Mike Ditka, 67, started his professional football career as a tight end for the Chicago Bears, the team he would eventually coach to a Super Bowl win in 1985. He also picked up a Super Bowl win in 1972 when he was with the Dallas Cowboys, in his final season as a player. Ditka made it to four Pro Bowls, and was the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since he left football, Ditka has spent much of his time in the broadcast booth, but also at the dinner table. His restaurant, Mike Ditka's Chicago, has been serving up food to loyal fans for about 20 years, and he's been interested in wine for just as long. Now, with the help of Mendocino Wine Company, Ditka has his own brand of wines called Da Coach. He has started out with a Chardonnay ($18), Pinot Grigio ($12), Merlot ($12), Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) and a red blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah called Kick Ass Red ($50). Ditka spoke with Wine Spectator Online before the nationwide release of the wines and just after a "terrible" round of golf.
Wine Spectator: How did you first get interested in wine?
Mike Ditka: I've been interested in wine my whole life. French, German, Chilean, Argentinean, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa—I've had 'em all. I've drank every kind of wine there is. I now lean more to the Cabs, but I drank Merlot for a long time. I've had a lot of Silver Oak and Jordan in my life and a lot of other things, and it's all good. If I had a bad one, I wouldn't order it again! If I had a penny for every glass of wine I've had in my life, I'd be a millionaire.
WS: How did the creation of your own wine come about?
MD: The people at [distributor] Southern Wine & Spirits came to me and said they had a winery in California that might be interested in making a private label for us. We flew out to Mendocino Wine Company, and we came up with five wines to start with. At the low end, we have the Pinot Grigio, which we use as a bar pour in our restaurant, and the Merlot—which are very good wines, actually. Then we came out with two middle-range wines, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet, and then the high-end blend. We have a bone-in rib eye on our menu that we call a Kick Ass Paddle Steak, and I wanted to call the wine Kick Ass Red. I just like a wine that tastes good with a steak or a chop, and that's what this is.
WS: How involved did you get in choosing the blends?
MD: We sat down with the winemaker, and he told us what he wanted to do with the blend, and I loved it. If it would've been another wine, would I have loved it? Maybe, but I loved that one. I loved the bouquet. I loved everything about it. Same with the Cab. But I don't drink white wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio I leave up to my wife, and if she likes them, it's OK with me.
WS: What other names in football have you shared your wine with, and how have they reacted to it?
MD: I've just shared it with my friends. We just got it into the restaurant, and we're already sold out of the Pinot Grigio. I hope it's a problem we have forever! Everyone will buy it once, maybe because of the name, maybe not. But I think they'll buy it again. It's one of these deals where when you order it, you don't expect the worst and you don't expect the best, but it turns out to be a hell of a lot better than you expected.
WS: Who do you think knows more about football and wine, you or John Madden (who owns a vineyard)?
MD: Well, if being an expert means you have to drink it over a long period of time, then I'm an expert!