Almost Famous: Celebrities Put New Spin on Wine

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marilynwine.jpgby Courtney Cochran

From Major Leaguers to major religious leaders, celebrities of all stripes are catching the wine bug these days, lending their names and likenesses to bottles, participating in the promotion of the wines and sometimes even cuing up the blends themselves.  And while celebrity wines are hardly a new phenomenon, the most recent influx of offerings brings with it a surprisingly diverse mix of celebs, not to mention a fascinating blend of prices, styles and blends to boot.

Mafia Maven
Lorraine Bracco - who played psychiatrist Dr. Melfi to Tony Soprano's brooding mafia head on the hit HBO series, The Sopranos - has released her own line of Italian wines, reportedly inspired by the ten years she spent living in France during her early career as a model. Made possible by a collaboration with importer Maison Jomère, the celeb's lineup of eight wines sell under the Bracco Wines ( label and include a Pinot Grigio, Primitivo, Amarone, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.

Game On!
VinLozano Imports is the entity behind Charity Wines (, a division that pairs up professional athletes with special blends from California's Clos LaChance Winery & Estate, with proceeds going to support several charities. Up next: CaberReyes from Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, Santana's Select from Mets pitcher Johan Santana, Jorge Cabernet from Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Abreu's Finest Merlot from outfielder and fellow Yank Bobby Abreau. Nice perk for fans: Wine labels look like baseball cards.

Rolling Stones Sticky
This just in: A Pinot Noir-based ice wine ( called "Sympathy for the Devil" will be released this spring by Canada's Ex Nihilo Vineyards, an operation based in British Columbia's stunning Okanogan Valley. Word has it the winery's owner, Jeff Harder, was inspired to make the sweet wine - currently slated to be released exclusively in Canada - after dining with Celebrity Cellars' Martin Erlich, a California vintner who famously makes wine for Madonna, KISS, Pink Floyd and-yes-the Stones.

Papal Punch
Okay, so he may not have actually commissioned the wine served in his honor at a recent White House gala, but Pope Benedict XVI was distinguished all the same with a special cuvée served on the occasion of the 81 year-old religious leader's first visit to the United States as Pope. Sonoma's Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery's ( 2005 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay was served for the Pope's party, while in the past, Richard Nixon and Nancy Regean have also enjoyed Sebastiani wines at White House functions.

Well Under Par
Few celebs have managed to make as big a splash on the international wine scene as Aussie golf phenom Greg Norman. And now, following on the success of his popular Greg Norman Estates' wines ( - created through a partnership with Beringer Blass in the 90s and featuring Australian wines - Norman has released a new lineup of sippers made from California grapes. Highlights include a Lake Country Zinfandel, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir and Paso Robles Petite Sirah.

Desperate Nomenclature?
The Seattle Times reports that Desperate Housewives alum and Washington native Kyle MacLachlan will team up with winemaking pal Eric Dunham to create a blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah bottled under the label "...pursued by bear" ( The name apparently refers to an enigmatic stage direction from a Shakespearean play and strikes us as a potentially tricky moniker to market; the cuvée's rumored $80 price tag doesn't do much to convince us otherwise.

Marilyn Merlot
Called the perfect wine to "swirl, sniff, sip- and ogle" by USA Today, Marilyn Merlot and its associated wines (Blonde de Noirs, anyone?) made in Napa under agreement with the Marilyn Monroe estate were some of the first to use a celeb's likeness on the label. The operation ( - which has realized modest fame in the form of critical praise from the likes of Wine Spectator - releases new cuvées each year featuring rotating artwork of the larger-than-life screen star. Fittingly, large format bottles are available.

The Original
Before the entire cast of other celeb "winemakers" made their wine onto the wine scene, groundbreaking director Francis Ford Coppola purchased Napa's historic Inglenook estate and began making his own critically acclaimed wines under what eventually became the Francis Coppola label ( Recent innovations include the introduction of a sparkling rosé served in a can - and named for Coppola's near equally famous daughter, director Sofia Coppola - and a new product line called Director's Cut.

Grateful Red
In memory of legendary Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia's passion for art, the Garcia Estate has partnered with Sonoma's Clos du Bois to produce a series of limited edition wines featuring label art by the legendary musician. Dubbed J. Garcia wines, the brand's lineup is vented by Clos du Bois head winemaker Erik Olson and includes a Sonoma County Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, all aged in French and American oak.

French Connection
With sales of celebrity wines on the up and up - they lately climbed nearly 19 percent in grocery stores year over year, and now represent nearly 1% ($41.8 million) of total wine sales - it's not surprising that even foreign celebs are vying for a piece of the action. To wit, French cinema star Gérard Depardieu has partnered with a vintner ami to produce a series of wines from France's Rhône Valley. His Lys de Volan Condrieu - made from Viognier - offers up exotic spices and heady pit fruit in a cuvée that's worth the hype.

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