As I was scarfing down empanadas today at El Gaucho #2 in Anaheim, my eyes were drawn to cases and cases of wine below the all-fútbol-all-the-tiempo big-screen TVs. Cases of wine are not exactly out of place in an Argentine market with a fantastic sandwich counter, but somehow this stuck out: the boxes read, "Arcoiris Gay Wine--Cabernet".
I spent several minutes trying to figure out how this could possibly be a hysterically-funny bit of mangled English when the Spanish-speaking part of my brain kicked in and said, "Arcoiris means rainbow, you dork." Arcoiris, text printed in pink, could it be that they really meant gay wine?
El Gaucho #2 also sells gay Merlot (which, I'm fairly sure, most gay people know not to pronounce "murr-LOTT"). I was fascinated, but Google was not a lot of help; a search for "arcoiris wine" turned up a bunch of results for a venerable, if not especially memorable Mexican restaurant in L.A.'s Northeast.
It turns out, though, that there's actually quite a lot of gay wine.
New Zealand led the charge with Pansy!, a non-vintage, non-varietal that retailed for a stunning amount of money given its humble origins.
Spain wasn't far behind with Mundo Gay, a Spanish Ribera del Duero, two years ago. According to its makers, it was meant to honor Spain's commitment to marriage equality and to broaden the thinking of grape growers in the Ribera del Duero region.
Hot on Spain's heels was Tendre Bulle Gay Vin, a Languedoc-Roussillon sparkling rosé from France whose name means "Tender Gay Bubble". The mind boggles; despite the fact that France has a dual-marriage law (first you get married at the mairie for the legal benefits, then if you want you can get married at the église for the religious benefits), they have yet to allow gay civil marriage, so to claim this is in honor of anything is patently bollocks.
Finally, while our marriage-equality track record here in California is pretty pitiful, we do have Rainbow Ridge, wines made by two gay partners from Palm Springs out of grapes grown in Lake County. This might have the best pedigree of all: gay wine made by actual gay people.So what makes a wine gay, anyway? Is it born that way, or is it a lifestyle choice? If you send a gay Cabernet to aversion "therapy", does it come back as Night Train? All stupid jokes aside, the only thing that makes a wine gay is a slick marketing campaign aimed at people so desperate to make a statement about their sexuality that they need to have it trumpeted even on a 750 mL bottle.
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There's more wine out there now than at any time in history. Wineries are desperate to sell their wine in the rising global glut (twenty years ago, was anyone drinking Australian wines besides the Australians?) and they think market segmentation is the way to accomplish it.
The initial wines marketed as gay wines were, by all reports, terrible: bizarre blends designed to produce a pink color in the glass, without much attention to taste. (Pink gin accomplishes the same effect with a venerable old recipe and probably tastes better, if you've absolutely got to have pink in your glass.)
The marketeers, however, seem to have discovered that people don't lose their taste buds when they come out as gay. The novelty factor is out and more traditional wines seem to be in, Cabernets and Merlots and Champagnes. This is obviously still about marketing; these wineries are trying to tell gay people that they should appreciate the characteristics of wines marketed to them. In the same way, they tell women they should enjoy softer, less-tannic, more "feminine" wines and men they should drink brash, bold, I-just-killed-a-cow-just-to-have-a-fresh-steak wine.
Don't fall for it. If you try a soi-disant gay wine and it tastes good, buy more. Buy more because it tastes good, not because some marketing wonk in San Francisco, Paris or Barcelona told you it's gay. If you're buying a gift for a gay friend, gay wine amounts to a thinly-veiled gag gift (ha ha, you're gay, I bought gay wine, get it?); show you care by asking your friendly local independent wine merchant to recommend something good. If the gay wine is good, he or she will recommend it to you.