Celebrity Wine Challenge

Thursday, 24 June 2010
Reported by Anne-Marie Thompson

For a group of lucky individuals, the evening of June 24th was spent in the company of famous actors, superstar golfers and legendary hockey players … well, in the company of their wines anyway. The star-studded tasting of ten wines was held at the Vendange Institute and was expertly led by Robert White who provided an introduction to celebrity wines and talked about the growing role that they are playing in the world of wine.

The first flight contrasted three 2007 Chardonnays from the Niagara Wine Region. Given the similarities in varietal, vintage and general wine growing region, the group was able to focus on differences in vinification techniques that the winemakers and their celebrity patrons would have employed. For instance, the group as a whole preferred some oak, as displayed in wines of Mike Weir and Dan Akroyd to the unoaked Wayne Gretzky version. The wines ranged from Weir’s toasty, green apple, citrus and spicy wine to Gretzky’s which had crisp, lemony, pure fruit tones to Akroyd’s which was more robust in nature with more oak character than Weir’s. Overall, these wines were thought to be of good value at a decent price point with Weir’s wine being the favourite, followed by Gretzky’s then Akroyd’s.

Merlot and Cabernet/Merlot blends were featured in the second flight. Wendel Clark’s Merlot from California was a lovely garnet colour, with a smooth mouthfeel, low tannins and wonderful berry and smoke notes. Mike Weir’s Ontario Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend was bright purple with coffee and oak on the nose and strong cherry and berry fruit on the palate. This wine had more tannin and acid than Clark’s and could age for another 2 to 3 years. Greg Norman’s Australian Cabernet/Merlot blend was deep red in colour and had a more complex nose than the first two with black licorice, alcohol and tart cherry figuring prominently. Despite great expectations based on the aromas, the taste did not live up to the bouquet and this wine was the group’s least favourite with Clark’s being the overwhelming winner (third favourite overall for the night).

Next in line were Francis Ford Coppola’s Malbec and Greg Norman’s Shiraz. The Malbec was inky purple with violet and herbal notes. It was reminiscent of a juicy blackberry with a slight sweet finish and was a crowd favourite (second favourite overall for the night). The Shiraz in contrast was rich and hot with mint, chocolate cake, fruit and spice on the nose and palate. Not merely a ‘fruit bomb’, it was described as a big wine with some complexity and younger tannins than the Malbec.

The last pairing consisted of two 2005 California (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignons from Arnold Palmer and Wayne Gretzky. Palmer’s wine was described as mellow, soft, ‘yummy’, with toasty, herbaceous and leathery notes, ripe, supple tannins and relatively low acid. A ‘fireside wine’, the group determined that it could be enjoyed on its own as it didn’t necessarily have enough structure to balance with food. Gretzky’s wine by contrast had good structure with present, younger tannins, more alcohol and was deemed to be a good wine to pair with food. Palmer’s was the heavily preferred wine in this pairing and was the overall favourite for the evening.

With the ‘red carpet’ evening drawing to a close, even the group’s most serious sceptics developed a newfound respect for celebrity wines and winemakers. In addition to producing decent wines, the group learned that some of the celebs use the proceedings from sales towards good deeds, including their respective foundations in support of causes related to children. So please, explore and invite, if not an actual celebrity, a celebrity wine into your home and enjoy the win-win combination of delicious wine and supporting charitable efforts!


Flight 1

  • Mike Weir Chardonnay, Ontario, 26, $15.75
  • Wayne Gretzky Unoaked Chardonnay,Ontario, 63826, $13.75
  • Dan Akroyd Chardonnay, Ontario, 53934, $14.75

Flight 2

  • Wendel Clark Merlot, 2006, California, 94482, $17.75
  • Mike Weir Cabernet Merlot, Ontario, 109, $18.75
  • Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot, Australia, 552075, $24.95

Flight 3

  • Francis Ford Coppola Malbec, 2006, California, 76133, $27.75
  • Greg Norman Limestine Coast Shiraz, Australia, 575092, $24.75

Flight 4

  • Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Califonia, 105957, $24.75
  • Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Califonia, 91256, $39.75