Wacky wine labels
What do we expect from a wine label? First and foremost, it must communicate. A label that doesn't tell us what's in the bottle fails the functionality test and does not inspire confidence in the consumer.
But is it enough simply to impart necessary information about the wine? Once a label has done its duty by telling us who made the wine, where it's from and, in most cases, what's in the wine, is there any need for more?
Some wine enthusiasts would say no, perhaps pointing to the difficult example of many old-style German wine labels, which flood the would-be buyer with so much information that to read one is like drinking water from a fire hose.
But when even a middle-size wine shop offers the consumer a choice of hundreds or perhaps thousands of selections, it's hard to blame the folks who market wine for coming up with tricks to make their offering stand out from the competition. Whether it's bold print, bright colors or striking graphics - or, on occasion, a stark, black-and-white minimalist approach - the diversity of wine-label colors, styles and even shapes can make a trip down a wine-shop aisle feel a bit like a visit to a very weird museum.
And every now and then, a marketing guru will tinker with the name of a wine in search of a witty bon mot that will make his product jump off the shelf and into your shopping cart. Real-world examples abound, from the South African "Goats Do Roam" to the Anglo-French "Fat Bastard" to the New Zealand "Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush."
Today's report features a couple of oddball labels that have recently caught my eye, and more important, passed my taste test. "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" - an allusion to a colonial-era saying immortalized in a Noel Coward song about those who go out in the midday sun - is a Spanish red blend made in Jumilla, a climate purportedly so searing that few would voluntarily endure it. Winemaker William Long is indeed an Englishman, as is his partner Guy Anderson, who perhaps not coincidentally was also the mind behind "Fat Bastard." Today's other wacky label, "Dyed-in-the-Wool," is a New Zealand producer's way of declaring that his Pinot Noir is consistent year in and year out, "unchangeable" despite the weather.
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Mad Dogs & Englishmen 2003 Jumilla ($9.99)
Produced by the Bodegas y Viñedos de Murcia cooperative, this blend of 30% Syrah (identified on the label as "Shiraz"), 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) shows a very dark blackish-purple in the glass. Plums and blackberries add a hint of "red meat" in the aroma. Bright and juicy black-fruit flavors focus on berries with snappy acidity for structure. Smooth tannins emerge as the berry fruit fades to lemon in a long finish. It's a good wine, despite a bit of a "hole in the middle" where it seems a bit light between the fruity first impression and the tart, tannic finish. U.S. importer: Click Imports, Seattle. (Nov. 20, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Black fruit, tannins and acidity make it a natural with steaks, specifically rare pan-seared locally produced rib eyes.
VALUE: Good structure and complexity makes it a real value at $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink but safe to hold for several years on the wine rack or in the cellar.
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Dyed-in-the-Wool 2002 "Unchangeable" Canterbury Pinot Noir ($11.99)
This New Zealand Pinot is a clear, cherry-red, on the light side, only a little darker than a rosé. Characteristic cool-climate Pinot aromas mingle red-berry fruit, rose petals and warm brown spice over leafy herbaceous scents and a hint of tomato skin. Flavors are consistent with the nose, juicy and tart red fruit and spice backed by zingy lemon-squirt acidity. U.S. importer: Low Country Imports, Raleigh, N.C. (Oct. 27, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Good anywhere Pinot Noir goes, from beef to salmon; it was fine with a meatless match, Jacques Pepin's fried eggs and grated Swiss cheese over farfalle (bowtie) pasta.
VALUE: It's rare to find this much varietal character in Pinot Noir in the lower teens; good buy if you don't object to the herbaceous under-ripeness of cool-climate Pinot.
WHEN TO DRINK: Meant for current consumption and probably best enjoyed in the next year or two before its delicate fruit fades.
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Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wines for autumn
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Lobster-Wine Pairing
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Beaujolais Nouveau (Nov. 19, 2004)
Let's give thanks for the Loire (Nov. 17, 2004)
Wine and ethnic fare (Nov. 15, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Jambalaya revisited (Nov. 18, 2004)
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Monday, Nov. 22, 2004