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Celebrity-branded wines have a certain reputation. The reality TV veteran and fashion icon is here to change that.
“I think being in the alcohol business is brilliant,” newly-former Real Housewife
Lisa Rinna says on a call from her home in Beverly Hills. It’s the Friday before the official national rollout of her latest project, Rinna Wines; strategically, her sparkling rosé and Brut would be available on February 13, in time for Valentine’s Day.
A famous person putting their imprint on a wine bottle is not new. These days, it’s practically cliché. Everyone from Sting and Tori Spelling to Tituss Burgess and Chrissy Metz have gotten into grape-stomping (singer Fergie of Fergalicious wine claims that was her favorite part of the exercise). If you’re a celebrity and have any ambitions to brand-build (which some could argue is now a prerequisite of celebrity), peddling your very own wine is now an established item on the to-do list.
Although their offerings might not be on award-winning wine lists (for instance, when was the last time a wine snob or sommelier recommended Nicole Scherzinger’s “Anti-Party” red blend?), a few of these budding wine makers are legit oenophiles. For the most part, though, they just like to drink the stuff. And at the rate this trend is proliferating, we have to assume it’s a particularly robust category of the industry—even if most of us wouldn’t be caught dead bringing a bottle of a reality or film star’s wine to a dinner party.
We know that. Lisa Rinna knows that.
Her partner in the enterprise, Prestige Beverage Group knows this too. “When she approached us, we were ecstatic,” Doug Goserud, Senior Vice President, Supplier Relations says. He adds that the company had explored partnerships with other celebrity personalities in the past and had ultimately decided against them.
But Rinna isn’t your typical celebrity. How many Real Housewives have been named a fashion icon by French Vogue? And how many have created a line of more affordably priced lipsticks that might be mistaken for those bearing the Hermès label (it’s true; this happened)? Just the one. The same whose social media following tunes in to see her decked out in Viktor & Rolf couture during fashion week and at home, in her loungewear, dancing like nobody’s watching (including her husband, actor Harry Hamlin), while also being completely aware that everyone is (except Hamlin).
So, when she launches a wine, the expectations are different. We pay attention.
“I never know what I’m going to do next, which makes life exciting,” Rinna says. At the same time she’ll tell you, “Listen, I put my mind to something, I do it.”
Anyone who regularly watched her in her reality-show role knows when she put her mind to it: nearly five years ago, when Season 9, Episode 19 was filmed at a wine tasting in Provence during a girls’ trip, where, for once, the “girls” all got along and let their silly out. “We were mixing rosé — it’s so funny; it’s one of the greatest episodes of all time,” she recalled. “We were so drunk, and everyone was like, ‘Rinna Rosé! Why don’t you do a Rinna Rosé?!’ I’m like, ‘Why don’t I?’
And so she did.
She may not have had much experience going in— i.e. ”I always say I like my Whispering Angel, but I didn’t know what went into making wine,” she admits; but she knew exactly what she was doing when choosing her partner. Prestige is known for birthing brands that become lifestyle phenomena, like Yes Way, Rosé, and Goserud’s colleague, Kathy Reilly, Vice President, Supplier Relations notes that Rinna “has been at every stage, both selecting the wine itself, developing concepts and brand positioning.”
In the preliminary rounds of tasting, it became clear that Rinna had a consistent preference—she definitely knew what she liked, Whispering Angel and all: “Overall, she likes a wine that’s crisp, fresh, clean.” Goserud observes.
As a result, Rinna’s releases fit exactly that profile. The rosé is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, which is a standard combo for that classification of wine, and it’s pretty hard not to like if you enjoy rosés from that region, or a glass of something that’s refreshing but has a little bite to it (meaning, it’s more balanced, with a sharper character than, say, Whispering Angel). It opens with notes of wild strawberries without being overly fruity and finishes dry with a hi-hat bark of citrus.
Rinna veered off the Provencal path for the latter, which is predominantly (90%) Chardonnay grapes. They thrive in the Southwest of France, around an hour north of Bordeaux, where nights are cool, which is essential to developing their acidity. Lacing them with a few Ugni Blanc grapes (Armagnac and Cognac drinkers know the ones) gave the wine vibrancy or crispness Rinna was looking for. It might call a superdry hard cider to mind when it first hits the palate, but what it leaves behind is toasted, buttered baguette.
One taster, a regular—if choosy—rosé drinker and loyal Housewives viewer first deemed that bottle “respectable,” then “excellent,” and said “I have to hand it to her,” in praise of Rinna. Another, who would opt for Champagne over other wines in most situations, after asking, "Tell me again, why are we trying this person’s wine, though?" followed up the tasting with an email to say thank you and gave a shout-out to the “very good” pink bubbly. Both agreed they would happily drink either the sparkling rosé or Brut again.
Everyone admired the instantly iconic bottle; think of the distinct elegance of Patron (have you seen Serie 1 en Lalique design?) and give it a longer, more graceful, tapered neck as befits a wine.
Rinna herself, her personality, Reilly underscores, enables Prestige to “position this wine in a category that can tend to be a little bit, I don’t know if stodgy or stuffy is the word, but can be positioned at a higher unattainable price point. We got to position this wine in a way that makes it okay for all of us to drink and enjoy and really just have a wonderful time doing so.”
It’s a perfect symbiosis, and a manifestation of Rinna’s belief that her wine should embody her joie de vivre, and instead of being something you saved to celebrate a special occasion, turn more mundane moments into celebratory occasions unto themselves. “You could drink it every day,” she says. “You feel great about it. It’s not anything that’s too precious, but yet it looks chic and fabulous.” (N.B. she prescribes one glass for a “happy buzz.”) This focus on accessible luxury is in keeping with Rinna Beauty, her makeup line, and officially marks “Rinna” as a lifestyle brand on the rise. “The next thing coming out, it will surprise you, because we really took it in a different direction,” she teases, but won’t disclose what it is just yet.
In the meantime, she is willing to share, the plan is to continue to work with Prestige to expand the line-up beyond these first two items. A red wine is next.
Who knows if a wine snob or sommelier would recommend them, but we’d welcome her wines at any dinner party.
Charlotte Druckman is a journalist/author whose work includes the James Beard Award-nominated collection Women on Food and Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen. Fun fact: she was the creator of Food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks (a.k.a. the Piglet, R.I.P.). She lives in New York City where she was born and raised on a steady diet of daily and primetime soaps, which she is currently co-writing a collection of essays about for publication in late 2024.
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