Thursday 30 May 2013

Celebrity Drinking: Francis Coppola Blue Label Merlot/ Barefoot Merlot

So a friend of mine - the one who had the harebrained scheme for driving wine all over the country, as it happens - says he's found an empty bottle of Francis Coppola's wine in his house. It's a 2006 Merlot, which he has no recollection of drinking, although he presumes it was a pretty fair swill, as it was given to him by someone with a keen interest in wine, and, possibly also, was to make amends for some shambles engineered by that same wine enthusiast on a previous occasion - a moral debt which always ups the chances of the gifted drink being of reasonable quality.

He shows me the bottle, which I handle reverently, even though there's nothing in it. Why am I so respectful? The label is neither here nor there, and I don't even like Californian wines - all that heft, that 'Fruit Bomb' crap, as suave as an episode of Wacky Races. It's got to be down to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola has directed at least three imperishably great movies - The Godfather, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now - and therefore enjoys, in my head at least, the kind of status that makes anything he touches of interest, even a Sonoma Valley red, even a berkish one-size-fits-all Merlot varietal.

One might, of course, make the same pathetic fan's-eye-view observation of Paul Newman's salad dressings, or Marky Ramone's pasta sauce - except for the fact that Coppola enjoys a couple of key advantages in the celebrity food & drink business: his products are award-winning wines, and therefore classy; and he is actually involved in their production, rather than simply allowing his name to be slapped on the label, as in the case of Sylvester Stallone's High Protein Pudding, Whitesnake's slightly incredible Zinfandel, or Smokey Robinson's Gumbo. Indeed, only Cliff Richard's Vida Nova wines (at one point the fastest selling wine Tesco has ever stocked) come close for authenticity and sheer frisson. Oh, and I've even seen Coppola's Zoetrope HQ in San Francisco, located in the iconic Sentinel Building, thereby affording me an extra bond of intimacy - although at no point did I go into the downstairs café for a Muffaletta and a taste of Director's Cut Pinot Noir at $11 a glass, for obvious reasons.

The only problem is that I am now sitting and staring at an entirely empty bottle of Coppola Merlot, stirred both by a hunger to experience the thrill of celebrity contact at several removes; and to remind myself (if indeed I ever knew) what a Sonoma red tastes like. So I trudge down to the supermarket, hoping against hope to find something approximating to a West Coast Merlot; or with Cliff Richard's name on it.

To my amazement, I do: a Barefoot Merlot (£6.99 at Waitrose), Gold Medal winner at the 2011 Critics' Challenge Wine Competition, which I carry home like a school prize, and whose screw top I then dispatch with a practised flourish.

Not bad. A bit heavy on the blackberries and chesty velvety stuff, more like eating a sexy chocolate bar than drinking wine, but on the other hand, some nice acidity, an entertainingly protracted fruit crumble finish, and mercifully only 13%, as opposed to the 15% horrors I have tangled with in the past. And here's a thing: if I was the sort of person who (like PK) frets about appearances, I could decant this stuff into the Coppola bottle and pass it off. After all, the Coppola wine gets some very mixed online punters' reviews ('Mildly disappointing'; 'Much better out there for half the price') and this Barefoot stuff, although ultimately a bit sticky, does the job. By God, I'm tempted. I could commit the imposture, then rub my hands together and cackle like Dick Dastardly, just to let any interested parties know that they were dealing with a criminal mastermind. And after that, I could tip Asda own brand vodka into a Cîroc bottle and pretend that P. Diddy had endorsed it.

Oh, wait, I don't actually have an empty bottle of Cîroc, and would have to buy it first. Drat and double drat.


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