Are Celebrity Wines Really Worth Drinking?

Kylie Minogue‘s wines do not come across as a cynical marketing ploy, on the contrary, it is entirely credible that she enjoys drinking them too.

Photo provided

Kylie Minogue‘s wines do not come across as a cynical marketing ploy, on the contrary, it is entirely credible that she enjoys drinking them too.

Kylie Minogue‘s wines do not come across as a cynical marketing ploy, on the contrary, it is entirely credible that she enjoys drinking them too.

Photo provided

Kylie Minogue, Mary J. Blige, Gordon Ramsay, Idris Elba, Sting and John Malkovich are just a few of the celebrities who have entered the wine business. Such wines – either made or endorsed by celebrities – have become almost ubiquitous. Some see this as a cynical move: why drink these wines? Why pay for a famous name on the label? Why play their game? That is why Falstaff put them to the test. Our conclusion? Some celebrity wines are downright stunning: some are really well-made and delicious – and they are no more expensive than other wines of their class.

Our tasting of almost 90 wines showed clear front-runners: two red wines, one from Tuscany, one from California, and a stunning Champagne, selected by British actor Idris Elba. The California red is Inglenook Rubicon 2011, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend from Rutherford in Napa Valley, made at the winery of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola – the man behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. The Tuscan wine was O.T. Toscana Rosso 2015 from the winery of star photographer Oliviero Toscani who achieved notoriety with his provocative shots for the Italian fashion label Benetton from the 1980s onwards. As it turns out, both Coppola and Toscani are old hands. Their involvement in wine goes back to the 1970s – just as they were making their names in filmmaking and photography.

American actor John Malkovich likes to keep a low profile when promoting the wines grown at his Provence estate.

© HANNING/REA/laif

Top wines from top stars

The Falstaff tasting team was also impressed by much less well-established wine projects: Idris Elba’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne, for instance, has as much substance and effortless style as the actor himself. He partnered with Champagne Sanger in Avize for this project. Likewise, the wine range presented by British chef Gordon Ramsay, launched last year, convinced the team. Ramsay, known equally well for unvarnished criticism and infallible taste, remains true to form – and the team did not have to resort to swear words when describing the wines. Made by Seabold Cellars in Monterey, California, Ramsay’s wines are currently sold in the United States only, but further distribution can only be a question of time. His numerous restaurants in Britain and the US are a ready route to market.

Celebrity wines are clearly more than a nod to fans or a hobby for the stars: they are serious business. The former Hollywood dream couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt owned Château Miraval in Provence, France although Jolie sold her share last year. When the couple launched their first wine in 2012, the world did not necessarily expect that it would become a benchmark for Rosé de Provence – but that is Miraval’s status today. Much of the wine’s success is down to the expertise of the legendary winemaking family Perrin, owners of the iconic Château de Beaucastel in the Rhône Valley – but it is fair to say that by now Château Miraval wines sell because they are good, not because of the famous names attached to them. The 2020 vintage scored 93 points after all. 

Brad Pitt and winemaker Marc Perrin at Château Miraval.

Brad Pitt and winemaker Marc Perrin at Château Miraval.

© chapuis-photo.com pour Miraval

Commercial success

It is some time now that Kylie Minogue‘s pop hits have dominated the airwaves, but the British-Australian singer is now taking off with the wine brand she launched in 2020. Minogue has sold more than a million bottles to date. The fresh, accessible style of her wines convinced the Falstaff team. The portfolio includes a French rosé and a rosé Prosecco – with swish packaging. The name Kylie is emblazoned on the labels and the promotional shots would not look out of place in a glossy fashion magazine. Yes, Minogue deliberately wears a pink dress for her pink wines, but it is entirely credible that she enjoys drinking them, too.

It is the same for American singer Mary J. Blige and her Sun Goddess wines, for which she partnered with a winery in Italy. “I guess the inspiration was just loving white wine,” Blige says. And while it sounds good as a marketing blurb, what she says about the creation of the name Sun Goddess under which she produces a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc made in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is a truism for wine: “As a child I always tried to capture the sun’s warmth and energy.” That is exactly what wine does and Blige has created the style she likes to drink: light, fruity and refreshing.

American actor John Malkovich takes a different approach. The wines from his estate in southern France are sold under the name of Les Quelles de la Coste, yet his name appears only in small print on the back label of the bottles. When we enquired why this was the case, we were told that he preferred to keep a low profile: this was about the wines, not about him. He and his wife Nicoletta Peyran are thus working on putting Les Quelles de la Coste on the map and on making a really good Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Gordon Ramsay in the vineyard with one of his wines on California's Monterey Coast.

Photo provided

The Verdict

Sadly, there also are more cynical examples of celebrity wines. In Formula 1 racing, for example, it was fashionable for a while to market wines with the names of famous drivers on the label. The quality of the wines, however, took a back seat. Then there are music bands who just license their names, like Kiss or The Rolling Stones – their names grace wine bottles but usually without input from the artists themselves – such wines were not part of our tasting.

Our tasting made it abundantly clear that it takes more than a famous name to be successful in the wine business. All the wines tasted had significant input from the respective stars. The wines that scored well come with a clear identity and line of communication; they are well-made wines from quality grapes which merit their price. They are credible projects made by real professionals – in the spheres of wine and communication. They are more than lifestyle hobbies of the rich and famous dabbling in wine and when done properly they are convincing extensions of that famed personality – with just a little stardust. And who knows how many of these wines have converted fans into real wine lovers – that can only be a good thing. 

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