New York, NY –
Admit it. The number one thing that draws you to a wine is its label. Whether it’s that exquisite calligraphy, the matte texture of the paper, the eye-popping color combination or that adorable little penguin on the front (“Look, honey! It looks like it’s dancing!”), your primary pull isn’t what’s in the bottle, it’s what’s on the bottle.
While this isn’t always the case, I hear it quite a lot from customers. “Why did you pick this wine?” I’ll ask. “I dunno. The label is really cool,” they’ll sheepishly admit. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are suckers for marketing! Whether it’s wine, makeup, hair product, potato chips, airlines…a great marketing plan goes a long way toward capturing our attention.
Hopefully after the thrill of that fancy packaging has worn off, the product is good enough to justify your decision to judge a book by its cover. This week, I decided to put this to the test. Is a wine with a quirky label just that – all thriller, no filler? Or do some of these sexy bottles actually contain some good juice too?
First up is a white wine made from one of my favorite Austrian grapes – a Grüner Veltliner (Groo-ner Velt-leen-er), the #1 white wine grape of the region. I love Grüners because you can quite easily find a killer wine for an incredibly reasonable price – sometimes even under $10. These wines are typically the very definition of crisp, clean, and quaffable, with bright fruit, racy acidity and sometimes even a faint touch of spritziness.
I have heard every variation on pronunciation of this wine, including simply mumbling an approximation in hopes that I can make an educated guess. It is presumably with this confusion over how to pronounce the wine that the marketing team behind the 2010 Meinhard Forstreiter “Grooner” made the decision to name their wine. This tongue-in-cheek phonetic effort to introduce a somewhat foreign grape to the mass market is clever, as is the wine’s label, which boasts three obvious selling points of the wine in adorable little graphics – it’s “perfect for parties” (image of a couple dancing), “great with food” (image of a table setting), and “picnics too!” (image of a couple sitting under an umbrella). While I’m sure makers of, say, some Grand Cru Burgundies would roll their eyes at this kitschy little bottle, I’m fairly certain it’s flying off the shelves thanks to its presentation.
And, the wine is actually fantastic. It’s palate-cleansing and packed with grapefruit and tart, green apple. Perhaps nothing to wax poetic about to your neighborhood Master Sommelier, but really refreshing, easy-drinking and unquestionably food-friendly. So food-friendly, in fact, that there’s very little I wouldn’t pair with this wine. However, to start, I would recommend it with grilled shrimp with mango salsa, a spicy chicken curry or a selection of simple appetizers – prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, crostini with goat cheese and roasted peppers, and tuna tartare. At under $10, this really is perfect for parties – or if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to tie one on by yourself.
While shopping for these wines, I found myself undeniably drawn to a wine called “Snake Charmer.” I have a bizarre fascination with vintage circus imagery and sideshow culture, so I couldn’t help myself. Put out by the Vinaceous Winery in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia, the 2009 label features gorgeous old school circus poster art depicting a voluptuous siren wrapped in wine-sipping snakes. Hot chicks and drunken reptiles? How could anyone say no?
Australian Shiraz – in particular from McLaren Vale – is notoriously big, juicy and ripe. This wine is no exception. I don’t know about snakes, but this wine charmed the hell out of me. The grapes are hand-picked and matured for 12 months in both French and American oak, yielding one of the most memorable value-driven Aussie Shirazes I’ve had in years. Notes of black cherry, blackberry and currant leap out of the glass and mingle perfectly with the oak treatment, which offers up balsamic, vanilla and a touch of tobacco. The best thing about this wine is how balanced it is. Sometimes wines of this size can be cloying or sloppy. The Snake Charmer is all about all parts contributing to the whole act. It’s got a nice backbone of acidity to balance out the body and soft tannin, making it so wonderfully juicy, I can’t wait to bite into a steak with it.
I also love the idea of opening this up for my own circus sideshow of a backyard (er…New York apartment) barbecue and pairing it with sticky baby back ribs and a spicy Thai noodle salad. It would also go nicely with sweet and sour brisket or a simple hunk of stinky cheese. And, at $16 a bottle, I could probably afford a whole case of it to feed the cast of carneys that would no doubt show up at my big top.