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Drink Me, I'm 'Fun'
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Good thing no one ever served the man a bottle of Blue Suede Chardonnay. Liebling, the legendary journalist and gourmand, would have been appalled to see the white wines of Languedoc bottled under the name Fat Bastard, or a good Columbia Valley claret sold as House Wine with a childish drawing of a house—as if to mock the imposing chateaux whose presence on a label seems to imply that if you don't live in one, you might not be good enough for the contents. To a connoisseur, the last thing a wine should be is "fun."
But times change, and even as the overall quality of the wine produced worldwide continues to improve, the imperatives of marketing are being felt from Napa (home of Marilyn Merlot) to Australia (Crocodile Chase) and South Africa (Goats Do Roam and Bored Doe). You have to say the last two out loud to get the joke—puns on Cotes du Rhone and Bordeaux—but the point is, you need never feel intimidated when trying to pronounce "Meursault." Clever names are the wine industry's tactic to compete in an increasingly informal age, and it is work- ing, according to a July Gallup report that showed wine in a tie with beer as Americans' favorite "adult beverage." "Food and wine should be fun, no?" says marketing director John Locke of Bonny Doon Vineyard, which produces Cardinal Zin (-fandel) and The Heart Has Its Rieslings. "Yes, there are important wineries that have been in families since the 1600s. But get over it. If a wine has a flying saucer on it, does that mean it's not real and good?"
No, and, for that matter, a sober etching of a row of vines is no guarantee of quality, either. To be sure, some of these labels exist only because California law prohibits pouring surplus wine down the drain. But others are quite respectable, and priced accordingly. Tait Ball Buster, a red-wine blend from Australia whose name is a tribute to the winemaker's wife ("not a dainty, frail or timid wine and neither is she"), is priced at the high end of inexpensive at $16.99. "We wanted to make wine a friendly and approachable drink," says Peter Click, whose company imports Fat Bastard wines from France, where they are not sold. "But if the wine isn't good, it doesn't matter how clever the name is."