Tim James: Against silly wine names
By Christian Eedes, 14 September 2015
Has anyone else noticed the rash of silly phrases being given as names to wines? Blankbottle’s “Confessions of a White Glove Chaser” (a cabernet) is one of the most egregious examples. Sadly, I suspect we’re just at the beginning of a bizarre, artificial and irritating trend.
In dear old classic Europe, the largest word on a label is usually the appellation, the area from which the wine comes, with even the producer’s name sometimes so reticently placed as to be almost hard to find. The idea that the Chaves, say, could give their Hermitage a whimsical name – let alone a whole whimsical phrase – is horrifying, but fortunately unimaginable. Terroir still counts there for more than ephemeral marketing fashions.
In the New World, place name is usually subordinate to both producer name and variety name. This was a great breakthrough of honesty, which first became dominant in the USA, and importantly replaced the aping of European appellations. The use of more or less fanciful names took hold mainly for blends where varietal naming was impossible or too unwieldy. That’s generally been the case here too, though the imaginative naming of single-variety wines has also become commoner. Mostly the names have been nicely discreet and elegant – often enough just “Estate Red”, “Proprietor’s Reserve” (a rather American formulation, that, I think), but otherwise generally a name that has some significance to place or aspiration or history – Botmaskop, Aristargos, Three Soldiers, Columella, etc.
There were occasionally some strange, perhaps poetic names, but they were few, and didn’t get much beyond Bruce Jack, in fact, with his Flagstone wines called things like Music Room Cabernet Sauvignon and Writer’s Block Pinotage.
But now, look what’s happening. These are a few that I’ve noted recently:
• Louis Nel’s sauvignon and cab on the CWG auction are called, respectively, A Thousand Kisses Deep and Living in the Past.
• Giant Periwinkle (OK, even the winery name is a bit odd, but it is meaningful given its Agulhas orientation) has Old Lady on the Corner Pinot Noir.
• Lorraine has a Love of my Life Pinotage Rosé, which is admittedly not as ridiculous – but only just.
It’s clearly not just a local thing, as I see that Richard Kelley, a Brit, has adopted the practice pretty universally for his range of Cape wines for export. Each name is rather more ghastly than the last, culminating in a white blend called Doctor Melck and the Spiders from SARS. And no, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in knowing why it’s called that – I just wish it weren’t! It seems so arch and contrived….
But Richard is a seasoned marketer of wines, and doubtless has good commercial reason for this silliness (and I’m just an old fogey). Same goes for Peter Walser and his usually very good range of Blankbottle wines. But I certainly wouldn’t be keen on buying, and would never order off a winelist, say, wines called Epileptic Inspiration, or Casting for Chris and Becoming Paul.
I first became properly alerted to this trend at the launch of Duncan Savage’s latest wines a few months back. Duncan too! It‘s getting serious, I realised. Duncan’s original pair were modestly (and with an admirable lack of imagination, let alone of vulgar showiness) called, Savage Red and Savage White. Now we have a blend called Follow the Line. Again, I don’t care why, I’m just irritated, despite the charming labels. Duncan’s Syrah is called just Syrah – but we’re warned that future vintages will be The Girl Next Door. Perhaps she knows the Old Lady on the Corner. I wish they’d cross the bloody street together and get run over by a taxi.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.