by Fiona Sims
Talk about making a statement. The Wine Bank's (01892 514343) stand at last month's London Wine Trade Fair sported a huge, black, male bottom. And just to keep things equal, a naked female bottom on the flip side. Huge, that is, in billboard size. The lime-green and orange stand dominated the exhibition hall - its message: the wine trade doesn't have to be stuffy, and, er, sex sells.
Both backsides grace a new range of wines called Body & Soul. Day-Glo orange and lime-green labels, with a lively tasting note on each variety, adorn the range.
"It stops people in their tracks," says Simon George, Wine Bank's sales and marketing man. "And we wanted to cause a bit of havoc in the industry. We've done extensive research for this, and people love it because they've never seen anything like it. Put it on a restaurant list and the punters can't fail to notice."
And the wines? A couple of undemanding Chardonnays, a rather flowery Viognier and a soft, easy Merlot, plus a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons, a Syrah and a Sauvignon Blanc, all vins de pays and all made by Lyon-based Paul Sapin.
Unashamedly attention-seeking was Transylvania Imports (00 1 310 551 3030). When Californian-based lawyer Michael Machat started importing this range of reds and whites from Romania's Transylvanian Alps, he found an unintended market: US vampire cultists.
Merlot is his best-seller - self-proclaimed "vampires" prefer reds. Most of the reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir) are produced and bottled in the Dealu Mare, just south of the Transylvanian Alps, while the Pinot Grigio is produced and bottled in the Tarnave, in Transylvania's heart.
The San Francisco International Wine Competition saw fit to award a bronze to the Pinot Noir last year.
Bet you didn't know they make wines in Idaho. Forth Wines (01577 862513) was showing off its new agency Ste Chapelle, and its superior Chenin Blanc. Ste Chapelle dominates the scene somewhat in Idaho, which has more in common with its eastern neighbour, Washington, than with Oregon to the west.
Its high-altitude vineyards are close to, if not beyond, normal viticultural limits, and its high daytime temperatures and chilly nights do wild things to the acid and sugar of the grapes.
Chardonnay does well here, and so does the Chenin Blanc. Ste Chapelle has two: the dry Chenin Blanc 1996 (£49.44 per 12-bottle case, excluding VAT) is the better of the two, with luscious lime-flower fruit. Forth's buyer, Fiona Roberts MW, still has to work on the labels, but venture past them and you'll be rewarded.
The label is a top priority for Giselle and Hubert Traxler, however. These Swiss-born husband and wife "biodynamic" wine-makers, based in Umbria, produce an aromatic, full-bodied Vernaccia di San Gimignano, with a smart, blue, abstract watercolour label. The Traxlers bought the winery in 1991 after abandoning the plastics business, and now produce 30,000 bottles. You can get these wines through London-based Thames Wine Sellers (0171-928 8253) .
Prize for the biggest build-up goes to Penfolds and the launch of its Yattarna 1995. This is the inaugural vintage of its flagship white, and comes after six years of experimentation and development, in an attempt to create a white to complement Penfolds' top reds, Grange and Bin 707.
Yattarna (meaning "gradually" in Aborigine) is a 100% Chardonnay, plucked from the producer's best vineyards in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale in South Australia, with a production run of 1,180 dozen bottles and a price to match (about £30 retail).
At first sip, it lives up to all expectations. It has a fine, butterscotch and baked banana nose, with vibrant acidity and a creamy, peach skin, lingering finish - much more Burgundian than New World.
The secret? "We identified the good vineyards, and we did whole bunch pressing," says Penfolds' John Duval. Contact Southcorp Wines on 0181-334 2000. n