Food & Drink Features

Laughing Magpies, The Gago, and other quirky names for sophisticated wines

In the spirit of the season of cheer
Jay Labrador | Dec 18 2018

The world of pine wine is dominated by the grand chateaux of Bordeaux and the domaines of Burgundy, the marqueses of Rioja, and the schlosser of the Rhine. These venerable names conjure visions of stately castles lorded over by a nobleman of a proud and ancient lineage. But, while that may be so in the Old World, some distinguished wineries in the New have a decidedly unconventional approach to naming their wines. While in most cases a marketing gimmick, the excellent name recall to such an approach cannot be argued.

Australia, in particular, has some rather outlandishly named wines. The d'Arenberg winery calls theirs after obscure references to winery history. Their shiraz viognier blend, a Northern Rhone Cote-Rotie clone, is called The Laughing Magpie. In a case of mistaken identity, the winemaker's daughters named two kookaburras (a type of Australian kingfisher) The Laughing Magpies, even though they look nothing like magpies. The magpie's plumage, predominantly black with white feathers mixed in, mirrors the wine's blend of primarily black grapes (shiraz) with a dash of white grapes (viognier), hence the name of the wine. D'Arenberg's pinot noir called The Feral Fox is named after the foxes that roam the vineyard and eat low-hanging fruit come vintage time.

(L-R) D'Arenberg Gaja Darmagi 2006. D'Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz-Viognier 2009. D'Arenberg The Feral Fox Pinot Noir 2011.

The winery isn't too bothered by this as the animal functions as natural crop thinners and fertilize the soil because the grapes act as a laxative. It's a pity that d'Arenberg's dessert wine The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana (I kid you not!) isn't available in the Philippines as this would be a surefire hit. If you're still sniggering, you will be disappointed to know that Botryotinia Fuckeliana is the scientific name of an asexual spore that acts as an agent for the so-called noble rot fungus (Botrytis cinerea), which affects grapes used to make many luscious dessert wines. The spore is named after the German botanist Karl Gottlieb Fuckel.

Another Australian winery that has been making waves recently for the high scores it has been getting from wine critic Robert Parker is Mollydooker, which is Australian slang for a left-handed person, just like owners Sarah and Sparky Marquis. In fact, the couple pointedly hold out their left hands for a handshake. Some bottles at the top end of Mollydooker's range channel good vibes with names like The Enchanted Path, a shiraz and cabernet blend that purports to blend all that the Marquis couple loves; and the Carnival of Love, a pure shiraz that evokes a place where there are no more desires. If you put the labels of these two wines side by side, you'll see that they form one continuous tableau where the Enchanted Path leads to the Carnival of Love. Incidentally, the 2012 vintage of Carnival of Love made it to number two in Wine Spectator's annual top 100 list for 2014, with a score of 95 points. Mollydooker's top wine is called The Velvet Glove and that is exactly what it aims to be: a great concentration of fruit but rich and velvety on the palate. The packaging reinforces the message as the bottle comes in a velvet bag with a silver foil label.

(L-R) Mollydooker The Carnival of Love 2010, Mollydooker The Enchanted Path 2010 and Mollydooker The Velvet Glove 2011.

While the New may have far wider latitude than the Old World when it comes to wine naming conventions, it doesn't mean that there aren't any to be found in Europe.

One of Italy's greatest wineries, Gaja from Piedmont, has a wine called Darmagi, which is Piedmontese for "what a pity." Gaja was a venerable producer of barbaresco, which is made from the nebbiolo grape. In the early 80s, Angelo Gaja, The Noble Botryotin ia Fuckeliana 2011. The Gago. who succeeded his father as head of the firm, replaced the native nebbiolo with so-called "international varietal" cabernet sauvignon, which was unheard of at the time. Angelo's father, who was firmly rooted in tradition, was heard to mutter "darmagi" every time he passed the cabernet vineyard.

Bordeaux's Moulis-en-Medoc appellation has a rather famous chateau called Chasse-Spleen which can be roughly translated as "to chase the blues away." The legend is that the English Romantic poet Lord Byron christened the estate after a visit. However, a look at the chateau's own records shows the name appearing for the first time some 30 years after Lord Byron's death. In truth, no one knows how the chateau got its name, but it would certainly be a good bottle to give someone who needs cheering up.

(L-R) The Noble Botryotinia Fuckeliana 2011 and The Gago.

Spain has one wine that will certainly resonate with Filipinos. Made by superstar Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez in Spain's fashionable Toro region from old tempranillo vines (locally known as tinto de toro), the Gago is certainly eye catching. Those without a sense of humor will surely be insulted by receiving a bottle of this wine but those who accept it graciously will be rewarded by a fine wine to accompany a meal. Of course, it also makes for a good conversation piece. For the record, gago can be translated as stammerer or stutterer but, as it hardly needs to be said, the meaning in Filipino is far more hurtful.


Photographs by Ian Castanares

This story first appeared in Vault Issue 18 2012.