It’s hard to believe that I first met former Bad Company bassist turned chef/wine producer Paul Cullen over ten years ago (“Ten. YEARS. MAN!!!!!!”). Back in 2012, Cullen was establishing his performer/chef second career, which is now successful enough that he’s able to host events for hungry and thirsty food-and-wine (and music) lovers in his own custom space.
His first outing with his own wine label, however, wasn’t quite as lucrative as his career is now (or was with his four year stint touring with legendary Classic Rock staple, Bad Company). When we met up earlier this year at Wilmington’s DECO, Cullen told me that while his previous private label wines sold well, profits were hard to come by.
“I found out how distributors work,” he said. “You do all of the work, and they make all of the money.”
Given his love for Italian food and wine (which form the core of his work providing custom dining experiences), the passion for vino was never far from his mind, and he was determined to eventually try his hand at a custom wine label again, this time with a bit more industry knowledge under his belt. His latest wines are already available to ship to 26 states in the USA.
Cullen’s new lineup, now called Paul Tagliaferro Cullen Artist Series, was built as a grass-roots sales effort, set up to cull (sorry!) from “four different producers, from four different regions” with whom Cullen has first-hand experience: they’re all spots to which he brings attendees of his Italian food-and-wine focused Italy trips. After he found himself using their wines at his events, he decided to approach them to create wines for his own label.
Based on my tasting, Cullen’s hard-won experience from his previous wine label didn’t stop at the business side of things; his new stuff is a rocking combo of tasty, well-made, food-friendly, and fairly priced.
Cullen described this Brut style Lambrusco as an “upscale rave” of a bubbly, and it’s hard to dislike anything about it. It’s fresh, and deeply fruity, with black cherry and black raspberry flavors that take on meaty and creamy notes. Glasses of this can empty out very, very quickly, it’s so dangerously delicious.
It speaks to the depth of Cullen’s Italian focus that he’d even choose a Roero Arneis, and his take is mineral, floral, citric, broad, and silky, with swirling flavors of ripe pears and peaches rolling to a toasty, nutty finish.
Dried rose petals, violets, and a creamy note kick off this crowd-pleasing pink. Tons of fresh cherry action on the palate make it a fruity delight, and a hint of astringent structure makes it textural enough to get geekier wine lovers talking about it.
Aiming for a red that would be versatile with his cooking, Cullen went for an all stainless steel Barbera here, resulting in a vivacious red with plenty of forward blue and black fruit aroma and flavor, all on the plummy side of the spectrum. At turns savory and leathery, it mostly gets right to the point, with a nice snap to the palate.
Sourced from vines located just outside of Montalcino, this blend of Sangiovese with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon is bottled in Kennett Square, PA (and sees five months of oak aging beforehand). Balsamic, savory, and very well put-together, it’s a mature take on Toscana Rosso with ample notes of toasted cedar, earth, and cigar box.