Wine: Celebrity uncorked

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Although you'd normally associate her with bottled Kabbalah water, Madonna has recently launched her own wines, the daringly titled Confessions UnWine. The material girl's collection includes an ambitiously priced Californian cabernet sauvignon selling for $40, pinot grigio for $29 and non-alcoholic "wine" for $25. According to the mastermind behind this and the Rolling Stones' limited edition wine, Marty Ehrlichman, "We're not selling what's inside the bottle, but what's outside." So these trophies are not meant to be drunk but treasured as they gather dust on the mantelpiece. It's equally dispiriting to hear commentators propounding that it's a way of bringing young people to wine.

Not all so-called celebrity wines are simply monuments to their egos. Sir Cliff is serious about his Vida Nova ( www.winesvidanova.com) made in the Algarve, as are England cricketing legends Ian Botham and Bob Willis with their Australian BMW chardonnay and shiraz ( www.tesco.com/wine). Sam Neill's Two Paddocks ( www.twopaddocks.com) and Ernie Els' eponymous wine (www.ernieels wines.com) are not cheap, but they are at least top quality examples of, respectively, New Zealand pinot noir and South African cabernet sauvignon.

Jose Mourinho has also joined the celebrity wine circle, becoming a front man for the cork stopper cause. Maybe it's misplaced patriotism that's driving him to support his native country, which makes the lion's share of the world's cork. But for once he's on a hiding to nothing. With Australia and New Zealand leading the screwcap revolution, the tide has irrevocably turned. Cork is believed to be the cause of at least one in 20 bottles ruined (by cork taint). It's also being increasingly recognised as an unreliable stopper responsible for the premature ageing of wines.

The screwcap is preferred not because everyone prefers metal to cork but for its greater reliability. Now that the industry has been forced into alternative measures, it's using "celebrities" to cloak cork's inadequacies, and try and win back lost ground. But it's not going to happen, and the sooner Mourinho realises that he's taken his eye off the ball, the better.

If the Chelsea manager is keen to use his undoubted energy in supporting Portugal, he might do better to team up with Sir Cliff in backing his beloved Portuguese wines because the country needs all the help it can get. Mourinho is a self-confessed lover of Barca Velha, a table wine from the Douro. As the demand for port wanes, the steep, terraced vineyards in the hills above Oporto have the potential to produce first-class reds made from a blend of high quality native grapes. But a recent tasting showed these wines to be mixed.

Among the best value, the youthful 2004 Lavadores de Feitoria, Quinta das Pias, £6.75, Flying Corkscrew, Herts (01442 412312) is a rich, darkly blackberryish, aromatic red. For more sumptuous blackberry fruit, sheer quality and a wine that shows off the Douro's potential for superb reds, the sleek, modern 2003 Pintas, £32.50, Thameside Wines, London SW15 (020-8788 4752) is a top scorer.

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