By Fayeruz Barbari
My fiance and I were running late for a dinner. We never show up to dinner parties empty-handed, and if we arrived empty handed and late? That’s just tacky. We dashed into a store to pick up a bottle of wine. The shelves were packed with gleaming glass, and we found ourselves in a shopping coma induced by too many choices. Much like the way I chose football teams to root for at Superbowl parties, I tend to pick new wines based on label colors and how cool they look.
I snatched up a green bottle with a modern mosaic design. I looked on the back to see what sort of foods I would pair it with. I knew our friend Gus was whipping up saffron pasta with chicken, and I needed a good white. The first words on the back of the bottle read, “Yada, Yada, Yada.” Puzzled by this obvious reference to the show Seinfeld, it was unclear why the first words they decided to use were loosely translated into, “Blah Blah Blah.” To me, “Blah” is not a selling point. I ran over to my fiance to show him, and he simply said, “they just shot themselves in the foot,” and shoved the bottle back on the shelf.
That got me thinking. How many times have I been duped by trendy labels boasting what turns out to be mediocre wine? Sometimes it is far less than mediocre. I am a sucker for cute labels: waif-ish cartoon girls at French cafe’s, pastel oval patterns, starlit nights with dragonflies – anything that strays from the standard coat of arms, fleur de lies, or baroque script writing. But many times these bottles are so impressively packaged that the need to adequately describe the content no longer seems to be a requirement. Worse, consumers are so excited about bringing this conversation piece to the dinner party, they do not consider the consequences: no one wants to sit at a table full of friends, who exchange worried glances as they endeavor their first swallow.
After taking a closer look, I noticed many flashy and uncommon wine labels have no description of what they are selling on the back, hoping people like me will say, “Ooooh, the Sex and the City edition Shiraz? YES!” Call me a purist, but wineries should describe their product and pair it with some edibles and of course music. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so!
Smoking Loon (by the way, not a bad wine at all) decided to eschew describing their product all together. The back of their label reads like a backwoods Huckleberry Finn character. “Besides him bein’ kinda crazy/an’ get in an’ out before anybody’d see him coming.” Huh? It is a snippet about an “efficient” loon that would appear on people’s doorsteps, and it was written in horrific English. Who can read that and think, “Yum?”
Five Rivers 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon writes of a “Goddess” who plummets to her death from atop a misty mountaintop. Apparently, mountain breeze whispers of her adoration for the Five Rivers grapes below. “Come taste the devotion” they say. I am sure drinkers would rather taste the actual flavor, if they would be so kind to describe it.
The 2004 Cardinal Zin boasts a motley pirate etched on the front. The folks say their wine will complement any manner of “wild beats, including the sloth.” Did they just say “sloth”? Does Trader Joes’s carry that? I think our diet may differ slightly from a desperate and scurvy-ravaged pirate ashore somewhere in the South Pacific. But they do describe the wine, and say it is a “Completely glutinous, sorry, supersonic gastronomic experience.” A little vague? Take the Twin Fin 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. Sleek vintage car on the front, and a label that reads, “It’s kinda like us, all flavor and no worries.” They inspire a casual feel when reading the bottle, saying the flavor was influenced by sun, surf, and sand. A wine for real dudes. And they really drive it home by letting us know its good enough for dinner with the in-laws. Sonoma County’s Blue Monkey label appears to have an obsession with the letter E. When describing their wine, they are prone to putting five “E’s” where one should be. Some examples? “Fire up the TEEEEEki Torches!” (By the way, the word Tiki is supposed to be spelled with I’s, not E’s). “You will pound your chest with GLEEEEE!” and that their wine is an “EEEEEclectic gem.”
If someone asks me why I now prefer to buy plain old bottles with actual descriptions on the back, I can reply, “I don’t FEEEEEL like taking a chance,” or “Shiver me timbers! Methinks that ship has sailed,” or a resounding, “Dude, no worries. I just wanna like, know what’s in it and stuff.”