard fans. For years now it seems that many major (and a few more minor) celebrities get bitten by the wine bug in one way or another, most never getting near a grape and simply putting their name or face on a label, but others deciding to do it properly and invest in a vineyard in some corner of the world.

It’s a topic I’ve written about before in the Vins de célébrité on Reign of Terroir back in 2008 (plus a hasty update a few days later!) – there’s even a dedicated Wiki page covering the usual suspects including Mötley Crüe and AC/DC!

When I heard that September’s NEWTS meeting was on this topic I instantly thought of Francis Ford Coppola and Gerard Depardieu but neither made it onto the tasting sheet (Depardieu’s wine is notoriously expensive). Instead our host, long time member Fred, prepared a evening of amusing and anecdotal background stories to match each of the 9 wines being presented.

First was a pale, salmon pink Rosé from Château Miraval, the 2009 “Pink Floyd” Côtes de Provence (13.5%).
The château hit the headlines in late May 2008 when it was revealed that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had leased it for three years after surveying prospective properties by helicopter. Since then they’ve invested heavily in upgrading the property but don’t actually get involved in the winemaking. Previous owner Jacques Loussier, a French jazz pianist, installed a recording studio in the Château which saw Sting and The Cranberries record there, as well as Pink Floyd while producing The Wall album – hence the wine’s name.
The organic wine was a blend of Cinsault and Grenache with a delicate nose. On the palate it was creamy, smooth and distinctly dry with a herbaceous aspect to the fruit, a warming finish and a nip of acidity.
At £12.50 from local store Fenwick it was a pleasant enough example of a Provençal pink.

The remaining white was the Seresin Estate 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (14%).
Winery owner Michael Seresin is also a movie director (Harry Potter – The Prisoner of Azkaban was one of his most recent works) who started the Biodynamic winery from scratch with the first vintage in 1996.
With 5% Semillon in the blend this had a strong, pungent nose and I was worried it was another over the top New Zealand Sauvignon, but once past the powerful perfume it was rich and surprisingly enjoyable with sweet grapefruit, a hint of rose petal and a mineral texture.
I’m not sure I liked it enough to splash out the £15 a bottle (source not noted), but it was good.

Next up was a wine I had briefly discussed in that original Reign of Terroir article, Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks 2008 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand (13.5%).
Back in 2008 the prospect of actually tasting a bottle was slim but happily even a cult wine from the world’s most southerly wine region isn’t out of the reach of a determined NEWT!
The nose was perfect Pinot Noir; fresh, a little smoke and mushroom with a dash of forest floor, while the taste ticked all the boxes for what I like in a Pinot; light and elegant with delicate complexity – a 4 star wine for £23 from Haynes, Hanson & Clark in London.

Two Paddocks

For a little more background on Two Paddocks watch this YouTube clipof Sam Neill talking to Wine Spectator.

From a movie star owner to a pop star owner and Portugal’s Algarve region for the Vida Nova 2007 Reserva (13.5%).
This wine is made by the Adega do Cantor (winery of the singer) fronted by Sir Cliff Richard. I’ve tried the basic label wine so was interested by the Reserva on show at the tasting, but again was disappointed by a pleasant, but ultimately simple offering – the Algarve is not Portugal’s best location for winemaking, even with the magic hands of consultant winemaker David Baverstock.
The nose had clove, tar and some burnt rubber with a little blackcurrant. In the mouth tannins were dry and slightly chewy for what was a somewhat formulaic, 2+ star wine which, for £15, isn’t good enough (Waitrose Wine Direct shows it at £11.39 – better, but still…)

To France for the next red, the Château Val Joanis  2007 Tradition, Côtes du Luberon (14%).
It turned out that the celebrity link was spurious, another piece of the Brangelina story after they flew in for an unexpected wine tasting (part of that helicopter survey mentioned above) in 2007 which led to a host of internet rumours that they’d bought the place (some of which are still being circulated!). It isn’t clear whether they were told “non!” or just moved on to Château Miraval, but they left behind an historic winemaking property dating back to Roman times.
The wine itself was Syrah with 10% Grenache and came across as young and a little disjointed; fruit, acidity and tannins cobbled together in a rustic style typical of the Luberon. Possibly a few more years would mellow and improve the wine, nevertheless it was competently (but not masterfully) done – a 3 star wine for £13 from Richard Granger in Jesmond.

Still France and another tenuous celebrity link for the Terre Inconnue (Undiscovered Land) Guilhem 2008 (14%). This is a cult Languedoc wine made by former chemist Robert Creus and released as a Vin de Table – not because of any inferiority in the winemaking but because maverick Creus isn’t bothered by the whole AOC system!
Fred tried to tell us this estate is alledgedly owned by Vanessa Paradis, French chanteuse and Johnny Depp’s other half. While an intiguing tale I could not find any evidence to back it up; the Depp/Paradis property is believed to be near Saint Tropez on the Côte d’Azur but Creus is based in Saint Christol/Saint-Series just North of Montpellier‎.
The Terre Inconnue was a blend of 30% Syrah , 30% Grenache, 30% Carignan and 10% Tempranillo, barrel aged for 2 years. It had a savoury, minty fresh nose with a little raisin which developed a lovely perfume in the glass. It effortlessly expanded on the palate with smooth, rounded, chocolate tannins and a slight port aspect that was a joy to drink. Although £20 (from this was a clear 4 star wine.

Yet another tenuous celebrity association with the Château La Coste 2007 Les Pentes Douces, Coteaux de Aix en Provence (14%). Fred cited Pierre Cardin in his background, but my research suggests that Cardin is linked to the castle & village of Château Lacoste a some miles away, not the biodynamic winery which was bought by Paddy McKillen, owner of several of London’s top hotels including the Connaught (so a half celebrity?).
This had a sour, almost off nose with a beetroot earthyness. Apart from some stewed fruit my descriptions for the wine became metaphorical; it was background, bass and undercurrent – a forceful, dramatic structure and foundation but with no content, nothing in the foreground to bring into focus. Somewhat out of kilter I couldn’t enjoy the wine, not helped by a £17.50 price tag.

We finally said au revoir to France and finished with two wines from the Southern Hemisphere, first to Australia with the BMW 2006 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5%). BMW does not stand for Bayerische Motoren Werke in this instance, but for Botham, Merril and Willis, two world class (retired) cricketers and an equally world class winemaker.
The wine had a clean nose with a touch of liquorice behind the smoky blackcurrant fruit. There were strong tannins but it was a little too acidic for the group, I enjoyed it enough to give it 3+ stars which, for £11 (supposedly from again but I can’t find it on their web-site) is reasonable enough.

The final wine of the night came from South Africa with a golfing link, the Ernie Els 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch (14.5%). Golf pro Els set up the winery in the Helderberg area of Stellenosch over 10 years ago and it has developed a reputation as one of the better of the celebrity wine ventures.
This night the wine had an austere, closed nose with a touch of menthol. There was a firm structure and chewy tannins, although it was somewhat one dimensional, lean and dry – too dry for some for £18 – only 3 stars and not great value.

An overly complicated voting session followed on the favourite wines of the night which ended up with the Terre Inconnue and Two Paddocks a clear first and second, matching my own evaluation of the wines. As the Terre Innconue celebrity link is, to my mind, unproven I have to give Sam Neill the nod for best celebrity winemaker I’ve tasted.


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