Food and drink: A lot of bottle

Chile Con Cabernet, Bad-Tempered Cyril, Lost Pampas Chardonnay ... some producers and retailers will do anything to make you pick up their wine
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Victoria Wine introduced the name Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush as a way of conveying the pungent aroma of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the joke backfired. The label turned out to be a fraudulent misrepresentation of what was in the bottle (just as well, I hear you say). Undaunted, Victoria Wine's marketing team has come up with a fresh set of joke names. Bonardarama is a way of making Argentina's Bonarda grape a more palatable mouthful. Chile Con Cabernet speaks for itself.

The Co-op, too, has got in on the pun. It christened an Argentinian Chardonnay, Lost Pampas Chardonnay when a member of the wine department went off to have a baby. A southern French Tempranillo became Bad-Tempered Cyril, a Vermentino, Fair Martina. Calling a Hungarian white made by an Australian a Hungaroo has been a huge success. Difficult grape names can benefit from a bit of name-tampering and native Hungarian grape names are in a tongue-twisting league of their own.

You can sympathise with Victoria Wine for promoting a Hungarian wine made from the Cserszegi Fuszeres grape (pronounced chair-seggy-foo-sher- us) with the label The Unpronounceable Grape. Safeway calls this affordable medal-winner Woodcutter's White. Most of the serious tongue-twisters come from Eastern Europe. Try wrapping your tongue, for instance, around Kekfrankos, Kiryaleanyka or Harslevelu. Is it any wonder that the pioneer of the unpronounceable-grape idea was Bull's Blood?

The influx of savvy Australian "flying" winemakers into eastern Europe has brought an acceptable face to its labels. Hence the likes of Castle Ridge, Misty Mountain, Chapel Hill and River Route. The "river deep, mountain high" principle is one of the wine world's great ironies. In its anxiety to endow its everyday wines with a classic European sense of place, the New World marketing approach has been busy appropriating gullies, ridges, leaps and rocks for its wine labels. Now, in an inversion of the original snobbery, these invented place names bear the message: this wine could be from anywhere but Europe.

In an effort to reinvent German wine in the post-Liebfraumilch era, the New World has given Germany a new gloss with a host of attractive place- associated names such as Fire Mountain, Slate Valley, and The Bend in the River. If all this is designed to make a wine easier to sell, the quest for the spurious place name is at its most intense in the south of France, where the presence of Australians, British, French and Kiwis has produced a clutch of would-be Aussie or Californian names, among them Elm Grove, Cuckoo Hill, Winter Hill, Skylark Hill, even Fat Bastard, the latter an apparent tongue-in-cheek homage to Burgundy's grand cru vineyard, Batard-Montrachet.

What makes this development interesting is that it indicates that France has finally lost the cachet it once had, except perhaps with older wine consumers. Erasing any reference to France on the label, the Australian winemaker Michael Goundrey's Foxwood Gravel Stone Vineyard Merlot, for instance, leads you to believe that it is anything but the rustic southern French rouge it actually is. The thin end of the style-over-content wedge has reached Bordeaux, too, with names such as Bridge Over the River Barrique red and Merchant's Bay Merlot for a basic claret, and Rivers Meet Sauvignon/Semillon and Salmon Run for otherwise hard-to-sell dry white Bordeaux.

Recasting cheap wine in a stylish New World package can make the wine more accessible. It can also be an attempt to earn Brownie points - and increase profit margins - by representing the wine as something it isn't. As Oz Clarke politely points out in the introduction to his 1999 wine guide: "It's all to do with the less fashionable areas of the world having rather a lot of wine to sell that no one seems to want very much, while other places like Australia, Chile, New Zealand ... are suffering shortages."

Does this kind of marketing amount to economy with the truth? If the idea is to make wine more fun and accessible, then names which take the con out of connoisseurship are an excellent idea. But setting out to mislead the public about the origins of the wine is a retrograde triumph of style over content. Real wine, after all, shouldn't need to hide behind brightly coloured labels, wacky bottles and fancy place names.

White of the week

1992 Serrig Herrenberg Riesling Spatlese, Bert Simon, pounds 6.75, Waitrose. Mosel Rieslings can retain their fruit and freshness much longer than most Chardonnay. The maturity of Bert Simon's Spatlese evokes the classic petrolly characteristics of the style, while the apple and honeyed ripeness of the fruit makes this a wine to drink before Sunday lunch or with a morsel of cheese.

Red of the week

1997 Beyerskloof Pinotage, pounds 5.59, Oddbins, Unwins. This very typical example of South Africa's home-grown red grape has less overt oak influence and more mulberry and blackberry flavours than hitherto. As a result, the fruit style of the 1997 Beyerskloof Pinotage is rendered smooth by youthfully silky tannins on the aftertaste.