Rock and Roll Wine: Paul Cullen (of Bad Company)
Editor’s Note: This was written by our good friend and L.A. correspondent Randy Fuller, who is also a wine expert.
When a musician offers a wine under his or her name, you can expect certain musical analogies to pop up – like “reds, whites and blues.” Paul Cullen can handle the blues himself, and he’s man enough to add a pink wine to the red and white mix.
Cullen was the touring bass player for Bad Company back in the early ‘90s. He still strums the steel strings, but he has also turned his attention from the playing of “Holy Water” to the making of earthy wines. Cullen’s “Unplugged and Uncorked” line of wines are actually made by Foothill Wine Cellars of Drytown, CA, utilizing grapes grown under the California sun in the Sierra Foothills. Winemaker Allen Kreutzer is a winemaking veteran and a drummer, so his involvement in the project seems to be as natural as a C major.
Cullen advises those who pick up the bottle and look at the label to “Tune Your Palate” to his wines. He provided me with samples of three of his wines – the Sonata lineup – so I banged the tuning fork on the edge of the bar and tried them.
The Paul Cullen wines come under a Stelvin closure – known backstage as a screwcap – and the three segments of this wine symphony all rock an alcohol content of about 14.5% abv. That’s hitting a high note for some, but it’s about average for California wines.
This wine is the ballad of the concert, a white wine from the Sierra Foothills. Sauvignon Blanc is played against a bit of Chardonnay. It has a very pale color, with a nose that’s rather faint, but pear and peach aromas make their way through a distinct minerality with a slight grassy note on the side. The palate is savory, with the fruit again playing second fiddle. A nice acidity leaves a clean feeling in the mouth, and it should be great with light salads or just for sipping on the porch while your Pandora goes off on a musical tangent.
Here’s a mid-tempo number that makes you think a bit – just what you want about halfway through the show, a little something to keep you interested. Its color also plays pianissimo, a pretty light pink in the glass – quite Provence looking. Aromas of strawberries and watermelon provide the main instrumentation, with a green earthiness handling the backbeat.
It’s nice and dry, and the palate puts an earthy spin on the fruit, too. The strawberry flavor serves as conductor for a rather complex showing of raspberry, cranberry, green apples and a savory rhubarb note. There’s also a mead-like flavor which I couldn’t quite figure out.
I was rather surprised to find that this wine is a blend of Petite Sirah and an Italian variety Fiano. Fiano is a white grape grown mainly in Campania and on the island of Siciliy and, apparently, in California’s Sierra Foothills.
A little research led me to the information that Fiano is noted for a honey-like flavor, which would explain the mead thing – since mead is wine made from honey. Fiano is also known for a rather heavy handed flavor profile, but so is Petite Sirah. It’s a good duet.
This is the arena-rockin’ encore anthem of the performance, the fist-pumping climax of the enological event. Again from the Sierra Foothills, this medium-weight red blend sports a power trio of Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. This wine needs a lot of time to shake the alcohol from its bouquet, but I suppose real rockers don’t worry about that.
They probably don’t use the term “bouquet” much, either. Once the heat burns off, blueberries and vanilla explode from the glass like a flash pod. There a spiciness that joins the fruit on the palate, too – not a surprise in a wine featuring both Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. The oak is quite apparent here, but it fits well into the overall structure of the wine.
The Paul Cullen wines are distributed mainly in Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina, but they are available online, if your state allows wine shipments. In addition to the wines written about here, they also offer one called Gypsy Red – a Merlot/Zinfandel blend – and a Barbera called Jazz Freak. Jazz Freak retails for $16, while the others sell for $13.
YouTube: Paul Cullen, pourin’ wine and playin’ guitar