By The Glass


Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Cheap Red Wine is good
for more than laughs

What sells a bottle of wine? Like any other product left to its own accord, the bottle's label becomes the primary sales force.

Wineries have been known to pay commissions above $100,000 to design labels. The well recognized Frogs Leap label has an interesting story behind it, and the label itself, a commissioned piece, now is part of the permanent collection in the Smithsonian Museum of Modern Art. The 1973 label of Château Mouton Rothschild uses the work of Pablo Picasso!

Our domestic wineries broke new ground by having the labels identify the varietal of the wine. Old-world producers assumed customers would know the content by the designated regional source.

The French usually display restrained, rather austere white-background labels. The Germans reflect a sense of calculated colors. The Italians shout out bold, vibrant expressions of design. The new-wave Aussies are completely irreverent with their label names -- "Sheeraz," "Dead Arm Shiraz" or "Duck Muck."

Lately we've seen the emergence of the new fun-wave labels, which tell you nothing, but hope to attract you with nothing else but comical zaniness.

Take, for example, Cheap Red Wine ($5.95), the name printed on a plain, brown label, looking like elementary-school stenciling. It tells you nothing of where the wine comes from or what grapes were used. The Spartan plainness is in stark contrast to the sea of colorful, artsy labels out there today. But it's laugh-out-loud funny and tickles many folks, and that's what wine ultimately is, for fun!

People buy it because they think it's a funny joke to bring to someone's house, but they actually come back to buy it again because it's really pretty good for the price!

Made from Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Zinfandel, Cheap Red Wine is straightforward and easy. This medium-light-bodied wine shows cherry-type fruits, soft tannins and some lively acidity for easy pairing with everyday food. Try it with hamburgers.

The wine has been produced for 10 years in Livermore, Calif., by Stan Friedman. It is sold in grocery stores across the country, but only recently has it been available in Hawaii. Friedman sells more than 100,000 cases of the wine annually, and the number is growing.

From the time you laugh at the label, to the time you savor the last drop, you'll be sure to have fun sharing this with friends. Be sure to try Cheap White Wine, also refreshing in price and flavor. It's slightly sweet, a good match for Asian dishes that are a bit spicy.

Lyle Fujioka owns Fujioka's Wine Merchants.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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