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Red carpet, red wine

Brangelina takes the celebrity vino craze to a whole different level

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Fancy having Brangelina, Drew Barrymore and Dan Aykroyd over for dinner? No problem, they'll even bring the wine.

OK, maybe the stars themselves won't show up, but their wines will appear with just a wave of a credit card. You might start with an aperitif of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's new Miraval rose, move on to a light pasta dish served with Barrymore Wine's pinot grigio, then perhaps finish up with a glass of Aykroyd's cabernet franc ice wine for dessert.

It's hard to put a number on celebrity wines, a category that includes singers, sports stars, chefs and more. But Danny Brager, vice-president for alcoholic beverages at market research firm Nielsen, says there's close to 100 on the market at the moment. "It keeps growing all the time," he said.

With thousands and thousands of wines out there, having a recognizable name on the label can help. "Just breaking through the clutter can be hugely difficult and I think that's where a recognized name just in and of itself can help break through that clutter," said Brager.

Interestingly, the average price for all 750-millilitre bottles of wine in the Nielsen database is $9. Average price for celebrity wines: $20. That could be due to a number of factors, including the type of wine the celebrity is selling -- some are drawn to high-end efforts. Still, "it's a significant gap," Brager points out.

Jasper Russo, the fine wine buyer for Sigel's wine and spirits store in Dallas, recently held a tasting of celebrity wines, including Miraval, a partnership between Jolie and Pitt and the Perrin French winemaking family.

"When you have someone with that kind of serious winemaking background, that's going to tell you something," said Russo. There's a flip side, too. "It tells me volumes when I can't find out from your website who's making the wine."

True wine aficionados are "going to judge the wine based on what the wine tastes like in the glass. But you have lots of customers who are not that picky about the wine. For them, wine is just a hedonistic experience. They don't want to analyze the wine; they just want to enjoy it," he said. "If you're a Brangelina fan, it's cool to have that on the table."

Miraval retails for about $24.99 in the United States and is made from grapes grown at Chateau Miraval, Pitt and Jolie's place in the south of France. "I was prepared for it to be not quite as good and I'd still be able to sell it, but I was happy with the quality," Russo said. "It had a wonderful strawberry, raspberry, mineral character to it and a great finish."

Levels of celebrity involvement vary from not much at all to sitting in on blending sessions to taking an active role in the winery.

And then there's renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli of Bocelli Family Wines, who put a new twist on the celebrity wine connection. Born into an Italian winemaking family, Bocelli pursued a singing career and has since returned to his roots helping promote the family wines.

In an email interview, Bocelli said he spent hours in the vineyards as a boy and also worked with his father and brother in the cellar. "It was always a sort of miracle to smell the fermentation and taste the wine afterward," said Bocelli, who is blind.

Bocelli's singing career, which is ongoing, had a direct effect on the winery, said Joshua Hanson, director of Seattle-based August Wine Group, importer for Bocelli Family Wines since 2005 and co-owner of the brand. When the tenor began travelling the world with his career he learned more about wine, bringing back some of the world's best bottles as well as information on the latest in cellar techniques to share with his late father, Alessandro, and brother Alberto, the chief winemaker and estate manager.

The family brought in professionals to help elevate their wines and now make small quantities of high-end wines exclusively from their own grapes. They also have partnered with local growers to make a sangiovese, Bocelli Rosso Toscana, and Bocelli Prosecco sparkling wine, which have a suggested retail price of $20 each.

While Andrea Bocelli is involved in promoting the wines -- and has been known to burst into a little impromptu song at tasting events -- the labels don't carry anything but the family name.

"Our whole strategy from day one has been to ground it continually in their generational history," said Hanson. "They've been making very good wine for 130 years and they're very serious about it. It's not a new, kind of, 'I'll give wine a try because it's sexy."'

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 E4

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