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Banned in 'Bama

The naked nymph on the label of Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio got it banned in Alabama. The result? Sales spiked

They never seem to learn.

The censors, I mean. Those zealous guardians of our moral purity, those ever-vigilant protectors of our virtue always lose sight of the first rule of censorship, namely that when you ban a book, a film, a song or, as in this case, a wine label, you risk turning an obscure nonentity into an overnight sensation. It wasn't so long ago, after all, that having a play banned in Boston practically guaranteed a smash hit once it reached New York.

The latest example of these sorts of ham-fisted attempts to protect the moral well-being of the public—this time that naive and vulnerable section of the public known as wine-drinkers—comes from the folks at the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board who, in the diligent exercise of their duties, on July 22 ordered the recall of all bottles of Cycles Gladiator wines made by Hahn Family Wines of California. Their reasoning: The flame-haired nymph on the label contravened their regulations by depicting "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner."

They further confirmed their status as members in good standing of the philistine-of-the-month club by, according to Hahn's President Bill Leigon, calling the Hahn Compliance department and advising them not to resubmit the label for approval because people in their office found it offensive.

So it seems we shouldn't worry about the alcohol in the bottle, it's the nymph on the label who is going to lead to our undoing.

Web Traffic Jumps, Too

To my mind this all appears more than a little ridiculous. You couldn't find a more innocent, less lascivious looking nymph in the whole fantasy world of Art Nouveau, but then perhaps I am just depraved. However, it is a bit strange that today Fat Bastard and Bitch are deemed—by some at least—acceptable names for wines while the profile of an artistic nymph from an 1890s French advertising poster is not.

Of course, the brouhaha has not hurt Hahn one little bit. Its Web site went from 100 hits a day to 8,000 and online sales have increased tenfold. In addition, their phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from people asking where they can buy the wine, presumably so they, too, can be corrupted by feasting their heretofore innocent eyes on the immoral form of said nymph.

In consequence, Leigon is not worrying unduly about the loss from those 1,000 cases he is being forced to collect from Georgia's retail shelves. "I expect to see a major positive affect on sales" he claims, trying, not altogether successfully, to hide his glee.

As he admits, they couldn't have bought this kind of exposure for a million dollars, and are even planning a major promotion playing off the recall by creating displays and ads proclaiming "Banned in 'Bama!"

A Pleasing Everyday White

So much for censorship. Now, what about the wine?

There are six different varietals under the label and my favorite is the Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio 2008 ($10).

Light, fresh, and fruity, it is suggestive—perhaps not the most appropriate word in the circumstances—of pineapples and lychee nuts with a crisp green apple finish backed by hints of gravelly minerality. An eminently pleasing and super-quaffable everyday white, especially given its modest price and supposedly immodest packaging.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Fish and lighter chicken dishes

Grapes: 100% pinot grigio

Appellation: Central Coast


Country: U.S.

Price: $10

Availability: Good, except for Alabama


See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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