"Life's too short to drink bad wine," says chef, author and TV personality Emeril Lagasse. To make his point, he teamed up with Fetzer Vineyards to create Emeril's Classics, a line of affordable, food-friendly wines targeted to novice wine buyers.
For Lagasse -- the TV chef who has peppered the country's culinary vocabulary with catch phrases such as "Bam!," "Pork fat rules" and "Kick it up a notch" -- creating a wine brand is just one more step in the expansion of his empire.
Lagasse is the chef-proprietor of eight restaurants across the country: Emeril's (which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list), NOLA and Emeril's Delmonico in New Orleans; Emeril's New Orleans Fish House and Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas; and Emeril's and Emeril's Tchoup Chop in Orlando. The eighth restaurant, an Emeril's in Atlanta, is scheduled to open later this year. In addition to his Food Network television shows, Essence of Emeril and Emeril Live, he is the food corespondent for ABC's Good Morning America. Legasse has authored seven cookbooks and has a line of signature goods including spices, marinades, stainless cookware and silk neckties.
Despite the demands of his schedule, Lagasse claims he was personally involved in every step of winemaking, from visiting vineyards to tasting trial blends with Fetzer's vice president of winemaking, Dennis Martin. "We tasted and learned about each other, not only personally, but also about our palates and philosophies," said Lagasse. "And that philosophy is that we think people should be able to drink quality wine without being broke afterwards!"
Legasse, who believes that buying wine can be intimidating for some people, acknowledges that many will try his products just because he is a celebrity. "I hope that any influence I have will be to make wine more fun and more approachable," he said.
Last year, two wines were released in select markets under the Emeril's Classics label. The Red Table Wine 2000 (85 points, $13, 26,000 cases) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel; it is dense with currant, blackberry, herb and tar notes. The White Table Wine 2001 (85 points, $13, 19,000 cases) is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier that is soft and juicy, with toasty, apple blossom, peach, pear and spice flavors.
The second releases, due out later this year, will introduce a Mendocino Chardonnay blended with Viognier and Gewürztraminer, and a California Cabernet Sauvignon, again blended with Syrah and Zinfandel. These wines, priced at $10 to $13 a bottle, will be available for purchase primarily in supermarket chains and on Fetzer's Web site.
Blending grapes mirrors Legasse's cooking style, in which layers of intense flavors and textures are put together. He explains, "The whole concept of doing blends really came out of the belief that, in a world of so many interesting and wonderful flavors that complement each other, why choose just one flavor?"