THEY are known in the liquor business as Critter Brands, wines named after a Noah's Ark of animals - lizards, magpies, bulls, bears, wombats, dolphins and elephants.
Australia was a dubious trail-blazer in the 1970s when it tried to win the attention of British wine drinkers with wines called Kanga Rouge and Wallaby White.
That produced only derision and jokes about Chateau Chunder and Bondi Bleach, but in 2001 probably the most successful critter wine ever was created in Yenda-based Casella family's kangaroo-themed Yellow Tail brand.
By 2013 its sales had soared to more than a billion bottles and it now exports almost 12 million cases each year to more than 50 countries.
Some critter labels are deliberate parodies on celebrated brands like the Goats do Roam Red from South Africa and the American winemaker who sent up the prestigious Californian Stag's Leap label by producing Frog's Leap wines with a label showing a green frog and the slogan "Time's fun when you're having flies".
Australia has such labels as Duck Muck, David and Liam Anderson's dark, dense, viscid, massively fruited Wild Duck Creek reds from Victoria's Heathcote area, and Chester Osborn's d'Arenberg Cenosilicaphobic ("fear of an empty glass") Cat sagrantino-cinsault blend red.
And how about Blowfly, Elephant in the Room, Angus the Bull, MadFish, Sheep Shape, Five Blind Mice, Wily Trout and Arrogant Frog.
Cute and cuddly creatures feature most on critter labels, but this week I've been tasting my way through not-so-loveable ones - a shadow of jaguars, a fever of stingrays, a murder of crows and a quiver of cobras - a beaut multi-faceted grenache from Dave and Jen Wright's 15-year-old Wlypena vineyard in the Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale.
The inaugural release of four Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale reds is from a collective of 100 winegrowers and marketed under The Group brand established in September last year. The wines are made by Marnie Roberts, the daughter of a Clare Valley grapegrower with 25 years' experience in winegrowing and winemaking. The wines are available in Liquorland and First Choice bottle shops and on liquourland.com.au and firstchoiceliquor.com.au at $34 a 750ml bottle and $22 for 375ml bottles of The Shadow pinot noir and The Murder shiraz.
With the label's shoal of stingrays, The Fever 2018 McLaren Vale Grower Blend is a 14 per cent-alcohol mix of merlot, mourvedre and cabernet sauvignon from Rob and Julie Symonds' vineyard in McLaren Vale's White's Valley area.
GOOD-VALUE COBRA BUY
THE nest of cobras on the label may deter ophidiophobics, but The Quiver 2019 McLaren Vale Grenache is a good-value juicy drop with 15.5% alcohol, garnet hues, lavender scents and ripe mulberry front-palate flavour. It features middle-palate Maraschino cherry, black pepper, briar and mocha oak and a ferric tannin finish.
DRINK WITH: barbecued kangaroo fillet.
AGEING: five years.
RATING: 4.5 stars
ZINGY PINOT NOIR
FROM the Lobethal vineyard of winemaker Mike Press, his wife Judy and son James, The Shadow 2018 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir has 13% alcohol and is ruby red in the glass. The nose shows rose petal scents and the front palate zingy raspberry flavour. The middle palate has cherry, mint, spice and savoury oak and the finish chalky tannins.
DRINK WITH: lamb kebabs.
AGEING: four years.
RATING: 4 stars
PLUSH PLUM SHIRAZ
FROM the grapes of third-generation vignerons Brian and Valerie Cameron, The Murder 2017 McLaren Vale Shiraz has 15% alcohol, purple-tinted crimson hues and potpourri aromas. The front plate displays plush plum flavour, the middle-palate blackberry, licorice, peppermint chocolate and cedary oak and the finish dusty tannins.
DRINK WITH: steak and mushroom pie.
AGEING: four years.
RATING: 4 stars
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