When did I start paying attention to wine labels, looking at the name of the winery and not the type of wine? A few years ago maybe. There seemed to be so many new labels and types of wine. Some names were traditional, some goofy, but what finally got my gears going was the appellation I saw in an ad from Sprouts Market, Algorithm Red Blend. Algorithm. Really? Appealing to the math/science brain who doesn’t care much about wine other than the color? Something for the Big Bang Theory fans? The next two names on the advertisement were King Stag and Bear’s Lair. King Stag isn’t too bad, conjuring images of a high powered hunting party celebrating a hunt with all the best food and wine available, but Bear’s Lair sounds like something dragged out of a cave at the end of the winter. Not appetizing.
I grew up with wine in the house. My Sicilian father had a half-gallon jug of wine under the kitchen sink and it was usually Cribari brand. Why? Because the Cribari Family and the Polizzi Family (my paternal grandmother’s people) went to the same church in San Jose, California and that was enough of a connection. Most nights Dad would arrive home and pour himself wine into about an 8 ounce regular drinking glass. That is what many men did in our neighborhood. Whether it was Cribari, or Gallo, or Dalmatian brand, and whether Sicilian, Italian, or Croatian, the jug was under the sink or in a pantry where it was dark and cool. Some men drank wine as my father did, while others used a larger glass with added water or ice. Traditional wine glasses were saved for fancy occasions, or maybe not.
As I got older I discovered San Antonio, the Los Angeles based winery where my Uncle Frank Lunetta went with his father as a child to buy supplies for making wine at home during Prohibition, and where they still crushed grapes and made the wine. I remember their Almondoro and a slightly carbonated white. Almaden brand was well known then because they advertised on television. Do you remember Orson Wells saying “We will sell no wine before our time”? Did anyone drink their Golden Cask White? Wait, was that from Almaden or San Antonio. I don’t remember, but Golden Cask White looms large in my personal legend. As time went on the field expanded. In the 1970s we had something called Cold Duck, a bubbly something like wine, and Boone’s Farm. We were in college and the wine was cheap. Enough said.
Once I was working full time and desiring a better grade of wine than what we had in college we used Windsor Winery which had a wine of the month club and shipped to your residence. They also offered personalized labels which I used for my Dad’s 70th birthday. For parties there was Franzia, in cartons. Easy to take anywhere. In the early 1980s everyone discovered Beringer’s White Zinfandel (from a very old California winery). We loved it and drank it with everything paying no attention to red with beef and white with fish and fowl.
Let’s fast forward to the appearance of Charles Shaw, the Trader Joe’s brand affectionally known as “Two Buck Chuck” because it was originally priced at $1.99 a bottle. The price has gone up but the nickname remains, although a transition to “Three Buck Chuck” is on the horizon. TJ’s also has a “Coastal” label which is a step up from the Shaw label, where all of the grapes are from California’s central coast. I’ve heard nice things about the Chardonnay. If you are a TJ’s fan take a look at their Trader Moon collection where the various label names hint at the type of wine inside the bottle: Tuscan Moon (Sangiovese), Bay Moon (Sauvignon blanc), Velvet Moon (Cabernet Sauvignon), Honey Moon (Viognier), Old Moon (Zinfandel), etc.
Ménage a Trois brand makes me chuckle, wondering how that name came about, and recalling the big smile it brought to my face when I saw cases of it stacked up at a reception on an Aircraft Carrier during Fleet Week. Given the reputation of Sailors on shore leave you just have to wonder whether the person buying the wine understood the meaning of ménage a trois. Colors are popular these days. Australian Yellow Tail has a great Chardonnay, but I’ve never tried the wines from Red Dragon, Black Ink, Purple Moon, or Black Mountain.
Foodies’ Merlot label says “Created for Foodies, Merlot, opulent, cherry, and spice” and includes an outline of a steer showing the various cuts of beef – just in case you don’t know what Merlot tastes like or where a steak comes from. Similar labels are on their Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Red Blend, and Cabernet Sauvignon for fish and fowl and pork. I’d make some more jokes here but the Chardonnay and Cabernet have won a number of awards. Mad Housewife labels show a female looking as though she is daring you to talk. Several friends swear that they were the inspiration for the brand. It might be a good idea to have some on hand for rough days even if only to put it out on the counter as a warning to the hapless person who makes the mistake of asking whether anything is wrong.
Project Happiness, with its smiley face on the bottle, or Oreana with its large question mark on the bottle, are clever marketing approaches. There are the “cake” labels: Cupcake, Pancake, and Birthday Cake. I wonder whether they are intended to be the dessert, or breakfast? Or maybe enough of a Pancake label wine and you are on the ground, flat as a pancake. I assume Gnarly Head intends to lure surfers, Flipflop reaches out to the sandals crowd, and maybe Soul Sister or Island Girls brands are trying to lure females of that ilk. Barefoot labels with their outline of a bare foot, remind me of the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy is in Italy and stomps grapes barefoot, ending up with purple feet.
For those numerically inclined we have: 181, 337, 3 Girls, Five Wise, 6th Sense, 3 Steves, 14 Hands, Three Thieves, and of course, Fifty Shades of Grey. Personally, I’m not sure I would drink a wine with the Fifty Shades label, and I wonder whether they are related to Hooker, The Prisoner, or Conundrum wines. On the other hand, some of these labels won awards last year. Who knew? So, the next time you are bored and looking for some low-priced fun, hit the wine section of the market or head to a large wine store. Enjoy strolling the aisles. Then pick up a bottle or two. You never know, one of those unusually named wines might be an award winner.
If you see any notable labels please share the fun.
Every Day is a Good Day. VJ