Wine brands, especially in the upstart, insecure New World, used to strain to sound serious and Frenchy-fancy. You had your Domains, your Clos, your Chateaus (“Pure Sonoma”!). Even five-dollar plonk could seem classy if it had a ridge or a mountain or a gate in its name. As James Thurber’s wine snob put it in the famous 1944 New Yorker cartoon, we may have been drinking naïve domestic Burgundy, but at least we could be amused by its presumption.
If Thurber were cartooning today, he’d change that last word to presumptuousness. Because inappropriate language—from vulgarity to suggestiveness to scatology—is the hottest trend in wine branding.
Here’s a survey of rude wine names, in alphabetical rude-word order. (And, since you asked, I know a bunch of rude beer brands, too. I’m sticking to wine this time.)
This one’s actually French—from the Fitou appellation in Languedoc—although the spelling is British and, well, cheeky. Elsewhere in France there’s a Château d’Arces and a Château d’Ars; both are castles, not wineries.
From the Milano Winery in Hopland (Mendocino County), California. Available in BigAss Red (“full, yet soft”) and BigAss Blonde (“lush and a bit creamy”)
You remember Stu, right? He’s the guy whose name the New York Times called “unprintable” back in 2011. (Say it aloud, but quietly if you aren’t alone.) Bevlog, a blog from Lehrman Beverage Law, had no such scruples. Alas, Stu and his wife, Rae-Jean Beach, appear to have vanished from “Sonoma Beach” and wine aisles.
Stu Pedasso and Rae-Jean Beach, R.I.P. To get the full flavor of the joke, pronounce “Sonoma” with emphasis on the first syllable.
The Ball Buster, a vigorous red, is bottled by Tait Wines in Australia’s Barossa Valley.
As seen in Costco, December 2011.
From the Tait website, some unencumbered-by-the-editing-process copy:
As the back label suggests, the wine was going to be called “Michelle’s Block” after my wife Michelle however we really wanted something punchier and eye catching; something that would standout and say “buy me”!! […] As soon as our USA importers tasted the barrel sample they got onto the phone and explained this wine needed another name, as “Michelle’s Block” conjures up visions of a soft and elegant sort of wine – and trust me mates, this little beauty is nothing like that.
Sitting down with our neighbors, a thesaurus and the wine in our glasses, we brainstormed many ideas for the wine and back label. We laughed how the wine industry can ‘bust your balls’ and cause blood, sweat and tears. So, with our ideas in mind, the discussions with our US importer and our US agent’s brilliant word-play ability, ‘The Ball Buster’ was created.
Fat Bastard—styled, for reasons unknown, as FAT bastard—is a French wine produced by a British-French partnership; the name came from the British partner, who “had used the expression Fat bastard often to describe things that were great but hearing it in a French accent made it so much funnier.” Fat Bastard is also, of course, a henchman of Dr. Evil who appeared in the second and third Austin Powers movies (1999 and 2002, respectively).
There’s also a Cranky Bastard blackberry wine made by Boutier Winery in Danielsville, Georgia. (That’s Georgia, U.S.A.) It’s a sweet wine, so the significance of the name is unclear. “Sweet Bastard” would have been cuter, IMO.
(Time for a reminder that, yes, I know about bastard beer names: Dirty Bastard and Double Bastard [from Founders Brewing], Arrogant Bastard [from Stone Brewing]. Thanks for your interest, but we’re sticking to wine names here.)
This is more than a label: it’s a category. In 2011, the New York Times’s William Grimes noted with something approaching alarm “a growing army of rude, budget-priced wines that have shoved their way into wine stores and supermarkets in the past few years.” The trend began in 2004 with an Australian Grenache called, simply, Bitch.
Via Nous 3.
Noting the appeal to young, relatively unsophisticated female drinkers, a passel of unrelated producers happily (or greedily) piled on, bringing us Sassy Bitch (Chile and California via Macon, Georgia), Royal Bitch (Chile via New York), Sweet Bitch (Chile via somewhere), Jealous Bitch (Australia), Tasty Bitch (provenance unknown), and Happy Bitch (Hudson Valley via social media). All are non-vintage, most rely heavily on sweet grapes like Moscato, and none has a website that could win copywriting prizes.
The Lehrman Beverage Law blog has this observation:
In the 21 years before 2001, we find not one BITCH approval [by TTB, the Alcohol Tobacco and Tax Bureau]. By contrast, in the 7 years since 2001, we find not less than 65 BITCH approvals. We don’t see any great need for the government to banish this term, on adult beverages, but we do wonder why it’s so prevalent. … Where is the wine relating to cranky men?
Old Fart is (or, more likely, was) a Southern Rhone vin de pays. The label alone probably accounted for whatever success it enjoyed. The perfect gift for the boss!
Via In the 00s.
Four Skins, from Nova Scotia’s Jost Vineyards (sorry, Jōst), tells a lovely story about four seasons, four directions, four elements, four corners, and “a carefully selected blend of four grapes. But who are they kidding? Certainly not Jay Leno, who got positively sputtery when he talked about it on the Tonight Show in January 2013. (Hat tip: Gretchen McCulloch.)
“No holds barred” is how If You See Kay describes its wine, an Italian import (by way of the Napa Valley) first released in fall 2014 “whose name when said aloud sounds the spelling of a four-letter expletive,” as The Drinks Business primly put it. The If You See Kay website takes pains to depict a fictional “Kay” as “an embodiment of a lifestyle, a genre, a feeling in your gut … a force of nature, a wanderer.” Yeah, yeah, whatever. Tell it to that old force of nature himself, James Joyce.*
Via Vintage Point.
There’s a scientific justification for Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, a Sauvignon Blanc from the New Zealand winery Coopers Creek: a sulfurous compound in white wine, p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one, is said by experts to smell like feline urine. (
The gooseberry bush is a New Zealand reference; Americans call the fruit “kiwi.” I stand corrected: kiwi fruit is Chinese gooseberry; Sauvignon Blanc is said to smell like regular gooseberries.) In the U.S. the rather pissy TTB made the winery change the name to Cat’s Phee, which is ridiculous.
On the other hand, the “frog” in Frog’s Piss—a private bottling for what’s known affectionately as a “booze cruise”—may have something to do with the wine’s French origin.
Then there’s Pisse-Dru—which translates to “thick piss” but is in fact an idiom indicating approval. “It is clear,” writes Andrew Hennigan in his communications blog, “that the producer chose the this name deliberately, and is not among the ranks of the careless marketers who choose some unfortunate brand name simply out of carelessness.”
The Brouilly cru also contains the famous Pisse Vieille vineyard (roughly translated as “piss old woman!”) which received its name from a local legend of a devout Catholic woman who misheard the local priest’s absolution to “Allez! Et ne péchez plus” (Go! And sin no more) as “Allez! Et ne pissez plus.” (Go! And piss no more). The vineyard name is the admonishment that her husband gave to her upon learning of the priest’s words.
Naked Winery (“Let’s Get Naked!”) in Hood River, Oregon, has cornered this market. Their labels include Booty Call, Hookup, Foreplay, Bareback, Blazing Straddle, Penetration, Climax, and Oh! Orgasmic.
Not just ordinary shit, mind you—French shit! Le Vin de Merde—the tagline translates to “The worst hides the best”—has a fly on its label and a high-quality grape blend inside the bottle; like Seigneurie d’Arse, it’s from Languedoc. (What’s up down there?) According to French News Online, the name is a direct reference to a disparaging comment made in 2002 by the chairman of a professional wine-tasting association, who described Beaujolais as “vin de merde.” Outraged winemakers “chased him through the courts”; the case ended up in France’s Supreme Court, which dismissed the winemakers’ claims. Je m’en fous, says Le Vin de Merde’s Jean-Marc Speziale: he’s crying all the way to the bank.
Image via Verema.com.
* From Ulysses: “If you see kay / Tell him he may / See you in tea / Tell him from me.”