Wines That Entertain as Well as Impress
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I went shopping for a wine that could make me laugh. And if not laugh, then at least smile a bit.
I don’t mean cheap, cheerful plonk with catchy names and cartoon animals on the labels (though I found plenty of those) but, rather, wines from talented producers who happen to have a sense of humor. It seemed a fitting endeavor for this time of year, when many people are looking to drink lighter wines. Why not a wine that’s lighthearted too?
The first wine with a funny name that I bought was also the first wine with a funny name I ever tasted, over three decades ago. Est! Est!! Est!!! was popular in the 1990s, though it’s harder to find today.
This white blend from Montefiascone, Italy, takes its name from the Latin for “It is!” (three times) and comes with an interesting origin story. According to the bottle’s label, a bishop on a trip to Rome sent his servant ahead to check out the wine in taverns on the route. Additionally, according to lore, the servant was told to write “Est” to indicate if the wine there was good. The wine poured at a particular tavern was so good he wrote “Est! Est! Est!”
I remembered the story more readily than I did the wine, and when I tasted it all these years later I understood why. The 2020 Fratelli Bellini Pietro Est! Est!! Est!!! ($15) was disappointingly flat, simple and even slightly bitter.
Things quickly improved after I imposed a rule. It had to be a quality wine created by a real winemaker with a sense of humor or at least a degree of levity, not a mass-market brand with a clever marketing team.
The red-blend category seems to exist to employ marketing professionals. A stroll down the red-blend aisle of several wine stores revealed a vast array of cartoon labels and catchy names, like the Fugitive and the One Armed Man, both from California. The bottles, from 19 Crimes, an Australian brand owned by
feature portraits of real-life criminals and rebels. The funniest was the 19 Crimes Martha’s Chard, sporting a glamorous shot of Martha Stewart, who spent time in federal state prison in 2004-2005. I admired Ms. Stewart’s sense of humor in playing along with the brand, but this bottle too violated my rule.
Fortunately, I found quite a few Australian wines from winemakers who are both talented and possessed of a good sense of humor. Tim Smith’s terrific 2021 Bugalugs Barossa Grenache ($25) was one of my favorites, a lush, polished red with soft tannins and notes of spice and red fruit more serious than its silly name—in Australia “bugalugs” is understood to mean “mate” or “friend”—would suggest.
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“The guy who was importing my wines into the U.K. was an Aussie, who thought that an entry-level wine with a quintessential Aussie nickname would be a hit,” Tim Smith explained via email. Mr. Smith came up with the name Bugalugs. Why do so many Australians give wines funny names? “Maybe Aussies get away with it because of our irreverence [toward] a lot of traditional values,” Mr. Smith surmised. “It’s not really a disrespect. It’s just how we see the world, I guess.”
Fellow Aussie David Franz Lehmann (son of legendary winemaker Peter Lehmann) produced a wine with a cheeky backstory: the 2019 David Franz Waxing Lyrical Mataro ($28). Its label is a portion of a musical score (Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”) printed on the glass bottle. According to the wine’s importer, Gordon Little of Little Peacock Imports, Mr. Lehmann overheard his mother telling a friend that her son was “waxing lyrical” about his Mataro, an earthy, slightly rustic, food-friendly wine that showcases a red grape rarely vinified on its own.
The 2021 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly El Dorado County Rosé ($25), from the talented, Berkeley, Calif.-based Steve Edmunds, has long been one of my favorite rosés—light and juicy, marked by beguiling aromas of strawberry and red fruit. “When we began to make wine from Gamay, it felt critical to catch people’s attention in a fun way,” Mr. Edmunds said, in an email. He has made both red and pink versions of Bone-Jolly—a silly riff on Beaujolais, the most famous wine made from Gamay—but did not make a red one in 2020 and 2021.
“I was looking for a quality wine created by a real winemaker with a sense of humor, not a mass-market brand with a clever marketing team.”
The 2021 Con•scious Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé by Samuel Robert Wines ($15) was another pink wine with an intriguing name. It was juicy and fun to drink, not to mention explosively pink. According to the winery’s co-owner Bryn Coelho, she and her winemaker husband, Samuel Coelho, chose the name to show that they are “conscious of everything,” from growing the grapes to making wine that’s fun to drink. These word-nerd winemakers had fun with the label design, too, breaking up the syllables of “conscious” the way they are in a dictionary and providing the pronunciation, too.
A similar consciousness informed the 2020 Lukas van Loggerenberg Trust Your Gut Chenin Blanc ($35) from South Africa, another favorite. “The name is derived from the decision of when to pick your grapes to deliver optimal ripeness but is also a play on all life’s big decisions—that you need to, in fact, just trust your gut most of the time,” explained winery co-owner Roxanne van Loggerenberg. The wine is a beautiful expression of the Chenin Blanc grape: a minerally, medium-bodied white with notes of peach and melon.
My final fun find was the 2020 “Straight Outta Sancerre” Tournebride ($22), its name—a nod to the 1988 N.W.A. album and 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton”—the collaborative work of Loire Valley winemaker Vincent Gaudry and his New York-based importer Edouard Le Garrec. A blend of two Sancerre terroirs, the wine is thrillingly mineral and remarkably rich with both concentration and finesse.
It goes without saying that none of these wines would be worth writing about if they were no more than a clever name. But fun labels can deliver a bit of extra attention to worthy wines and give winemakers another way to express themselves.
OENOFILE / SILLY NAMES, WINES WORTH TAKING SERIOUSLY
- 2021 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly El Dorado County Rosé, $25. Crafted from a blend of Gamay and Syrah, this juicy, lively, pale-pink wine made from grapes grown in El Dorado County, Calif., is delicious, marked by aromas of strawberry and red fruit.
- 2021 Con•scious Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé by Samuel Robert Wines, $15. This juicy rosé produced from estate-grown Pinot Noir has a fun, vividly pink hue. Winery owner Bryn Coelho explained that ”conscious” is “a word that summarizes what we do every day.”
- 2020 “Straight Outta Sancerre” Tournebride, $22. Perhaps the first Sancerre to pay homage to the seminal rap album by N.W.A. Winemaker Vincent Gaudry is clearly an iconoclast, but as this beautifully balanced, focused, mineral white makes clear, he’s also a talented winemaker.
- 2021 Tim Smith Bugalugs Barossa Grenache, $25. Top Australian producers can be equal parts serious and fun, as this toothsome Grenache from the Barossa region reveals. Marked by aromas of red fruit and spice, bright acidity and plush tannins, it’s an utterly pleasurable drink.
- 2020 Lukas van Loggerenberg Trust Your Gut Chenin Blanc, $35. The name is a bit of a “note to self” according to winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. The wine is a terrifically tangy Chenin Blanc with aromas of melon and stone fruit from, South Africa’s Western Cape.
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