Lascivious Labels

Talk wine to me, baby.




I receive plenty of spirited mail deriding my use of "foul" or "salty" language, mostly from traditionalists trying to keep the wine world frozen in time. Naturally, it stings, but it also bemuses me. When I lived in Europe, censorship rarely reared itself, words we dare not say frequently peppered television airwaves. But here in the land of the puritanical, the public has timidly acclimated to sexually charged situations and products, pushed begrudgingly forward by graphic television and scantily clad society tramps. And it's taken even longer for the wine industry, historically slathered in conservatism, to catch up to its consumers.

You'd think it would've happened earlier. Rife with overt sexual references and other words that sound "dirty," industry parlance makes it hard to write between the lines. The everyday vernacular casually thrown around at wineries — punt, balling, bung, rack — could make a church-going hockey MILF blush, but most of us, forever stunted in third grade, giggle. Whoever made up these words had a sense of humor — or smoked a lot of high-grade weed. Probably both, since the California wine industry blossomed during the late 1960s.

Within the past 10 years or so, wineries have also begun dipping into our large pool of repressed sexuality by slapping "naked," "sin," and healthy-chested women on their labels. Controlling the puppet strings is the federal government's draconian TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Tax Bureau), limiting what well-intentioned wineries can broadcast on their bottles. Some, however, sneak past: Cleavage Creek, a Napa Valley winery that donates 10 percent of its proceeds to, appropriately enough, breast cancer; Sex, a bluntly named, wantonly popular rosé sparkling wine from L. Mawby Vineyards in Michigan, began as a mischievous lark to test the usually prudish TTB. To Larry Mawby's surprise, the application sailed through. Sin Zin, and its sister wine Temptation, from Alexander Valley Vineyards, made it through by leaning away from sex and emphasizing the carnal, gustatory pleasures of wine.

Then you arrive at the nudist camp: Naked Riesling from Snowqualmie Vineyards and Four Vines Naked Chardonnay. In wine, the word "naked" indicates wine made without oak influence, but Naked Winery in Oregon plays a more aggressive game. I'm not sure how they escaped the roving eye of the TTB, since its entire product line revolves around, ahem, the tantalizing, risqué aspects of life: Dominatrix Pinot Noir, Foreplay Chardonnay, Tease Riesling, Vixen Syrah, and, my favorite, Penetration Cabernet Sauvignon. How could they make a more blatant play on crass carnal desires? Its refreshingly honest website reads: "Read our back labels or have your mother-in-law read the back label aloud at your next family function. As we say, drink what you like. And who wouldn't like to get a little naughty now and then?" Amen.

Compared to Naked Winery, other countries' attempts at indecorous labeling seem tame in comparison: Frog's Piss, French Kiss, and Suckfizzle. Yawn. We Americans are so delightfully tactless. And that, my friends, is one reason it's great to live in the United States — never a dull moment. M

Recommended Wines

Four Vines 2007 Naked Chardonnay A chardonnay made without ever seeing the walls of an oak barrel or a pat of butter. Pure chardonnay the way nature intended with ripe, sweet grapefruit, fragrant white peach, and a refreshing, lemon-y, steely finish. $14.

Ravenswood 2006 Petite Sirah Sonoma County Rich like dark-chocolate-covered cherries. Big tannins with a menthol aroma, soft leather, and coffee. $10