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Weekend wine: Labels and names

This week Vin takes us inside the thoughts behind names of wines and images on labels
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Vin Greco, Wine All The Time

Marcel Rheault of Distillerie Rheault explained to me that a product on the LCBO shelves has only about 5 seconds to catch the eye of a consumer in the hopes of making a sale.

That obviously puts a lot of pressure on the marketing team in coming up with both names and label art when they bring a wine to market.

Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don’t. Recently, an Australian wine from the Barossa Valley, Kellermeister’s “The Funk Wagon” GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro – i.e. Mourvèdre) was dropped by the LCBO. The obvious reason would be that the sales were too low to merit keeping it.

Ironically, this wine was Best-In-Show for the Barossa Valley for wines of this type - so why did it fail here?

I think the name might have been part of it.  What does “The Funk Wagon” say to you? Aside from the reference to music, its other two meanings could refer to either a foul odour or a foul, depressed mood. 

As the label art doesn’t suggest music –either “Downtown or Uptown Funk” – most of us might simply raise an eyebrow and walk by.

The name, in fact, is a tribute to the four-wheeled wooden wagon used in settling Australia, and associated with an 1854 German immigrant, Johann Funk. Down Under, that might signify, but here…not so much.

Names may be selected to catch your attention.  “Cat’s Pee on A Gooseberry Bush” is a term I first encountered in Jancis Robinson’s book Masterglass in 1983 that is used to describe the odour of Sauvignon Blanc.  New Zealand’s Cooper’s Creek Vineyard marketed a wine by that name, now discontinued – though one lonely bottle is still pining away on the shelves of the Parry Sound LCBO.

I am sure that it worked for a while with those who appreciated both the “shock value” and the ‘insider’ knowledge of the significance of the term.

Currently, “Frisky Beaver” is an Ontario label that will appeal to some – and not to others. It qualifies as a “critter label” – people do gravitate to bottles with animals or birds on the label, it seems - and it may have an underlying “Canadian” essence to it; it is made by “Rapscallion Winery” in Port Dover, Ontario.

Then, there is also the subliminal, sensual ‘double entendre’ to the name that males in late, even very late, adolescence might find appealing.  LCBO staff could confirm this. 

Despite the ‘Carnival Side Show Come-on’ of the name, this, at $14.95, is a good and lively red wine. A blend of Cabernet Franc along with the hybrids Baco Noir and Maréchal Foch - all grapes that excel in Ontario - it has bright and lifted flavours that would go well with burgers and other barbecued meats.  I like this blend, but if it hadn’t been for the theme of this article, I probably would never have tried it.

Similarly, I normally would not ever have considered purchasing Cupcake Black Forest Decadent Red. Another wine, Cupcake Red Velvet, has 20 grams of sugar per litre, and while I respect that this could certainly appeal to those who like their wines on the sweeter side, it doesn’t appeal to me. 

So, when I see that they have another red wine with a sweet dark cake’s name on it, I am far more likely to pass by quickly than I am to consider buying it.

This wine actually is more to my liking than it might be to the “sweeter” crowd.  It has only 10 grams of sugar per litre, which makes it drier than the name would suggest, and its dark fruit flavours, while not complex, are certainly smooth and integrated.  It is on sale this month for $12.95 ($2 0ff). Those who enjoy dry but fruity reds should look past the label, and buy.

Many, many more wines can either turn you off – or attract you – according to your tastes and sensitivities. South Africa’s Fairview Vineyards fought off court challenges from France for marketing “Goats Do Roam”, an obvious play on “Cotes du Rhone”, and then followed it up with a basically Italian blend “The Goatfather” – Thank-you Don Corleone.

The French market “Fat Bastard” with the image of a topiary Hippo on the label. Whatever it takes.

Names alone can work – or not – depending on the reaction they invoke in the buyer. California markets a wine, “Buried Hope.” The label image depicts a vine with deep roots. Chile has Root 1, with a similar image, but albeit much deeper roots.

“Buried Hope” is intended to be a reference to the winery’s confidence in vines that have set down productive, deep roots…but emotionally, a buyer might associate “buried hope” with dreams that sadly have never materialized – an unintended consequence that can turn people away.

Root 1 starts with the same idea of deep and nurturing roots, but it doesn’t get blind-sided by any negative connotation.

I am sure that, in your own experience, there are wines that have either appealed tremendously – or definitely not at all – just on the basis of image, name, or association.  You’ll have to let me know all about them.

February 18 Vintages Release

White

Not many of the whites on this release will be finding their way north, so readers from Barrie south will have better luck in finding some of these; otherwise, be prepared to order in by the beginning of the week.

Kew Marsanne 2014, $19.95, from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench is made from a grape native to southern France that is relatively rare here. David Lawarson of winealign.com refers to tangerine, persimmon and spice and indicates it is full-bodied and intense. -91.

Château de Nages Vielles Vignes Costières de Nîmes 2014, $19.95, from France is a blend of grapes specific to the region, with 40% Roussanne leading the way.  Citrus fruits dominate, but the mouth-feel is full, almost lush. “Stunning purity, solid texture, and a great finish” according to robertparker.com – 91.

Sentieri Pecorino 2015, $15.95 hails from the Abruzzo region of Italy, and is another of those lovely Italian whites that we are beginning to see regularly.  This is organic, and the Vintages Panel says it is “full of ripe apple, lemon, and pear notes with wave after wave of mouth-watering acidity.”  What’s not to like!

Château Haut Pougnan Entre-Deux-Mers 2015, $14.95, a white Bordeaux, took gold in the Macon competition last year. A wine of some finesse, it will be perfect with a white-fleshed fish. Sauvignon Blanc gives it zip, Semillon gives it a smooth texture, and Muscadelle contributes heightened aromatics.

Red

Parcelas 2013, $14.95 from the Douro region of Portugal was awarded a 90 by the Wine Enthusiast- It is “solid, concentrated, with all the minerality and texture of the Douro.” Iberia continues to bring us some terrific values.

 Xenysel Pie Franco Monastrell 2015, $13.95, from the Jumilla region in Spain, was awarded 91 at the Decanter World Wine Awards, and earlier vintages always seem to score as high or even higher.  The vineyard apparently is very old, and the yield low.  It is clean and complex with ripe red berry fruit and spice notes at the end.  Timmins readers have to order this one in.

Ravenswood Old Vine Napa Zinfandel 2014, $21.95 – there are no hard-and-fast rules to say what constitutes “old vine”, but in Ravenswood’s case, the vines tend to be about 50 years old, though their single-vineyard offerings are made from the fruit of vines that are 90 years of age and older.  This Napa Valley Zin, with aromas of dark berry along with a hint of sweet pipe tobacco, is deep, integrated and smooth with impressively rich flavour giving over to a soft blanket of ripe tannin on the finish. The only problem here is deciding whether to just drink and enjoy it, or have enough self-control to save it for your dinner. At the winery it retails for $18 U.S., and so here it is very fairly priced.

Dandelion Lioness of McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014, $21.95 is one of the wines on this month’s mini-Australian feature.  Josh Reynolds of vinous.com says it ”melds richness and energy effortlessly and finishes very long… with sneaky tannins folding quickly into the wine’s lively dark fruit” – 91.

Oscar’s Estate Vineyard Shiraz/Viognier, $18.95 from the Barossa Valley emphasizes the savoury rather than the sweet, according to David Lawarson who suggests it is “fairly dense, sour-edged and warm” with excellent length -89.

Sinfarosa Zinfandel 2013, $23.95, is a Primitivo from Puglia which, in its name is capitalizing on the fact that it is the same grape as the Zin we associate with California.  In this case, the wine bears the “Three Glasses” that Italy’s Gambero Rosso assigns to wines of the highest quality – something achieved by less than 2% of those reviewed. Made by the Accademia dei Racemi, a group dedicated to improving quality and saving lesser-known varietals, this wine is complex and full-bodied, and Vintages uses terms like “dried sweet fruit, tea, leather and spice” to describe it, calling it “delicately fashioned , smooth and easy-to-enjoy.”