People who pick up a bottle of Whitesnake Zinfandel probably have little doubt that rock singer David Coverdale has something to do with the De La Montanya winery–produced red. Why else would it bear the name of Coverdale’s long-lived heavy metal band, which topped the charts in 1989 with songs such as “Is This Love?” and “Here I Go Again”?
The Britain-born musician’s love for wine stretches back to the mid-’70s and his days as the lead singer of seminal hard rock band Deep Purple. Coverdale, no less a rocker at 59, spoke from his home in Lake Tahoe about his favorite bottles and the unexpected success of the wine Coverdale describes as “a bodacious, cheeky little wine, filled to the brim with the spicy essence of sexy, slippery Snakiness.”
Wine Spectator: How long have you been interested in wine?
David Coverdale: Being a child of the ’50s in England, it was only the aristocracy who could afford to indulge in European pleasantries. I didn’t really get to taste wine until an aunt took me to northern Italy when I was 10 or 11. That was just a finger dipped in. The next time, I was an art student of 15 or 16. I and a half-Spanish friend of mine would go to this delicatessen and get a loaf of French bread, cheeses and an old bottle of Chianti, the kind with straw around it. That was a life-changing experience for me in working-class northern England. Of course, when I was blessed with getting a gig with Deep Purple and flying all over the world in private planes and dining in Paris with 13 knives and forks on either side of the place setting, I was introduced to an astonishing array of wines.
WS: The Whitesnake wine is a Zinfandel. Is that a varietal you like?
DC: It’s funny. [Winemaker] Dennis De La Montanya is a huge rock and roll fan, and I’m a huge wine fan. A mutual friend, who runs the Vegas Hilton, said, “Well, this could be an interesting cocktail to put these guys together.” Dennis recommended a Zin. We had no idea if this was going to do anything, so I agreed to 300 cases. And poof—gone! We had an order for 1,000 cases, so we’re putting together a Merlot. You can’t stop an express train.
WS: Are you going to make a white wine?
DC: Well, I’m a big Burgundy fan. I’m a total Puligny, Chevalier and Chassagne-Montrachet fan, particularly on special occasions. Those are my favorite wines of all time. I absolutely bathe in it. I [adore] French and Italian wines. You know, I really was introduced in just the last few years to American wines. I was a total European snob. While I could ill-afford it, I got one of the first cases of Opus One, and I was bitterly disappointed with it. It didn’t connect with me at all. A lot of the early California wines I found had a metallic aftertaste. It was the only wine where I genuinely needed drinking-water on the side to freshen my palate. But that was a long time ago. Now, I know there are magnificent wines out there. One of my favorite vineyards is a tiny place called Keever. They make a Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve found that has kicked many a French trophy-wine’s ass. Foolishly, I told my business manager, who has a little wine circle, and they bought every available bottle of it. I think I’ve got the last two available bottles of 2006.
WS: You have to be careful about keeping those good wines secret.
DC: Selfish rules! I really do favor the smaller, less-corporate vineyards. To me, [wine is] a living thing. I don’t like generic wine. It’s got to be something to look forward to. "When’s happy hour? 4 p.m.?" Def Leppard and I always say, "It’s gotta be happy hour somewhere in the world."