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Wine's lascivious labels

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I receive plenty of spirited mail deriding my use of "foul" or "salty" language, mostly from conservatives who'd like to control the world. Naturally, it stings when an e-mailed Corkscrew column bounces back from business addresses at staid corporations, but it also bemuses me.

When I lived in Europe, censorship rarely reared itself, and the words "shit" and "fuck" (actually, "merde" and "baiser" in French) frequently peppered television airwaves. But here in the land of the puritanical, the public has timidly acclimated to sexually charged situations and products, pushed begrudgingly forward by graphic television and scantily clad society tramps. And it's taken even longer for the wine industry, traditionally slathered in conservatism, to catch up to its consumers.

You'd think it would've happened earlier. Rife with overt sexual references and other words that sound "dirty," industry parlance makes it hard to write between the lines. The everyday vernacular casually thrown around at wineries – punt, balling, bung, rack – could make a church-going hockey MILF blush, but most of us, forever stunted in third grade, giggle.* Whoever made up these words had a sense of humor – or smoked a lot of high-grade weed. Probably both, since the California wine industry blossomed during the late '60s.

Within the past 10 years or so, wineries have also begun dipping into our large pool of repressed sexuality by slapping "naked," "sin" and big-boobed women on their labels. Controlling the puppet strings is the federal government's draconian TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Tax Bureau), limiting what well-intentioned wineries can broadcast on their bottles. Some, however, sneak past: Cleavage Creek, a Napa Valley winery that donates 10 percent of its proceeds to, appropriately enough, breast cancer; Sex, a bluntly named, wantonly popular rosé sparkling wine from L. Mawby Vineyards in Michigan, began as a mischievous lark to test the usually prudish TTB. To Larry Mawby's surprise, the application sailed through. Sin Zin, and its sister wine Temptation, from Alexander Valley Vineyards, made it through by leaning away from sex and emphasizing the carnal, gustatory pleasures of wine.

Then you arrive at the nudist camp: Naked Riesling from Snowqualmie Vineyards and Four Vines Naked Chardonnay. In wine, the word "naked" indicates wine made without oak influence, but Naked Winery in Oregon plays a more aggressive game. Not sure how they escaped the roving eye of the TTB, since its entire product line revolves around, ahem, the tantalizing, risqué aspects of life: Dominatrix Pinot Noir, Foreplay Chardonnay, Tease Riesling and Vixen Syrah, and, my favorite, Penetration Cabernet Sauvignon. Not sure they could make a more blatant play on crass carnal desires. Its refreshingly honest website reads: "Read our back labels or have your mother-in-law read the back label aloud at your next family function. As we say, drink what you like. And who wouldn't like to get a little naughty now and then?" Amen.

Compared with Naked Winery, other countries' attempts at indecorous labeling seem lamely tame in comparison: Frog's Piss, French Kiss and Suckfizzle. Yawn. We Americans are so delightfully tactless. And that, my friends, is one reason it's great to live in the United States – never a dull moment.

* Definitions:

Bung:

The wooden or plastic stopper used to seal a cask, keg or barrel.

Balling:

A hydrometer or saccharometer scale used to finely estimate sugar content.

Punt:

The concave indentation in the bottom of a wine or champagne bottle.

Rack:

The process of siphoning the wine off the lees (dead yeasts, skins, seeds, etc.) to allow clarification and aid in stabilization.

Recommended Wines

Robert Mondavi 2007 Lightly Oaked Chardonnay California Recession Buster! Highly fragrant, clean, green apple and honeysuckle. Not complex, but certainly drinkable. SW, HS. $8. ***

Cosentino 2006 "The Med" Red Wine Lodi (California) Mmm, mmm tasty. Let this blend of nine grapes lollygag in your glass, and smell it change. Dried cherries, black pepper and blackberry abound, with a tart, lingering finish. HS, S, T. $18. ****

Sweet (SW), Hypersensitive (HS), Sensitive (S) and Tolerant (T). Find out your tasting profile at budometer.com.

Taylor's Disappointing Wine of the Week:

Zette 2003 Malbec Cahors This wine has enjoyed loads of accolades, but this impoverished little wine failed to impress me. And I really wanted to like it, since the $13-ish price tag is quite appealing. Although the fruit comes from Cahors, the original French home of the malbec grape, the wine is thin and too earthy, with very little of the characteristics of malbec: deep, robust, juicy plum and blackberry.

Other reviews:
Cigar Aficionado

Denver Post 

NY Times 

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