The theme for this tasting was supposed to be "Ugly Labels, Good Wines". I disagree with the statement about the labels for the most part--naturally it's a matter of personal opinion, but I've seen very few labels that are truly ugly. Some are better than others, but as long as it gets the information across and is distinctive enough to make it easy to remember, I don't have a problem with it. Hopefully the links will provide you with a chance to look at the labels, and just for kicks I'll give my opinion on each.
Wine 1: 2002 Rutz Sauvignon Blanc. North Cost, California. Major anise aromas, creamy and fruit-forward. Interesting flavor. $11. The label is obviously inspired by the work of Roy Lichtenstein, which I find cool. The "RVTS" thing is interesting, though I can't stand the font used for the thought bubbles.
Wine 2: 2004 Four Emus "Kylie" Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. Western Australia. Big round fruit flavor aromas, but ultimately musky tasting and dull. $11. I don't have the huge aversion to animal-based labels that most people have, but a emu heads aren't the most attractive thing in the world. Still clever, and it seems to be successful for the casual wine drinking market.
Wine 3: 2003 Georges Dubuf Macon Villages Fleur. Macon, France. This is an unoaked Chardonnay. Cake aromas, crisp and clean flavor, yet still elegant. I loved this one. $14. Once again, I'm fond of the floral Dubuf designs combined with clean, easy to read text.
Wine 4: 2004 White Truck California White Wine. Oakley/Sonoma, California. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. I enjoyed the Red Truck wine, and found it to be a fun casual sipper for barbecues and the like. This has aromas of apple, peach, and apricot. Pleasant fruit flavors and just a touch of oak. Good basic everyday white. $11. Hey, I've lived my whole live amongst old pickup trucks, and my first car was a 13-year old white pickup truck with large patches of rust and a gray tailgate. This label gets two thumbs up in my book.
Wine 5: Sushiwine. Loire, France. The wine is French, the website is in Italian, and you can read a little about it in English here. This is a Chenin Blanc made with input from Japanese chefs and designed to go with sushi. Specifically, to hold up to the strong flavors of soy sauce. It's also quite possibly the worst wine I've ever smelled or tasted. It smells somewhere between turpentine and a strong medical antiseptic. Really harsh and astringent flavors. One sip and I had to spit, dump the rest, and rinse thoroughly. Everyone else at the tasting had the same reaction, and we even opened a second bottle in case it was a fluke. The second was just as bad. My advice: stick with sake when eating sushi. $13. Despite all of that, I like the minimalist sketch of the fish and mountains on the label, and the Japanese text is a nice touch.
Wine 6: 2005 New Gewürz Gewürztraminer. North Coast, California. One of the driest Gewürztraminers I've ever had, which means I loved it. Very light, with floral and spice aromas dominating. Light spicy flavor. $10. The label's not spectacular but it's far from ugly. Traditional harvest images are used for all sorts of agricultural products with great success.
Wine 7: 2004 Vidanueva Rosado. Rueda, Spain. 100% Tempranillo. A really disappointing rosé. Butter and toast aromas, with wild strawberries, but almost no taste. Mild, no body, flabby acidity. $12. Couldn't find a website, but it's pink and burgundy. Again, not really ugly or beautiful.
Wine 8: 2003 Nobul Red Tempranillo. Madrid, Spain. Pure Tempranillo. It has an alcoholic, Zinfandel or Port-like aroma. Black cherry flavors, but thin and too mild. $11. This label does commit some fundamental graphic design errors: black text and drawings on a red background are difficult to read, and yellow and red can do weird things to the eyes when placed right next to each other.
Wine 9: 2004 Rex Goliath 47 Pound Rooster Cabernet Sauvignon. Central Coast, California. Oddly tastes like Pinot Noir--straweberry flavors and smooth. Nice drying tannins. Pleasant sipper and excellent bargain. I've passed by this wine a million times and never wanted to pick it up. $10. I love this label--it's based on an old circus poster.
Wine 10: 2004 Bodegas y Viñedos de Murcia Jumilla Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Jumilla, Spain. A blend of Monastrell (Mourvedre), Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Unusual mix, but a great wine. Dark black cherry flavors, firm tannins, and a mild aftertaste. $11. I consider this a classy label with an allusion to an amusing song.
Wine 11: 2004 Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône. Rhone, France. A blend of Grenache and Gamay. You mostly taste the Grenache, but it's softer than that grape alone. Good raspberry fruit and big tannins. $16. Probably the only truly ugly label out of the bunch. Lots of overlapping text kills the readability factor, and a bunch of ugly colors don't help either. Reminds me of a school textbook cover from the 1970s.
Wine 12: 2004 Laurel Glen Reds. Lodi, California. "A Wine for the People", it claims on the front. A blend of Zinfandel, Carignan, and Petite Syrah. Smells like a white wine, like a light Sauvignon Blanc. Floral and with a little grapefruit. Tastes entirely different--the Zinfandel dominates, and it has a bold full flavor. Really bizarre experience (confirmed by several other tasters and the host), but good wine. $12. The label's not that bad, but I've always found Soviet kitsch to be in poor taste. Plus lower in the page, they show a statue of Mao Tse-Tung and claim "The Chairman would have approved!" Sure, after being responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese, why not pop open a bottle of wine? It's a screwcap now, but the corks used to bear the images of Lenin and Marx, as well as Americans accused of being Communist sympathizers. Granted, the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Chinese are racing towards capitalism, but you'd never market "Folkswein" with a big swastika on the front and a stern image of Göring on the cork.