When NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton starts something, he starts big. As a young quarterback at the University of Georgia, Tarkenton substituted himself into his first game appearance without his coach's consent. During his first NFL game with the Minnesota Vikings, he threw four touchdown passes and introduced professional football to his uncanny scrambling ability. The same goes for wine. After a legendary career in which he led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances and set several NFL records, Tarkenton took up wine in a big way, filling his cellar with first-growth Bordeaux and premier cru Burgundy. When he discovered California wines, he stocked up on Opus One, Silver Oak and Caymus. But Tarkenton now eschews the world-famous wines in favor of lesser-known discoveries.
Wine Spectator: When did you become interested in wine?
Fran Tarkenton: I've been drinking wine for at least 30 years. It's interesting how you go through the evolution. I was a Bordeaux zealot for years. I've got some great '61 and '66 Palmer and Margaux; I've got a bunch of Bordeaux from '82. And a lot of Burgundies--some nice Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne. But I hardly drink any of it anymore.
WS: What are you drinking now?
FT: California wines, for me, are so outstanding. They're making the best wine in the world right now. My wife, Linda, and I try new wines everywhere we go. We travel to Napa at least once a year. We like to seek out little boutique wineries. We found one we like a lot in Carmel called Boete. They make a Cabernet Franc that is just outstanding.
I like Dunn as well. We've discovered a little winery in St. Helena called Sherwin Family Vineyards. Beautiful, big Cabernet! I mean, the wine sticks to your teeth it's so big. Cliff Lede's Poetry Cabernet is really nice.
WS: Why did you switch to less prominent wines?
FT: The name-brand, cult wines are so overpriced now that I don't bother with them. I've got a cellar full of Opus One and Caymus, but I don't think they're the best right now. For example, I've traveled to Bordeaux, and, of course, Pétrus is a wonderful wine--I've got a few cases of '82, '83 and '90. But right across the road from Pétrus is Château Gazin. It's such a better deal, and I think the '90 Gazin outdrinks the '90 Pétrus. I have matured in the wine thing; I have refused to pay the exorbitant prices. You go to a restaurant and order a bottle of Pétrus and you'll spend $3,000. It's just silly. And I open up a Gazin or a Sherwin Vineyards next to it, and they're better.
WS: Have you ever had the itch to make your own California Cabernet?
FT: I guess everybody has that itch. But it can ruin your love of wine. Some people do it and then they end up with a business that loses money. Anytime a person's business loses money they can't be too happy. I'll just continue to enjoy the beauty and pleasure of wine without throwing my money down the tube. I can take the money I was going to lose and spend it on more wine.
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