I’m sure you’ve noticed. At the market, a nearby big box outlet or your favorite neighborhood wine shop, we’re now seeing labels that once would have seemed jarring novelties but have entered the mainstream as wine consumption in this country has exploded. These are the cute labels, the plays on words, the ones with the sly illustrations. Many mask mediocre wines, of course, but others front wines one might actually enjoy. Here are six I like, presented with notes drawn from the past year’s tastings. Prices are ballpark and subject to change.
Beauzeaux Red Wine 2005 (about $12). The label advises us to pronounce the name of this California blend Bozo, like the clown, but there is nothing silly about the contents of the bottle. The respected Sonoma vintner Beaulieu Vineyard targets this blend at its younger buyers, beginning with a bold base of zinfandel and syrah and accenting it with petite syrah, charbono, grenache, tempranillo, lagrein and valdiguie grapes. What a crazy mixed-up but tasty kid this Beauzeaux is!
Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2006 (about $11). This is my favorite wine with barbecue. And although its name may sound funny, it actually is descriptive of the gnarled old vines on which the superbly concentrated, low-yield grapes for this wine grow. In the glass, this one has all the bramble and intense dark fruit a zin drinker could ask for.
Zen of Zin Old Vines Zinfandel 2007 (about $8). Ravenswood Winery, whose appropriate motto is “no wimpy wines,” intends this smoldering beauty to be its everyday zin and prices it accordingly. It is a very zin sort of zin, displaying intense ripe cherry flavors, plus dark chocolate for depth, underlain by mellow leather notes and a bit of cinnamon for punch. It finishes long and lush, making it a fine companion to meaty cold-weather stews and grilled red meats.
Irony Chardonnay 2005 (about $13). Whether paired with chicken, fish or mild cheeses or drunk on its own, this big, giddy Napa Valley powerhouse bursting with fruit and finesse is a knockout. Look for rich vanilla tempered by a cooling minerality, snappy green apple, balanced citrus accents, a hint of caramelized pineapple and just the right touch of oak. Besides, who can resist a nice long draught of cool Irony in confusing times like ours?
Sokol Blosser Evolution, 12th Edition (about $19). Waves of flavors come at you rapid-fire as you sip this astonishing Oregon blend of—fasten your seat belt—Müller-Thurgau, white riesling, semillon, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, muscat canelli, chardonnay, pinot blanc and sylvaner grapes. Whew! The result? A complex and layered wine delivering citrus, pear and tart apple with light floral undertones, crisp acidity and an incredibly clean and refreshing finish. Try it with assertive Asian and East Indian dishes.
Undone Dry Riesling 2007 (about $11). A clever label depicting a woman’s torso in an unlacing corset hasn’t hurt sales of this crisply dry wine from Germany’s Rheinhessen region, but there’s much more to this lively minimalist than sex appeal. The predominant treat for the palate is tart green apple that comes on with a gusto tempered by smooth pear and apricot flavors, lemon overtones, a trace of gooseberry for added astringency and a hint of ginger for spice. The wine finishes as crisply as it begins, making it a perfect aperitif or a fine partner for sushi or shellfish. z
An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, Web sites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times.