With beer, silly names are second nature — so much that it feels like breaking news when a brewery doesn't add a pun to every bottle label. With wine, the idiotic references have no doubt increased in recent years, but there's still that shock factor when you come across your first bottles of Cat's Pee and Mother Cluckers at your local wine shop. Or Pinot Evil and 7 Deadly Zins. We could go on.
Even still, with so many wine bottles sporting gimmicky labels, you're bound to come across a bottle or two that you actually do want to buy — albeit online, where no one could possibly witness you picking up that Ball Buster. Here are four that are worth getting past the nomenclature.
1. 2008 Birdman Pinot Grigio, Mendocino, Big House Wine:
Named for the Soledad State Correctional Facility that is right down the block from the winery, Big House is somewhat forgiven for its name. But then there's the prison-like winery website (worth a visit for the interactive rehab room pictured above), the winemaker Georgetta Dane's psuedonym (“The Warden”), and the fact that every wine has a prison-inspired name (the Birdman, Prodigal Son, Lineup and Slammer).
But that 2008 Birdman Pinot Grigio in particular is rather interesting (actually 79% Pinot Grigio, with Chenin Blanc, Malvasia and Viognier grapes thrown into the mix). Think grapefruit farm with a green apple orchard nearby and a mineral-y dose of prison yard thrown in for kicks.
2. 2007 Ball Buster, Barossa Valley, Australia, Tait Wines:
The 2007 Shiraz blend (there's also Cabernet and a splash of Merlot in that bottle) was blessed with 92 points by Robert Parker, a high score for a value wine in the land of Parker (should you even care). And other vintages have consistently been on his Best Buy list. Curious how a man like Parker could so love a wine called Ball Buster? He says “it has a nose of cedar, leather, spice box, and blueberry that leaps from the glass. This is followed by a plush, full-bodied wine with gobs of flavor and superior length. This easy-to-understand effort defines the meaning of over-delivering and will do so for another four years.”
3. 2008 Charmed Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Jaqk Cellars:
When graphic designers get together with a well-respected winemaker to start a new wine label, you expect beautiful bottles and great wine. Such is the story of Craig MacLean, who started as a winemaker at Cain and moved on to various wineries including his own MacLean Wines, when he teamed up with Katie Jain and Joel Templin (graphic designers whose clients have included MacLean), to open the San Francisco-based Jaqk Cellars in 2008 (their grapes are sourced from Napa and Sonoma). And ya, those bottles are stunning (the wine is great, too). Still, it's hard to get past wine names like Charmed — Halliwell sister rerun nightmares — and the endless (we get it) references to card game lingo (High Roller Napa Cabernet, the Full House gift set). Cute. Still, that 2008 Charmed Sauvignon Blanc was too good, and a real value from this winemaker, not to forgive the cutesy overkill.
Available online from Jaqk Cellars, $19.
4. 2008 Ménage à Trois Red (California blend), Folie à Deux:
“Take a walk on the wild side and explore the pleasures of our Ménage à Trois. Surrender to the seduction of dark, rich berry with a hint of pepper, a lush lingering finish leaving you wishing for more…” Or so the Napa Valley-based winery's describes its less expensive line of wines blended from grapes throughout California. The red table wine, a Zinfandel, Cabernet and Merlot blend is surprisingly not buried beneath a thick oak-y haze (a good thing). Memorable? No, this is your basic red wine — cheap, fruity and something you'll forget about tomorrow. Exactly what you're looking for in a ménage à trois sort of evening.