Celebrity Spirits

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Strike while the iron's hot -- it's a well-used expression, and one that applies to a few celebrities who have started to look beyond the stage.

Two in particular have started their own unique spirit lines, and hope to capitalize on their fame by drawing in consumers to their respective brands.

Lorraine Bracco, known as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the hit show "The Sopranos," started Bracco Wines in 2005; Vince Neil, front man for the seminal '80s band Motley Crue, founded tequila line Tres Rios in 2006.

But how far will name recognition take these food industry novices?

Stellar Selection

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an English mother and Italian-American father, Bracco was always around wine at large family get-togethers. Her exposure to fine wines continued in her teens and twenties while living in Europe as a model and actress for ten years.

For her own label, Bracco set out in 2005 to the vineyards all over Italy, where she personally handpicked eight outstanding wines. "The more I learned, the more fascinated I became," says Bracco.

Her selections included Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2004 ($13), a fruity wine produced from grapes grown in the Italian Alps; Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2002 ($13), a deep-purple vintage produced in Abruzzo; and Primitivo 2003 ($28), which consists of handpicked grapes grown in Puglia, then aged for one year in oak barrels and an additional three months in the bottle.

Bracco also picked two Chianti wines: Chianti Classico 2003 ($27), which has its roots in the most prestigious area of Tuscany, and Chianti Classico Reserva, ($39), an intense wine with a spicy aroma, hailing from the village of Panzano. (There are only 10,000 bottles of this wine available in the U.S.)

Also on her label is Barolo 2001 ($48), a red wine produced by blending grapes from three specially selected vineyards. It's then aged in the barrels for at least three years and then bottled for an additional three to five years (7,500 bottles available).

Another careful selection is Amarone Classico ($47), an estate red wine produced from 50% Corvina, 30% Molinara and 20% Rondinella and Rossinella grape varieties (10,000 bottle available).

At the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Bracco hosted a private dinner at chef David Bouley's new restaurant Evolution, which featured several of her wines paired with foods prepared by Bouley -- a perfect opportunity to showcase her line.

Just reading the menu of the dishes paired with Bracco's wine from the event still makes my mouth water: fresh pompano grilled with Hawaiian hearts of palm in an Alaskan snow crab sauce paired with Bracco's crisp Pinot Grigio; and Chatham lobster with her robust Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, which is the perfect accompaniment for poultry and game.

Organic Randall Farm veal was served with rich gorgonzola gnocchi and tomato-coriander sauce and paired with her elegant Chianti Classico 2003; finally, braised beef cheeks were accompanied by a bold Chianti Classico Reserva 2001.

Bracco also led a general seminar for festival-goers at the Grand Tasting Village. Chef Michael D'Andrea of Macaluso's Restaurant seminar cooked dishes which included braciola -- a thinly sliced meat cutlet -- which Bracco paired with her Amarone Classico 2001.

All her picks showed that Bracco has clearly studied much more than just acting.

Although she made it seem effortless at the festival, Bracco admits that launching her own wine label has been difficult. "It's a lot harder than I thought, [but] I have a good product that really helps me; it's coming together," she says.

Being a celebrity also can help, but can have its drawbacks. "A lot of people thought it was going to just be another celebrity wine, but once they tasted ... everyone [was] very surprised," Bracco explains.

And there may be plans to branch out even further within the next few years, into her own vineyard.

Bracco says that when she was in Italy, she was keeping her eyes open for real estate. But "it would never be a huge vineyard. ... I am not going to be buying several thousands of acres of land. I would buy a house and couple of acres," she explains. Regardless, it's safe to assume that whatever wine she ends up producing will be a star.

Rock the Tequila

What better accompaniment to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle than tequila?

Motley Crue's Neil would certainly agree, especially since he founded his artisan high-end tequila line Tres Rios. The name, which means "three rivers," came to the rock star while he was in Mexico: "I came to a crossroads of three lush rivers and imagined they were flowing with the world's finest tequila," he recalls.

Correspondingly, there are three Tres Rios flavors: Resposado, tasting of sweet nectar layered with vanilla; Anejo, which has smoky overtones and rich caramel color; and Silver, the strongest and most pure-flavored of the line. All are made in Mexico using natural agave, which is carefully processed and aged.

The tequila market may be less crowded than the world of wine, but Tres Rios is still up against some larger, more established brands.

However, as Neil believes, Tres Rios has "no competition in taste, [and] we are price-lined with Patron, Don Julio and other high-end tequilas," says Neal, but declined to name price, as it depends on the location.

Neil was also at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival promoting his unique spirits. He gave an interactive seminar, "Give Me Rita," with Francesco Lafranconi, founder and director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, which covered plenty of tequila-soaked variations of the margarita.

And can he remain loyal to his first love of music? "I will always be a musician, [but] tequila has always been my drink of choice," answers Neil.

Fame and alcohol: a combination for success? Only time will tell.

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