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Since the beginning of my fascination with adult beverages, wine labels have captivated me. Would someone buy a bottle based on the packaging? Are wineries creating a demand for their vintages with labels depicting sharks, lizards, bears and boars? Would anyone drink a premium wine called Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush? Marlene Rossman, president of Manhattan Wine Seminars, a wine education group, says people aren’t particularly attracted to clever names or labels, but buy wines that are easy to remember or describe. “You can’t go into a store and say you want the Cotes du Rhone” and expect a merchant to know what you are looking for, she says. But, you can ask if they carry “Goats Do Roam” or the wine with a toad on the label. Does an unorthodox name or gimmicky label indicate a throw-away wine? Fortunately, the answer is no. But I invite readers to chime in about their experiences. Meanwhile, here is a smattering of the good, bad and wacky wines behind those labels. �Thierry and Guy “Fat Bastard” Chardonnay 2001 ($10). This is probably the most recognizable departure from staid French wine labels. Thierry and Guy is a negociant from the Languedoc region of France. Bob Luskin, part owner of the Bell Wine Shoppe on M Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C., says that Fat Bastard has been flying off the shelves, with customers making repeat purchases. Personally, I don’t get it. Thierry and Guy claim to have hit upon the Fat Bastard name based on the richness of the chardonnay. I’ve dubbed it “Flat Bastard.” �Gundlach-Bundschu “Bearitage” California Red Table Wine NV. The label, inspired by a vintage poster, features a bear with a kind of fur that does not occur in nature. The name is a tongue-in-cheek play on “Meritage” but the wine is a pleasant if orthodox blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and zinfandel, with a wonderful blend of cherry and chocolate flavors and a stellar fruit finish. �Ch�teau Routas, “The Cabernet Sauvignon that wild boars prefer.” 2000 ($10). French muralist Paulin Paris created the label with a wild boar clutching a bunch of grapes in its mouth. According to the Web site, his masterpieces hang on the walls of some of the world’s finest estates and restaurants, including the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and the French Laundry Restaurant in Napa, Calif. Boars may appreciate it, but it’s not a big crowd-pleaser with humans. It offers cherries, eucalyptus, and metallic notes, but is unbalanced and lacks complexity. �Goats Do Roam, Charles Black, South Africa 2001 ($8.50). This red wine from Fairview Winery in the Paarl Valley is a blend of grenache, pinotage, shiraz, cinsault and carignan. The name is a parody of the C�te du Rh�ne region of France. Medium-bodied, it has dusty elements and blueberry and sour cherry aromas, and offers decent value. �Sin Zin, 2000 Alexander Valley Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley ($20). Owner Harry Wetzel tells me that Alexander Valley Vineyards, a family winery, has produced the Zinfandel since 1978. He credits his sister Katie Wetzel Murphy with the evocative name. He says the label art — a reclining deity drinking out of a horn — originated from a page in a college textbook. The wine explodes with black pepper and cherry and plum flavors. It’s chewy with toasty oak and has a supple tannic finish. Recommended. �Vinum Cellars CNW (Chard-No-Way) Cuvee 2000 Chenin Blanc ($10). Not a bad summer wine from a couple of Gen-Xers who like to be seen as the Ben and Jerry of wine. Chris Condos and Richard Bruno pasted on the label a black and white image of themselves hitchhiking near Clarksburg, Calif. (where the Chenin Blanc grapes are grown), and holding up a sign reading, “Will Work for Chenin.” On the palate, expect lemon and mango notes with a mineral finish. �Marilyn Merlot 1998 Napa Valley ($29). Luskin tipped me off that Marilyn Merlot has achieved a sort of cult wine status, with older vintages selling for ludicrous prices on eBay. When I looked online last week, several vintages were available, including a 1990 going for $150. The ’98 is the 14th vintage, each one having a different portrait of the movie star. The nose opens up with raspberries and cloves and has black cherry on the long finish. It is as rich as crimson velvet and just as smooth. Elisabeth Frater is Legal Times ‘ Wine Counsel. Got an entertaining story about a wine label? E-mail [email protected].

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