The actor and pitchman William Shatner boldly goes on internet TV with a freewheeling new wine show.
What was your inspiration for Brown Bag Wine Tasting? It's an offbeat idea to have nonexperts like
a Real Housewife discuss wine.
I was talking to Mike Horn, a friend of mine, one day, and I just thought, Brown-bag wine tasting. Mike's a radio producer and has a vast interest in wine, too, and when I mentioned it, he loved the idea. I'd already been doing an interview show for three years on the Biography Channel, and combining the two just sort of happened in my brain.
How do you get people who don't know much about wine to describe one?
Here's an example: We had Dave Koz, the saxophone player, on the show. I told him to bring his instrument. Then, when we tasted the wine, I said, "Don't talk. Play what it's like on your sax." And he played this 45-second jazz run of what the wine tasted like. It was great.
Who is the most surprising person you've had on so far?
The marijuana guy, in our first season! He was a street dealer, someone who'd never tasted wine other than a $5 bottle of rotgut to knock himself out. The idea of tasting wine had never occurred to him. But by the end of the interview he began to get it. And not only that, but he also softened up so much that he followed me around. The next day I was competing in a horse show, and he brought his family. He'd never seen a horse before, nor had his wife or child.
Would you consider yourself
a wine expert?
No! I have to be reminded all the time of which wines I like. But I have a good enough palate and a lot of interest, and I love wine. I appreciate the artistry that goes into making it. I also connect it to the desire by human beings to have taste as a significant thing in their lives.
Rumor has it you want to do
a food show on the Ora TV network, too, right?
I'm thinking of doing a show called MILF: Mothers I'd Like to Feed. The title says it all. It will be a look at famous chefs and how they got that way, especially from a family point of view. So Alton Brown, for instance, got the desire to be a cook from his grandmother. By the way, his biscuits and gravy—a recipe he got from her—are out of this world.
What about your own tastes? What wines do you love?
I like hearty reds, the same as I like big, dark beers. My wife loves Chardonnay, so I drink that, too, but I tend to like richer versions—Kosta Browne is one of my favorites. For reds, I go for ones with more body, more flavor. I love good Zinfandels—Robert Biale Vineyards' Black Chicken is one I always hunt for, or the Rockpile Winery Cemetery Vineyard Zinfandel, from the Mauritson family.
Do you like Champagne?
No. My wife likes great Champagne. But for me—I'm not sure I really mean this, but why not express it?— I think the bubbles interfere with the purity of the taste. You're getting something in addition to the wine's flavor.
This summer you drove a three-wheeled motorcycle you helped design from Chicago to Los Angeles, over 2,400 miles. Did you stop for wine along the way?
There was so much to do on the drive cross-country that drinking anything but bottles of water was the last thing on our minds. You get really paranoid about cars and trucks that are passing you or that you are passing on a long drive for 12 hours a day, eight days straight.
What would you have for your final meal on Earth, if you knew the end was coming?
Sushi. But that old idea about red with meat and white with fish—who decided that? I'd want a glass of each. In fact, you might as well drink five bottles if you know the end is coming.
Just for fun, what sort of wine do you think Captain Kirk would drink? Or Denny Crane from Boston Legal? Or the Priceline Negotiator?
It's well known that the Klingon vineyards produce the best wine. Denny Crane would drink single malt Scotch. And the Priceline Negotiator would tell you—but only for a fee.
7 Wines to Try Now
Ray Isle picks seven of the best wines from the past two season of Brown Bag Wine Tasting.
2013 Luli Chardonnay ($20)
Actor Misha Collins of Supernatural (who has an ongoing, absurdist Twitter feud with Shatner) said this Chardonnay reminded him of a primordial sacrifice. The wine actually comes from vineyards east of Monterey.
NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($22)
On Shatner's show, Food Network star Alton Brown translated this California sparkling wine's flavors into a sort-of recipe: "Three tablespoons of butter, crush up one tablespoon of a Butterfinger bar, an Amalfi lemon — peel only — and then we're going to add some greenery: fresh clippings from a hayfield." The only other thing to add would be bubbles.
2014 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25)
When he tasted this white, Veep star Matt Walsh said, "It makes me want to change. And stop smoking." It's unclear whether Sauvignon Blanc ever has that effect, but blending a little Sémillon with it —as in this Napa version— does result in an appealing lemon-honey note.
2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel ($37)
Motorcycle fan James Reddick compared this Napa Valley red to a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 with antique rims — "a big motorcycle, and loud." It's definitely a supercharged wine, with an abundance of rich dark-berry fruit.
2012 Ehlers Estate Merlot ($55)
Former Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Brandi Glanville said this Merlot made her want to do "something really wrong—like, naughty." It's full-bodied, with lots of ripe cherry fruit.
2012 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet ($55)
Napa Valley's 2012 vintage was superb. This silky Cabernet—blended with grapes from a variety of vineyard sources—was the wine Shatner had me taste blind when I appeared on the show. I gave it 92 points; his sommelier gave it 96.
2012 Martinelli Vellutini Ranch Zinfandel ($65)
A recent guest on Shatner's show, Nigel Lythgoe, is a longtime American Idol producer. His comment on this red was, "It's Kelly Clarkson — it hits all the right notes — with a little Ruben Studdard: full-bodied."