One of the great joys of winemaking, I suspect, is sitting around sipping your newest wine and deciding what to name it.
Quintessa Vineyards is the name of a winery, for example, but its deep, dark cabernet sauvignon is named “Faust.” It’s called a “fantasy name,” and some are pretty fantastic.
Wine fans can learn a lot about wines, and their makers, from fantasy names. And they can make you appear well-read at wine tastings.
Here are a few:
▪ 2012 Matchbook “Old Head” Chardonnay, Dunnigan Hills, California: lush and rich, with aromas of oak, caramel and golden delicious apples, creamy finish; $15.
When vintner John Giguiere was a kid in the 1950s, he says he was a confirmed pyromaniac who set his family’s wheat fields ablaze. Hence the name Matchbook. On the straight and narrow today, he uses the name “Old Head” to signal that he largely avoids powerfully flavored new-oak barrels to instead emphasize the fruit in the wine.
▪ 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: black cherries, spice, bittersweet chocolate and back raspberries, powerful fruit but silky finish; $50.
A Faustian deal with the devil? Only in the sense that the winery owner says he has thrown every effort into the wine to regain his passion for the grape.
▪ 2012 “Naked” Chardonnay, Santa Barbara: light and lean and lively and crisp, with intense lemon, orange and mango flavors; $12.
“Naked” is a term used widely in California chardonnays, telling us they were fermented and aged in stainless steel, without a hint of oak. It’s a reaction to the chards of 15 to 20 years ago, which tended to be too oaky, even buttery.
▪ 2011 “Three Sticks” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: inky hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and cloves, long, smooth finish; $60.
Growing up in Hawaii’s casual surfing community, future winery owner and private-equity honcho William Price III was kidded cruelly for his too-formal name. Pals called him “Billy Three Sticks.” Now he has given his expensive wines that name. So there.
▪ 2012 “Wild Oats” Chardonnay, Central Ranges, New South Wales, Australia: big and rich, with tropical fruit and spice flavors and a long, creamy finish; $15.
Decades ago, a young Australian sailor named Robert Oatley fashioned a sailboat out of a canoe, with a bed sheet for a sail. He named it “Wild Oats.” Now 86, he’s less wild, but still making wine, often labeled “Wild Oats.” Oh, and Forbes says he’s worth $830 million.
▪ 2011 Murphy-Goode “Liar’s Dice” Zinfandel, Sonoma County: hearty, with black raspberry flavors, big, smooth tannins and a long finish; $21.
Winery co-founder Tim Murphy conceived the wine over 20 years of breakfasts and games of “liar’s dice” at a farmer’s restaurant in Geyserville, California. It’s a dice game for two or more players requiring the ability to deceive and to detect an opponent’s deception.
▪ 2011 “Devil’s Inkstand” Cabernet Sauvignon, by Geyser Peak: dark color, powerful blackberry and coffee flavors, firm tannins; $50.
Geyser Peak is named for the active geothermal nature of the land, dotted with active geysers. The “Devil’s Inkstand” name comes from a spring whose shape and surrounding rock makes its water appear dark. Since the water appears from far below, tradition is to name such springs for underworld beings.