What’s in a (wine’s) name?

02/20/2013 9:00 PM

02/20/2013 7:02 AM

Ever wonder how wines get such quirky names — Mollydooker, Big House White, Frenzy, Gnarly Head, Mossback?

Here’s how: The most colorful — even silly — of the monikers are called “fantasy” names, because they’re simply created in the winemaker’s head.

Iconic (and eccentric) California winemaker Randall Grahm named his Rhone-style red wine Cigare Volant, or Flying Cigar, the French term for “flying saucer,” in satirical honor of a local French ordinance banning the landing of alien spacecraft in the vineyards.

Grahm’s Big House White, when he owned it, came from the nearby Soledad State Correctional Facility. He called its winemaker the warden.

Mollydooker winery in Australia, which makes a fabulous shiraz, comes from the local term for “southpaw,” since both owners are left-handed.

Frenzy winery, which makes sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, honors the “uncontrollable forces of nature that must fall into place to make great wine.”

Other wines are named for more concrete objects. Gnarly Head Cellars in California refers to the gnarly heads of 50-year-old zinfandel vines that make its best wine.

Toasted Head Chardonnay is from a California winery that adds complexity to its flavor by using an open flame to “toast” the inside of the barrel heads to caramelize the sugars in the wood.

Mossback winery in California was a local term for the workers who used to toil in the vineyards from sunup to sunset.

Don’t misunderstand Hooker syrah; it’s merely the name of a pivotal player position in the game of rugby, a favorite sport of owners of Lawer Family Wines in Calistoga, Calif.

Still other wineries are simply named for their owners. Nobilo winery in New Zealand is named for Nikola Nobilo, who came from Croatia in 1943 to found it. Arrowood Winery is named for its founder, Richard Arrowood.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in California is named for the Italian immigrant family that also invented the Jacuzzi spa. Barrymore Pinot Grigio honors the family of actress Drew Barrymore, who helped launch and promote the winery.

What it all shows is that, despite the hours of toil and sweat, it must be wonderful fun to run a winery. Would you buy a wine called “Chateau Fred?”

Highly recommended

2010 Hooker “Home Pitch” Syrah , Knights Valley, Sonoma County: inky hue, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of cassis and black cherries, full and rich; $46.

2008 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon , Sonoma County (82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 2 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and dark chocolate, big, ripe tannins, full body. $30.


Multivintage Troublemaker , Paso Robles (67 percent syrah, 22 percent Grenache, 8 percent Grenache, 3 percent petite sirah): dark and rich and mellow, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee; $20.

2011 Tower 15 “The Swell” red wine, Paso Robles (cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot): hint of cedar aroma, flavors of black plums and bittersweet chocolate, powerful flavors; $21.

2011 Barrymore Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT , Italy: light yellow color, crisp acids, flavors of peaches and lemons; $20.

2010 Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Primitivo , Lake County: aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee, tart finish; $16.

2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc , Marlborough, New Zealand: crisp and lively, with aromas and flavors of gooseberries and minerals; $14.

2011 Dona Paula “Los Cardos” Malbec , Lujan de Cayo, Argentina: deep purple color, floral aromas, black plum flavors, full and rich; $10.

2010 Gnarly Head “Old Vines” Zinfandel , Lodi, Calif.: big and sweet and rich, with black raspberry and dark chocolate flavors; $12.

2010 Champ de Reves Pinot Noir , Anderson Valley: floral aromas, flavors of red raspberries and coffee; $40.

Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine for McClatchy New Service. He can be reached at fredtaskerwinegmail.com.

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