John Salley didn't drink when he won his four NBA championships (two with the Detroit Pistons, one with the Chicago Bulls and one with the L.A. Lakers), so he missed out on lots of celebratory Champagne. But the former basketball star, nicknamed "Spider" for his uncanny shot-blocking skills, has since found an appreciation for fine wines. Now the cohost of Fox Sports Net's Best Damn Sports Show Period, Salley says his favorite wines hail from Sonoma, where he's a frequent visitor and attendee at Wine Spectator events.
Wine Spectator: When did you become interested in wine?
John Salley: Since about 2000 I've been really into wine. I'm not a hard-liquor drinker. I was around Greg Gorman, the great photographer, and we were eating at this restaurant in Los Angeles called Pane e Vino on Beverly Boulevard. It had all these wines there, and we tasted through them as the staff explained what each one tasted like. And I literally was able to pick out the different tastes they were describing. I said, "This is really cool. This is the way I want to get into wine."
WS: After you got into cigars, you started a cigar shop. Now that you're into wine, have you considered going into the wine business?
JS: When I went up to Sonoma to visit Chalk Hill, Silver Oak and Hanna, my friend Tom took me to a boutique winery called Siduri. That got me looking for more boutique wines in Los Angeles. I found a shop here called the Vineyard Express. And now we're talking about [becoming partners and] opening more stores around Los Angeles.
WS: What kinds of wines do you enjoy most?
JS: I try all sorts of wines. I love the way Caymus tastes. I was at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach last weekend, and we had three bottles of Caymus Special Selection: two 2001s and one 2002. The '01 was way better. I also love Chalk Hill and Seghesio. When I visited Seghesio's vineyards, I discovered their Zinfandel, which is really great. I've tried the Two-Buck Chuck--not my thing. I'm not saying I'm a prima donna.
My favorite wine is Lancaster. No, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Damn. Well, between Lancaster, Chalk Hill and Stag's Leap, I'd have to flip a coin.
Most people say that by the third bottle all wine tastes the same, but that's not true. When you get a good bottle of Lancaster, it's great the whole time, bottle after bottle.
WS: It sounds like you have a penchant for California wines.
JS: I've tried Italian and Bordeaux that were very good. I like Ruffino's wines. But California wines feel fuller to me. They're like butter when you taste them.
I've visited wineries in Portland. I've been in Santa Barbara. I was in Portugal too. I'd like to get to South America and check out Chile. But Sonoma's the best.