Thursday, January 18, 2024

The lighter side of wine

One of the knocks you hear about wine from people who don't drink wine (and even a few who do) is wine people are too serious.  They claim there's no humor in wine.   


Hang on!  What about the hilarious jabs taken at the sometimes pretentiousness of wine by the acerbic British cartoonist, Ronald Searles?  Or the funny covers of San Francisco's former Pacific Wine Company. Both are classics now, treasured by wine collectors who appreciate wine humor, no matter how subtle or pointed.

History is replete with scores of humorous wine labels.  No one knows who created the first funny wine label, but it might have been in the 1960s, when Davis Bynum put a wine-stained footprint on the front label and called his wine "Chateau La Feet."  A clever take on the famous Bordeaux wine that later became Barefoot Bynum and then simply, Barefoot. 

About the same time, Almaden Vineyards released a bronze-colored wine called Eye of the Partridge, a California take on the French wine Oeil de Perdrix.  The partridge family of wines spawned Saddleback Cellars Oeil de Tortue, supposedly named in homage to the eye color of winemaker Nils Venge's pet turtle. 


Perhaps the longest string of tongue-in-cheek wine labels came from the creative and zany imagination of Randall Grahm, owner/winemaker of Bonny Doon. Grahm was known for knocking the staid wine industry on its collective ear with such label classics as Le Cigare Volant, showing an airship crashing into a vineyard and Clos de Gilroy, Grahm's Rhone-style blend based on grapes he found "Close to Gilroy." 

Other labels in the Grahm camp, include witty label takeoffs, now a part of wine lore, like Napa's Frog's Leap Winery poke at Napa neighbor Stag's Leap Wine Cellar, Australia's  Kanga Rouge and Wallaby White, Planet of the Grapes from Sonoma, and Jory Winery's funny jab at critic Robert Parker (although, apparently he didn't think so), with a Mourvedre sporting a neck label featuring Bob III, The Emperor Has No Nose.

Humorous Wine Tales

Wine has been associated with human evolution for centuries. So, it figures that there are numerous tales, big and small, true and not, connected with the wines enjoyed by the people who made them. 

Reaching back into the dusty corners of the wine humor cellar, I came across this odd tale of the Italian white wine, Est! Est!! Est!!!  It's a fanciful account, some might say humorous, that tells how a certain Italian wine supposedly got its name.

In the 12th century, a German bishop and his entourage were traveling to Rome and his eminence required his servant to go ahead to find the village with the best wine. Mark "Est!" (Latin for "it is") on the door of every tavern where you find the wine to be especially good, directed the bishop. When the servant got to Montefiascone, in Lazio, he wrote "Est! Est!! Est!!!" on all the tavern doors.  The bishop agreed that the wine was excellent and decided to stay in Montefiascone. The triple-e wine is still made today from Trebbiano and Malvasia. 


Castelli Romani -- Like so many things circulating around Italian wine, the vino of Lazio (Latium in English) requires some explanation, so stay with me.  Lazio is a large central Italy region, home to the capital city of Rome.  Lazio is also the site of a group of wines, known as Castelli Romani, of which Frascati is the best known.  The subtle Muscat notes of Frascati are from a traditional blend of Muscat of Alexandria and Schiava, known in Lazio as Malvasia del Lazio, plus a touch of  Trebbiano.

Falernian and Caecuban -- A strangely off-kilter wine note from the Roman past claims that Falernian was so "strong" that it could be set alight! The contemporary version of Falernian is made from Falanghina. Caecuban was described by Pliny the Elder as "sinewy" and "packing a punch."  

Flog that wine! -- Long ago, when wine was imported from Europe to England in bulk, bottling in local cellars was a common practice.  A device, that sounds a bit like a torture device, was used to ram the cork home in a bottle, called a "Boot and Flogger."  Apparently, the way it works is the operator used his boot to slam a lever striking the cork, ramming it home. Later improvements used power leverage to force the cork into the bottle. 

The monk who (didn't) invent Champagne -- A vigorous telling of the discovery of Champagne supposedly has the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, exclaiming "Come quickly, I'm drinking stars!" Fact is, re-fermentation occurs naturally in the spring, without the help of man or monk. Ironically, Father Pierre Perignon's experimenting with blending was thwarted by this natural process. 

Fun anecdotes about wine and the people that make it are only one possible scenario.  The real truth about wine is in the drinking. 


End note: The deadline I set for the changeover and re-design has past and I wanted everyone to know that I hope to make the changes soon.


Next blog: Pinot Blanc

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