Culture: With a New Prosecco, Issa Rae’s Go-to ‘Insecure’ Drink Gets a Story Arc
In a scene that could have well passed for an episode of HBO’s Insecure, on Wednesday night in a moody Manhattan lounge, the actress Issa Rae debuted her latest project: Viarae, a new line of Prosecco in partnership with E. & J. Gallo Winery.
The effervescent Italian sparkler “represents some of my best memories,” Rae emotionally told the well-heeled crowd. “It was first introduced to me at a moment when I didn’t know that everything was going to change for me.”
In the early days of Insecure, Rae tells Wine Enthusiast, she’d met up for sushi with Melina Matsoukas, who’d directed the show’s pilot. At the time, Rae was just at the beginning of her meteoric rise to fame, and the restaurant seemed electrifying and extravagant. Still, it was her companion’s drink order that especially caught her attention. Ahead of the meal, Matsoukas gamely ordered a glass of Prosecco.
“I was like, ‘What’s that?’” Rae recalls. “She said, ‘You’ll see.’” So began Rae’s love affair with the sparkling wine. It became her signature drink in short order, so much that Insecure’s writers worked it into the show, making it protagonist Issa Dee’s go-to order—and further blurring the line between Issa the actress and Issa the character.
“The bubbles are invigorating,” Rae says of her attraction to Prosecco. “There’s just something about the sparkling nature that feels festive.” On top of that, to her Prosecco feels more approachable and less stuffy than Champagne. Offscreen, so many friends and fans asked her to recommend a favorite brand that she resolved to launch one herself.
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In an age when celebrity-backed wines abound—produced with varying degrees of participation from their respective stars—Viarae stands out in that Rae appears to have been deeply involved.
“I’ve been doing this for three years, working with different companies and trying to find the right match,” Rae says. This first step was more difficult than anticipated; many outfits tried to dissuade her from producing Prosecco, suggesting instead that she opt for another variety of sparkling wine. But Rae was adamant about making real-deal Prosecco from Italy with 100% Glera grapes. “Because that’s what means the most for me and is authentic to me.”
Once she found E. & J. Gallo Winery, then came the “fun part,” tasting different samples and refining the final product. Together they landed on a formulation “on the drier side, [that’s] a bit more elevated in taste.” She describes it as a “typical Prosecco,” with more sugar than Champagne and not as dry. “It’s that balance in the middle,” she continues. “This has more citrus notes, there’s a little bit of green apple in there. It’s a bit on the fruitier but crisp side.” E. & J. Gallo’s La Marca cooperative, located in Treviso in Northern Italy, grows the grapes and produces the wine.
Rae has high hopes that Viarae will attract a broad audience of consumers, namely younger drinkers and people of color. In pursuit of those demographics, the bottle boasts luxe, 70s-influenced branding in shades of brown and gold—which Rae had a heavy hand in developing—and a suggested retail price of $19. It’s currently for sale nationwide at select retailers, including Target.
“With Viarae Prosecco, Rae is helping create representation for herself and the vibrant Black female community in a category where it didn’t previously exist,” reads a press release. The label design “unapologetically represents the freedom to let loose and be authentic.”
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Rae also sees Viarae as a foundational ingredient for a range of cocktails. After all, Insecure fans will readily recall that Issa Dee often topped off her Prosecco flutes whiskey or vodka.
“For me, it was important that this Prosecco played well with others, and by others, I mean my favorite liquors,” Rae says. She suggests using it in an Aperol spritz, or subbing it for Champagne in a French 75. “It has the ability to pair well even with tequila,” she adds. “I love Prosecco tequila cocktails… so dang good.”
As for what lies ahead? “I think if people f*ck with this, then absolutely, I would love to expand!” she exclaims. Prosecco is a lifestyle, Rae continues. “I want to tell stories around that lifestyle.”
Last Updated: October 19, 2023