“Celebrity” wines continue to increase in popularity. Francis Ford Coppola, Fess Parker, Bob Dylan, Paul Newman, Martha Stewart, Olivia Newton John, Dan Ackroyd, Peggy Fleming, The Smothers Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley—the list of celebrity–related wines grows daily. Nielsen reported earlier this year that grocery store sales of wines associated with celebrities are up nearly 19% since last year and represent nearly 1% of all wine sales, and the growth has been steady since 2000.
Celebrity involvement in namesake wines spans the scale from serious winery ownership & winemaking to simply slapping their name or likeness on any old juice. Some celebrities aren’t involved at all (obviously, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis aren’t active in the process, although there have been reports of Elvis sightings in a vineyard on Maui), but they appeal to memorabilia collectors merely for the labels. Some celeb wines are actually quite good, though some of them sell on the cheap, and rightly so. Leah and I drink a lot of different wines, but very few are celebrity–related. It’s not that we have anything against celebrities; it’s just that we drink the wine for its own sake, not for the label or the name. So, we (like you, perhaps) are always a little suspicious of wines that could be more about the celeb than the contents of the bottle.
Pinot Grigio is one of our reliable everyday wines because it goes so well with so many foods. Over the decades, we’ve had Pinot Grigio from countless wineries. Although some California Pinot Grigios are regulars in our household, most of our favorites are from Italy. So, when a bottle of Manilow 2007 Pinot Grigio Terre di Chieti arrived on our doorstep, we looked at the label and noticed that the Manilow logo is subtle and tasteful. A brief statement about the wine on the back label is the only way you’d know for sure that the wine is from the Barry Manilow. We took this as a good sign, but decided to do some research before opening the bottle.
Manilow wines (some reds, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Grigio sourced from the Central Coast of California) debuted in 2005, solely for sale at the Las Vegas Hilton where Mr. Manilow was in residence. Having never tried those wines, we can’t comment on them. It turns out that the Manilow folks, following some press about the initial Manilow wines, decided that they could, perhaps, sell wine on a larger scale to raise some money for the Manilow Fund for Health & Hope (where the net proceeds go). At some point, Mr. Manilow was Ready to Take a Chance Again. Realizing that selling wine on a larger scale meant getting serious about the wine and offering something uniquely Manilow, the first wine in the encore playlist had to be a Pinot Grigio (which, we understand, is Barry Manilow’s varietal of choice).
Enter Nicola Angiuli, an Italian wine specialist and co-owner of importer Francoli USA, who searched for some Pinot Grigios that might satisfy Mr. Manilow’s taste. For him, this search was a labor of love because, coincidentally, his wife (professionally known as Melinda Phelps) played the title role of Mandy in Barry Manilow’s first music video—small world, indeed.
The wine Barry Manilow finally selected is from the Chieti province in the Abruzzo region of Italy, about 30 kilometers from the Adriatic Sea on Italy’s east coast, directly across from Rome. (Be careful not to confuse the current Manilow Pinot Grigio with the earlier one sourced in California.) So, we settled in on a recent summer evening with a bottle of the Manilow 2007 Pinot Grigio Terre di Chieti and some well–respected, higher–priced Pinot Grigios (including one that is generally considered an industry standard). Our goal was to see if Barry Manilow could truly say, “Looks Like We Made It.”
The Manilow 2007 Pinot Grigio is 50% barrel fermented and undergoes malolactic fermentation and 50% cold steel fermented to control temperature and limit oak influence. The result is a wine with a semi–buttery–creamy flavor and genuine fruit freshness, full mouthfeel and complexity. It has excellent structure and balance and a very appealing golden straw color. The flavor is a bold assortment of peach, melon and honey–vanilla, delivered in the classic, crisp Pinot Grigio style. The winemaker lets the wine sit on the lees for four months after fermentation, which contributes to the wine’s intense flavor. The wine has over 13% alcohol, which is a bit higher than usual for Pinot Grigio (most likely, the fruit had enough sugar concentration to warrant a longer fermentation, resulting in a higher alcohol content). Yet, the wine is very soft and easy to drink. In fact, the “industry–standard” Pinot Grigio seemed a bit tart in comparison. In summary, Mr. Manilow presents a well–balanced, crisp, fresh–fruit Pinot Grigio that can compete strongly against higher–priced Pinot Grigios in its class.
Celebrity wines often sell at a premium to their value. The Manilow 2007 Pinot Grigio is a welcome exception. It is currently available on a few internet sites and at some of the major grocery stores in various states (e.g., Ralph’s and Albertson’s in California)—we’re not sure if it is served at the Copacabana yet. At a price point around $19 per bottle, it provides solid value. Now, that’s cause to make the whole world sing!
(Barry Manilow photo courtesy of Manilow.com.)
September 15, 2008 at 9:30 am
The Manilow PG sounds great. I’ll check it out. Nice article, too.
Rich another good article and I will order a case and let you know how it compares to the INDUSTRY STANDARD Pinot Grigio at our house
I generally don’t expect much from celebrity product lines. Seems like they’re just trying to cash-in on their own notoriety. However, I did happen to try the Manilow PG (not by my choice) and was pleasantly surprised. It was as good as the Santa Margherita PG that I usually order in restaurants. Glad to see that there are more options appearing on wine lists for good Pinot Grigios.
Did you hear that David Beckham bought Posh a winery for a birthday gift? Supposedly, the wine they produce will be for their private use only and not available to the public. I bet that will change when her clothing line goes belly-up or he breaks a leg and can’t play soccer!