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Lady Gaga’s Dress, Chinese Penis Potion Mark Wine World in 2011

Bisson Abissi Spumante
Deep sea divers haul bottles of Bisson Abissi spumante from an aging spot in a national marine reserve off the coast of Portofino, Italy. The wines spent 13 months 200 feet below the water's surface. Source: Bisson Winery via Bloomberg

No aspect of popular culture achieves real acceptance until it’s been incorporated into one of Lady Gaga’s outfits, so I was gratified to see her decked out as a wine bottle with cork hat and wineglass gloves on Saturday Night Live’s spring season finale.

That was one of 2011’s more notable homages to the drink I sip and spit every day of the year.

Sexy sports cars, too, exploited their wine connection. The Lotus Exige 270E, a 0-60 in 4 seconds rocket on wheels, ran the 2011 Oxford to London Eco-Rally on ethanol derived from chocolate, cheese, and, yes, wine.

Or consider “three penis” wine, which made an appearance on National Geographic’s “The Witch Doctor Will See You Now” series. My idea of a wine-soaked threesome is to open a bottle of Marilyn Merlot with my husband, but in China that would be much too tame.

The penis wine, a traditional Chinese medicinal rice-derived concoction, was described on the show as “a delicate blend of dog, deer, and seal penis.” It’s designed to enhance male sexual power, said the Hong Kong pharmacy owner who stocks it on shelves next to bottles of “field mouse wine.”

Host and explorer Piers Gibbon and his sidekicks sip it and pronounce it creamy. If you try the stuff and recover from the experience, let me know how it tastes. On second thought, please don’t.

Sunken Bottles

The best way to age wine was a hot topic this year. I know winemakers in Chile and Italy who swear classical music soothes rough tannins in barrels of red. In August, The New York Times reported that Piero Lugano, an artist and fisherman turned vintner in Liguria, is aging his Bisson Abissi sparkling wine 200 feet below the water’s surface in a national marine preserve off Portofino. It was out of necessity, he says, as there wasn’t enough space in his winery.

Packed into stainless steel cages, bottles rest for 13 months. The second lot was hauled up in July and Bisson’s U.S. importer will be selling barnacle-covered bottles for $80 to $90 in New York in February.

If you’re as tired as I am of ponderous designer wine bottles trying to telegraph the gravity of the liquid inside, you’ll welcome this year’s oddest packaging invention: the paper wine bottle.

Lightweight, recyclable, biodegradable, it has a plastic liner inside to keep the wine from turning the molded paper to pinot mush. British inventor Martin Myerscough, founder of GreenBottle Ltd., which produces it, says it has just 10 percent of the carbon footprint of a glass bottle.

Milk to Wine

The paper bottle is already being used to sell milk and some say it will catch on for cheap wines. Really?

It made me think of the short-lived 1960s fad for the disposable paper dress, lauded in fashion magazines back then as the ideal lightweight travel wear.

The year also brought us the promising Science Daily headline: “Red Wine: Exercise in a Bottle?”

This concerned resveratrol, the anti-oxidant in red wine that’s been hyped as the fountain of youth. A new study claims it can also counteract the negative effects of weightlessness during space flights.

I’m not one of those people who dream of going into orbit, but the study’s scientists found an intriguing side benefit: that a daily dose could counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. I hope it’s true. After a long session on my laptop, the prospect of a glass of red wine has always been way more enticing than a session on the Stairmaster.

Merlot Manicure

Every year vinotherapy spas add some new wine treatment; 2011 is the year of the wine-scented nail wrap. Gallo Family Vineyards devised the idea to help launch its new merlot rose, intended to appeal to women, in the U.K.

For the uninitiated, nail wraps, thin films that stick to nails and replace polish, are one of the beauty industry’s latest crazes. Lightly rubbing the bright pink-patterned wraps’ surface releases a fruity fragrance -- blueberry, plum, cranberry -- that echoes the wine, or so they say.

Personally, I’m opposed to this, as it will only encourage nailbiting.

And if you’re going to put wine on you, rather than in you, why limit it to the nails? The wine industry is pinning big hopes for increasing consumption on the 21 to 34-year-old age group known as Gen Y or Millennials.

A 2011 study of 457 of them headed by Liz Thach of Sonoma State University found that these inventive imbibers see virtually any occasion as suitable for winedrinking, breakfast, in the bath, out camping, on a hike -- and in the shower.

It turns out they’ve even showered themselves with expensive champagne, Dom Perignon, to be precise. I thought only Grand Prix winners did that. I prefer to swallow the stuff.

(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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