Smile When You Drink That

Wines with funny names can be good for more than a laugh

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I love wineries that don't take themselves seriously. They have the balls to slap a fun, non-grape name on the bottle, along with an equally cool artistic flourish, and see if it sells. More often than not it does, since plenty of people shop via the "pretty label" method. Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm, the best wine marketer out there, started the cool label craze with brands like Cardinal Zin, Heart of Darkness, and The Heart Has its Rieslings. And I'm sure most people have heard of Fat Bastard Chardonnay and Shiraz.

The idea is to kick wine snobs in their proverbial stuck-up butts, generate a few giggles, and create a name that will keep the winemakers laughing all the way to the bank. It works. Wouldn't you rather lay down cash for something called 7 Deadly Zins, rather than Chateau de Stuffed Shirt?

In honor of April Fool's Day, I've assembled my favorite list of fanciful wines. Are they good wine or marketing fluff? Try them and let me know what you think:

Cheapskate 2003 Cabernet California For the money, it doesn't get easier than this wine. Smooth tannins and ripe, bright cherry are laced by an oaky touch. Sweetness = 3. $8.

Leaping Lizard 2003 Pinot Noir Carneros (CA) Light, fun raspberry with a bit of pinot earth in there. Perfect with a slight chill on it. Great value, too. Sw = 2. $11. 1/2

Marvelous 2001 Merlot North Coast (CA) Deep and dark for a merlot, with black currants, black pepper and oak as a hefty base. Not sure if it's marvelous, but definitely pretty good. Sw = 2. $14.

Sin Zin 2003 Alexander Valley (CA) Super intense raspberry aromas and tongue teasers, with delicate tannins and loads of personality. One of the trailblazers in the cool name brigade, Alexander Valley Vineyards rarely disappoints. Sw = 2. $19.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen 2003 Jumilla (SP) A fascinating, anti-Spanish-establishment blend of tempranillo (same grape in Rioja), syrah, cabernet and grenache from the southern regions of Spain. Medium-bodied, elegant, and bursting with ripe cherry, leather and earth. Sw = 1. $11.

Big Ass Cab Napa 2002 If you've ever wondered what wine geeks mean when they describe something as "big," try this one and learn. Bold, in-your-face, dark cherry flavors with little astringent tannin. I googled the name and got a face full of porn, but hey, this winery is willing to go way out on this limb. Sw = 1. $15.

Big Ass Zin Napa 2002 The only thing better than the cab is the zinfandel. Juicy fruit-bomb with blackberry, raspberry and cherry jam all mixed into one huge wine. Not a lot of complexity, but fun nonetheless. Sw = 2. $15. 1/2

Toad Hollow Erik's the Red A blend of a gazillion different grapes, ranging from cabernet sauvignon to grenache, this supple, soft, ripe, berry-driven wine drives the vibrant flavor home with some spice on the finish. Sw = 3. $15. 1/2

Cigar Volant 2001 California The label has a flying cigar on it, and inside the bottle vibrant cherry, violets and dark roast espresso beans take flight. The wine needs some time exposed to the air to express its fruit. Sw = 1. $32.

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