It all started with Yellow Tail’s bounding wallaby, and now everywhere wine is sold we face a menagerie of strutting toads, dancing bulls, smoking loons, fire-breathing bears, posing penguins, black swans a-swimming and monkeys playing bongos. Amongst the animal acts is a parade of red trucks, yellow cabs and vineyard-invading UFOs. Then there is a troupe of risqué performers: Fat Bastard from France, Il Bastardo from Tuscany and even a Shiraz called Rude Girl adorned with a curvy siren whose sundress turns shockingly sheer when the bottle warms to the right temperature.
The good news is that behind many of the seductive labels are some very quaffable wines. Giving in to the label lure, we found six bottles that are as appealing in the glass as they were on the shelf.
Red: HRM Rex-Goliath!, Merlot
Living up to the 47-pound rooster on its label, this is a big, hefty red at a surprisingly small price. Brimming with lovely warm spice and cedar notes, with flourishes of bell pepper and green bean—all complemented by deeper flavors of black licorice and oil-cured olives. These bold scents and flavors make for a complex and heady red with just the right balance of ripe fruit. This proud bird struts its stuff glass after glass.
White: Serenity, Reserve White, (Gascogne, France) 2003 $7.50
Think of a shaded Zen garden on a warm afternoon—cool, smooth stones under bare feet, the sound of bamboo wind chimes echoing in the breeze. The wine of this Buddha label is light in color and crisp in flavor, with dry mineral tones and refreshing notes of Asian pear and honey-sweetened lemonade. A complete, uncomplicated white of unspecified varieties; the details of its pedigree aren’t important—this wine speaks softly for itself.
Red: Glamour Puss, Pinot Noir (East Coast, New Zealand) 2003 $10
Downright swillable, this garnet-colored Puss has well-rounded, mellow, juicy plum and currant fruit flavors. It is velvety with plenty of tartness, making it an easy match with food. Rustic pasta or earthy roasted vegetables would be especially appropriate.
White: Monkey Bay, Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) 2004 $10
Here is a food-friendly wine with a wallop of bright tropical and fruit flavors. The wine behind the gleaming-eyed monkey is rich golden yellow, medium-bodied, with Granny Smith apple, pineapple and citrus fruit flavors balanced by a decent pucker factor. It pairs well with salads, light appetizers and seafood.
Red: Dynamite Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon (North Coast, California) 2002 $15
n This Cabernet is as vibrant as the vineyard landscape featured on its label. Opulent with blackberry and licorice scents, it lingers with the taste of a rich berry pie. While it is soft and smooth, modest tannins make you pucker a bit.
White: Mak, Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) 2004 $15
The breaching humpback whales evoke soothing scenes of the South Pacific, and the wine, with its vivacious intensity, does not disappoint. It has scents of fresh passion fruit and pineapple, tingly acidity and juicy fruit flavors. A Sauvignon Blanc with a tart, bold beginning that ends with a faint twist of lemon.
Tasting Panel: Jessie Price is EatingWell’s assistant food editor. Susan Buchanan is a lawyer and cook. Lindsey Bolger is director of coffee sourcing for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.