Oh, you already knew that?
Okay, smarty pants; I suppose you also knew that Napoleon wasn’t really French, Cleopatra wasn’t really Egyptian, Hitler wasn’t German, Alexander wasn’t Greek and Stalin wasn’t Russian? And even though Marilyn wasn’t a natural blonde? Elvis was. No? Just look at pictures of the King when he was still a pauper.
Now that we’ve established that everything you know is wrong, we can all talk comfortably about wine.
What Could Be More Fun Than Naming a Mind-Altering Substance After a Celebrity Who O.D.’d on a Mind-Altering Substance?
Back in 1981, two decades after a Nembutal wind blew out Norma Jeane’s candle, a handful of Napa wine buddies were slamming homemade merlot and twisting words, and one of them came up with the excruciatingly charming wine tag, ‘Marilyn Merlot’. Like most drunken eureka moments, it probably sounded less hilarious with a hangover, but as a concept it wouldn’t die, and by 1985, the group was marketing a limited release Marilyn Merlot to the public.
Now, for the most part, serious wine aficionados are notoriously humor-impaired, and most approach their discipline (grape juice) with a gravitas that is not only overbearing and boring, but borderline frightening . ‘Sober drunks’ is an oxymoron that strikes terror into the hearts of those of us who drink for the taste and the effects and consider all the esoteric flash-card words mere conversational bon mots to fill dead air between wine flights. So, back in the day, it was with almost perverse joy that I read the first highbrow, tentative, but mandatory reviews of Marilyn Merlot.
Because, like hearing Steve Martin rip through a banjo reel or Charo play Flamenco guitar—or even watching Marilyn Monroe upstage Don Murray and make William Inge’s Bus Stop—the inescapable fact is, despite all
inherent incongruities, Steve’s a great banjoist, Charo’s an award-winning guitarist, Marilyn could genuinely act, and what was inside that campy Marilyn Merlot bottle was (and still is) a sensational wine.
(Oh, and BTW; Napoleon was Corsican, Cleopatra was Greek, Hitler was Austrian, Alexander was Macedonian and Stalin was from Georgia. No, not Atlanta).
High Time For a New Pun…
So, ratchet your humor-o-meter forward to 2011. With twenty-five vintages of Marilyn Merlot having been released (always on MM’s birthday, June 1), each of which sold out within months, the pun has grown a little stale, but the reviews remain strong and the basement brand has turned into a juggernaut concern. Still owned by original punsters Bob and Donna Holder, Marilyn Merlot is now crafted by winemaker John McKay, formerly of Charles Krug, Vichon, Merlion and Monticello, using grapes sourced from all over Napa Valley, including vineyards in Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Based on a licensing contract with Marilyn’s estate which allows use of her name and images (except for the morgue shots), the lineup has expanded to include more listlessly-named offerings: Marilyn Cabernet (not funny); also, a Beaujolais-style merlot meant to reflect the bouncy innocence of the starlet before she discovered chloral hydrate and the Kennedys called Norma Jeane (cute idea, but not ha-ha funny); Blonde de Noirs, a late disgorged sparkler that might elicit a miniscule grin, but the price tag—$37.50—immediately wipes it off.
The tariff does reflect a growing phenomenon surrounding this particular cult wine: It has become a collector’s item beyond all reason. Said Bob Holder in a recent interview:
“Twelve-bottle sets of the 1985 through 1996 vintages sell for as much as $7,500, appreciating well beyond the levels of many first-growth Bordeaux.”
He is not referring to Brigitte Bordeaux.
So has success diminished the Holder’s capacity for wit? Did all that bordough sap the satire and quell the quips? Will we be stuck with Velvet Collections instead of precious groaners? Must we look only to Randall Grahm or Charles Back for a chug-a-lug chuckle?
Until last year, the answer was a guarded yes.
And then along came Sauvignon Blonde. Not on quite on the wit plateau of Marilyn Merlot, not out of the whimsicality ball park, but a ground-rule double. The wine, however, in its third vintage (’10), is a grand slam. Sourced from Yountville fruit, it shows all the multi-tiered versatility of sauvignon blanc from this patchwork of microclimates, where temperatures are milder than in much of Napa and the soils range from sand to loam to clay. Sauvignon Blonde’s aromatics are a sumptuous blend of tropical and citrus, with guava and grapefruit leading the charge. Firm acidity braces up the body, and there is a nice steeliness and a lingering minerality that indicates a maturity of the vines.
The name becomes an instant afterthought; the long, almost silky finish, with notes of marzipan and kiwi fruit, does not.
If the idea of pun-naming varietal wines after dead famous people catches on, can you imagine what I might be reviewing next?
- John Beluscheurebe
- Cabernet Franc Sinatra
- Chateau Margaux Hemingway
- Janis Joptima
- Michael Kendall Jackson
- Heath Ledgerwürztraminer
- Brittany Murphy-Goode
- Jimi Hendurif
- Mel Pinot Blanc
- Keith Mugni
I think we should count our blessings over a soup tureen full of Sauvignon Blonde, don’t you?