When reggae band UB40, they of the 70 million records sold, ask if you’d like to taste their Red Red Wine, the answer is obviously/immediately/hilariously yes. Anyone born before the millennium has a connection to the infectious reggae-pop song by the same name. I distinctly remember bobbing my scrunchy-clad head to the beat in the back of my mom’s minivan. Now, decades later, it’s re-emerged in the form of a Bordeaux.
So when I received the opportunity to taste Red Red Wine, with the singer of Red Red Wine, while listening to “Red Red Wine,” I was elated.
Lead singer Ali Campbell, with the caramelly voice you hear when “just one thing makes me forget” gets stuck in your head, joined me via Skype to taste his merlot/cabernet franc blend (they shipped me two bottles). It was 10 in the morning for me, 6 in the evening for him in London.
The version of “Red Red Wine” we all know and love first topped the charts in England in 1983, and has remained popular ever since, which raises the question: What took them so long?
“Really, we just didn’t think about the idea of having our own wine,” Campbell said. “It’s such a special thing to do. And we were contacted by Jerome [Jacober] and his company, and he asked us if we’d like to get involved in getting a wine together, and of course we jumped at the chance.”
In 2014, UB40 partnered with wine producer Jerome Jacober and his company, Eminent Life. The burgeoning music-meets-wine business debuted with a Roger Daltrey Champagne to commemorate The Who’s 50th anniversary. Red Red Wine is their latest launch, which is logically being marketing alongside UB40’s 2017 tour.
“I think it’s funny as well as anything else,” Campbell said. “We’re just really happy with the way it came out. It could have been a crappy little wine, let’s face it, but it’s not. It’s come out beautifully and I’m really proud of it.
“'Red Red Wine' is about drinking wine to forget your troubles, really,” he added. “Like you drinking it at 10 in the morning, that’s really cool.”
People chuckle at the idea of Red Red Wine as an actual wine. It sounds like a novelty, like something you’d give as a fun birthday gift with a card that reads, “Hope this makes you feel so fine!” As it turns out, it’s a very pleasant blend; a full-bodied red that needs to breathe for an hour or two. I am not a wine professional, and given that it wasn’t even noon, I opened it 10 minutes before taking my first sip, and it was dryer than anticipated. But as it aerated into the next day, hints of black cherry and plum appeared, and we finished the first bottle. Ideally, I'll pair the second with a highly curated charcuterie board featuring milder meats and cheeses, but to be real, I'll probably drink it with a store-bought tub of burrata while streaming the song through Spotify, because the whole thing is just so funny.
“It’s perfect with cheese, and it’s nice on its own. It’s a nice warmth that comes in your chest. I’ve drunk a lot of wine in me time. We’ve been researching Red Red Wine for 30 years, you know,” Campbell joked.
Campbell says he’s performed “Red Red Wine” about 1,000 times but never gets tired of it.
“UB40 toured through the ages, the ’90s, the noughties. I’m known for 'Red Red Wine,’ that’s what everyone says straight away when they hear UB40. When people say, 'Oh, do you get bored?’ Never, because the reaction is always so lovely. We had 20 Top 40 hits in the ’80s and ’90s, so when you come to the show that’s what you get, and it’s culminating with 'Red Red Wine,’ of course.”
Apparently it’s a little-known fact that Neil Diamond originated the song “Red Red Wine.”
“No one was more surprised than us to find out it was a Neil Diamond song,” Campbell said. “His version’s quite slow, and we put a reggae beat to it, and reggae is what made it a hit.
“We’re planning on sending him a bottle. He’s never sent us so much as a birthday card, and you'd think he would since we made his song No. 1 all over the world. We’ve never spoken to Neil Diamond at all.”
Diamond couldn’t be reached for comment, but Campbell and the band are making the most of their biggest hit, between releasing Red Red Wine and performing at vineyards around the world.
“The Red Red Winery tour is us playing beautiful venues, wineries, like what we did in New Zealand and Australia, and in South America,” Campbell said. “It’s the best idea I’ve had, actually. Me and my cronies spend all our time in beautiful valleys and vineyards drinking beautiful wine and sometimes playing shows.
“I’d like to do a winery tour [in California], but at the moment we’re doing a normal tour in Cali for the first leg.”
UB40 Legends Ali, Astro and Mickey play the Greek Theatre on July 6. Will Red Red Wine be sold at the show so fans can have the type of meta experience I had? Jacober says he’ll “keep me posted.” And in the meantime, Red Red Wine can be purchased for $35 a bottle at Eminent-Life.com.