No doubt, some will find the 2003 Arrogant Frog “Ribet Red” irresistible for its name. (And, yep, the wine is French.)
It also happens to be very good, and cheap — just $8 or so, depending on where you buy it. Yet it’s the label, I noticed, that seems to draw most attention.
When you make a judgment about a wine — whether to buy it or whether you like it or not — the label shouldn’t matter. But of course it does. Take Yellow Tail, a line of mass-produced Australian wines with a colorful depiction of a kangaroo on its bottles. The label helped the brand sell some seven million cases (84 million bottles) last year.
In fact, the wine world, as any quick survey of store shelves will show, has become a zoo (or at least a kind of glass menagerie). The animals on today’s bottles can trace their lineage back to the likes of California’s Stag’s Leap, a Napa Valley icon that dates to the 1890s. These days, just about every other bottle seems to invoke a bird, dog, reptile, monkey or fish. I haven’t seen many insects, though.
I guess it’s understandable. Americans on the whole still may not know much about wine. But we love animals, a fact not lost on the marketers.
Which takes us back to Arrogant Frog. If you turn the bottle around, the fine print on the back reveals that it comes from the prolific Languedoc region of southern France and that it’s a blend of 55 percent cabernet sauvignon and 45 percent merlot, putting it in competition with countless examples of such blends from around the world.
But Arrogant Frog has a jump, so to speak, on quite a few others in this price range. Like many, it is relatively soft and light, but it stands out for its fruit quality and the fact that it has a bit more complexity than some.
It takes a little while to open up, so I would twist off the screw cap an hour or so before you plan to serve it, take a sip or two, let it sit, then taste how the fruit emerges more fully after some air. The aromas convey dark berry fruit with slightly toasted notes, followed by plum and blueberry in the mouth. A surprisingly long finish is punctuated by milk chocolate and hints of white pepper.
The wine is made by Domaines Paul Mas, whose Rhône-style wines, many of them based on syrah and grenache, are well known. I am not going to compare Arrogant Frog with more expensive, similar cab-merlot blends from France or California. But I feel this one is somewhat better than most from Bordeaux or California at this price.
Arrogant Frog may call attention to itself, but it’s what’s inside the bottle that does most of the talking.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch