Are Celebrity Wines Any Good?
An ambitious woman once said that you're not really anybody in America unless you're on TV.
She was an idiot. In America, you're not really anybody unless you're on TV and you make your own wine.
"The Real Housewives of New York" star Ramona Singer and "Mob Wives" blowup doll Big Ang both offer their own wine brands. Drew Barrymore makes a pinot grigio, and in Italy, no less. Brangelina's inaugural batch of wine from their French estate in a matter of hours.
"Dancing With the Stars" contender Christina Milian has a line of moscatos all ready for da clubs. And Fergie has a signature bottle called — of course — Fergalicious.
Football legends and South African golfers and jam bands — they all have wines now. Even entertainment brands are launching their own vintages. The TV franchise "Top Chef" has seven different varieties under its Quickfire label. And earlier this month, E.L. James, that doyenne of hausfrau erotica, introduced Fifty Shades of Grey wine — one red, one white.
Some bottles are actually affordable — Milian is asking less than $10 for a bottle of her Viva Diva prosecco or dessert wine — while a magnum of Jack Nicklaus's limited-edition red has a suggested retail of $600.
But are any of them actually good to drink?
Remain thirsty for knowledge no more; Yahoo's top entertainment and lifestyle editors recently conducted their own tasting panel. Lending her formidable palate at the head of the table, was Whitney Adams, sommelier at the Los Angeles restaurant Terroni, founder of the wine accessories and gifting company Bottle Stock, and editor of the blog Brunellos Have More Fun.
Together we sampled dry whites, very wet moscatos, and everything in between. Here's our review roundup, listed by celebrity or entertainment entity.
Would you drink a glass of prosecco made by the reality-star owner of a Staten Island bar called the Drunken Monkey?
We did. And get this: We liked it. Really. At least, we liked it enough for, say, brunch purposes. This light sparkling wine isn’t available to the public yet, but when it starts selling in November (estimated price, $10 to $14) you could do worse than pick up a bottle or two.
"I would drink this in a mimosa," Adams declared. "I would put some peach puree in there and call it a day."
[Related: Why Big Ang Mixes Her Red Wine With Cream Soda]
However, the TV mob wife scored even more points on her 2012 chardonnay.
"I don't typically like chardonnay," omg!'s managing editor Rebecca Detken said, "but I could drink this."
In fact, sommelier Adams like this chard better than a comparable bottle from "Top Chef's" Quickfire label.
"My favorite chardonnay of the bunch," she said. "It's pretty clean."
50 Shades of Grey
Announced earlier this month, this line has only two blends so far, White Silk and Red Satin ($17.99 each). The White Silk is a mix of the very sweet gewürztraminer and a crisper sauvignon blanc, but if you were hoping for a chemistry similar to that of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, beware.
Adams did not like the White Silk, noting a "forced acidity" that made the wine taste "manipulated." Translation: The flavors in the wine don't mesh well together.
The inclusion of a gewürztraminer makes the White Silk "too sweet and fruity" for a non-dessert wine, Yahoo Shine senior editor Lizbeth Scordo ruled, but Yahoo Entertainment content producer Joyce Edwards disagreed, calling it "surprisingly refined."
Our panel liked the Red Satin — a blend of petite sirah and syrah — better.
"This is a fruity, full-bodied red," Adams said. "I taste a little bit of leather — definitely a bondage vibe."
The lead singer for the Black-Eyed Peas makes a pretty decent red. Rephrased: Fergalicious actually lives up to its name.
The 2011 blend of Cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache, and merlot was "the best red I tasted" during our research, Adams noted.
One editor warned that she found the rich blend "overwhelming," but Edwards concluded, "I was pleasantly surprised. It's simple and solid."
The price for a bottle of Fergalicious? A not-so-cheap $40. But then again, if you drink a glass of this at a bar, you may not need to shell out for dinner.
"This is a meal in a glass," Adams said. "It's a pleasant surprise."
[Related: Fergie and Josh Duhamel Take Baby Axl for a Vineyard Visit]
Put simply, most of our editors didn’t think that her pinot grigio was worth its $19.99 price tag.
"It has no flavors that stand out," Yahoo TV managing editor Chrissy Le Nguyen remarked.
"Airplane wine," was another editor's description.
"This is not a good wine," sommelier Adams concluded. "It's not very remarkable, not very thoughtful, and it tastes mass produced."
Her Viva Diva strawberry moscato ($9.99) is so sugary it could keep a club full of Miley Cyruses twerking for three days.
Her Viva Diva pinot grigio ($9.99) has a strangely bitter finish.
But the singer's Viva Diva sparkly white prosecco ($9.99) is a different story.
"This tasted like a good prosecco," Scordo remarked. "I'd actually pay for it at a restaurant."
Other editors praised the wine's "nice nose" and "good acidity."
"This is more like a classic prosecco" compared with Big Ang's, Adams said. "Smaller bubbles, nice balance, nicely aromatic, and I can't believe I just said that. I hate to say this, but I like it."
Pack your knives, Quickfire wines.
Our tasting panel had very few compliments for "Top Chef's" 2011 Quickfire 2011 chardonnay (about $15.99), with more than one editor noting an overwhelming smoky taste.
"It's like a bad, weak, old tequila," Adams said.
As for the 2011 pinot noir ($18.99), one editor called it "pleasant," but that's as good as the reviews got, with Adams noting the wine's "harsh finish."
The celebrity chef may have a devoted following of rock-star clients and a pair of loving reality-star sisters in Caroline and Dina Manzo, but his sparkling wines did not fare well with our panel. Omg! writer Taryn Ryder said his prosecco ($12.99) tasted "ordinary," while another editor noticed a "weird aftertaste."
"It feels mass produced," Adams commented.
His rose-petal-infused Bello Boy moscato ($11.99) also failed to impress.
"It tastes like someone took Hawaiian Punch and put in some Sprite," Adams said. "It's Capri Sun meets Sprite."
"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star is clearly a lover of wine, as any ardent turtle-timer will attest. Her 2010 sangiovese-merlot blend arrived corked, but we were able to sample her Ramona pinot grigio from last year's vintage.
"I like this better" than Barrymore's, Adams said. "More balance, more texture, more body."
Other editors called it "lovely," "very smooth," and "fruity."
"Surprisingly," omg! photo editor Jones said, "Big Ang and Ramona are my two favorite whites. I almost wish I hadn't known that."
(Note: Singers's wine sells for $10 to $11 online.)
He's gotten decades of love from football fans, but as a winemaker, Ditka's reviews are decidedly more mixed. His Hall of Famer 2012 pinot noir ($24.99) had a minerality that reminded Adams of — wait for it — blood.
"Too much!" Nguyen exclaimed, although another editor enjoyed the wine's spiciness and thought it would be a good table wine.
Speaking of spice: Ditka's 2010 Champion Coach's blend, a red that retails for about $89, had notes of clove that Adams and other editors found to be too bold (the phrase "clove cigarette" was bandied about more than once), though at least one editor found that idea "delicious."
If you care about the environment, you might want to consider the Dreaming Tree line of wines, produced by the jam band frontman. His wines come in lighter bottles, which means less energy is needed to ship them. (The amount of wine inside those bottles remains standard.)
The Dreaming Tree Everyday 2012 white struck most of our editors as much too sweet to function as anything other than a dessert wine, though the blend is meant to be consumed with spicy food or shellfish.
"Not bad," Adams concluded, "but definitely a sipping wine."
The panel found the Dreaming Tree Crush 2011 to be pleasant, if "unremarkable," as Adams put it.
"It's nice and spicy without being overwhelming," she said.
The champion golfer's reserve wines range from a white ($44.99) to a collectible magnum of red with a suggested retail price of $600. We tasted the white and its companion reserve red, a Bordeaux-style blend ($59.99), and found that we overwhelmingly preferred the latter.
"The oak is a little too strong" in the red, Adams noted, but several editors adored that very aspect, with one suggesting that the wine would go well with a good piece of steak.
"I really enjoyed it," Scordo said. "Nice and smoky."
"Yum!" another editor proclaimed. "Bold and tasty! Loved it ... until I saw the price tag."
(If you like these kinds of blends, Adams says you can find a better one in the 2011 Folkway Revelator ... and it's only $22.99.)