Which celebrity-backed wines are worth drinking?

‘Arguably the grand-daddy (or should that be the godfather?) of the Tinseltown wine scene is Francis Ford Coppola’

As awards season approaches, there are, with little doubt, plenty of corks ready to be popped on celebratory bottles as toasts are made to the winning actors, directors and screenwriters. From the BAFTAs to the Oscars, brands (mostly Champagne houses) pay handsomely to ensure it is their wine that is seen being quaffed enthusiastically at the glitzy ceremonies. In truth, however, such is the array of celebrity wines these days that many guests could easily bring their own.

The number of famous faces who have put their name to wines has sky-rocketed in the last few years. Pop princess Kylie Minogue and 1980s rocker Jon Bon Jovi are the latest to join the likes of Sting, Gary Barlow and Jay-Z in having their own personal cuvée. This process generally involves the celebrity merely putting their name to a wine that is made for them (by an existing winery, from existing vineyards), which is then given a special livery before being launched (usually with an extra 20 per cent margin) to the mass market. Many are perfectly reliable (if unremarkable) wines, made interesting purely by the name on the label – the type of wine you’d rightly walk past on a supermarket shelf were it not for the A-lister endorsement.

In the world of film, the Invivo x SJP cuvée is a classic example, so named for its patron, Sarah Jessica Parker. The Sex and the City star recently told Decanter magazine she “wouldn’t have thought that I should be, or know enough to be, involved in wine”. But, we are told, “the award-winning actor knows a thing or two about launching quality products, from footwear and fashion to fragrances”. In today’s world, that seems sufficient to qualify you to be a winemaker – and, sure enough, “she sensed an interesting proposition via her agent with New Zealand-based producer Invivo”. The resultant wine – that formulaic failsafe, sauvignon blanc – is about as interesting as it sounds.

Yes, it’s fair to say that there is a degree of cynicism and scepticism among wine critics when it comes to the merits of celebrity wines (and, that’s before we even get on to the dubious claims of Cameron Diaz and her 'clean' wine). There are, though, some Hollywood names who have a different approach, apparently taking a genuine interest in the winemaking process and even investing in wineries. And, that’s where things get interesting.

Back in New Zealand, actor Sam Neill, of The Piano and Jurassic Park, is the man behind Two Paddocks, in Central Otago. It was there that Neill planted five acres of pinot noir in 1993, intending to make some wine for family and friends, with a view to maybe selling the rest at a modest cellar-door facility.

To his surprise, the wine was well received, he got the bug, and his ambitions – and vineyards – grew. Today, his holdings span four sites, including the 130-acre Red Bank, which yields the flagship Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, a wine whose 2021 vintage marries bright, rich fruit with engaging spice and texture.

Arguably the grand-daddy (or should that be the godfather?) of the Tinseltown wine scene is Francis Ford Coppola, who bought a majority share of Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook estate, back in 1975, with profits from his most famous film. For various reasons, it took him 36 years before he acquired the rights to the Inglenook name, and, in the meantime, the wines – produced for some time under the brand Niebaum-Coppola and easily confused with his more mass market, tourist-friendly Francis Ford Coppola winery up the road in Sonoma – suffered as a result.

Since 2011, however, Inglenook has been producing superbly complex, ageworthy reds under the guidance of a winemaker who also works with Château Margaux, with Coppola largely in the background. The 2013 vintage of its Rubicon cuvée bears comparison with any Bordeaux-classed growth.

There are others, too. Gérard Depardieu bought the Château de Tigné winery in the Loire Valley, back in 1989, and has turned out pretty decent, affordable reds and whites ever since – though his involvement seems to have wained in recent years. Provence winery Miraval, bought by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 2011, still offers fine rosé with the help of the reputed Perrin family of the Rhône Valley, despite Jolie’s share having been acquired by a larger wine group.

More recently, Idris Elba became a partner in Porte Noire Champagne, thereby raising the profile of a range of fizz made by viticulture students, including the apple-pie-toned non-vintage blanc de blancs. And, it’s not just Champagne corks that are ready to be popped this awards season. Fellow Brit Hugh Bonneville has just been revealed as one of the investors in Sugrue South Downs, a leading player in the rapidly evolving – and improving – English sparkling-wine scene.

What all these fairly good wines have in common is that the name of their celebrity backer doesn’t form part of the branding. Instead, the wines all stand up on their own merits. Which kind of tells you all you need to know…

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