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Naked Lady on a Bike: The Shocking Monterey Wine Label Scandal

I thought I was done writing about cycling and wine when the Tour de France ended on Sunday. But one bike rider is getting even more publicity.

There's been much kerfuffle over a wine label. Evidently the Alabama state Beverage Control Board has banned the wine label of Cycles Gladiator, a bargain Cabernet Sauvignon from Monterey County. The label, named for an 1881 bicycle company, uses a belle-epoque-style advertising print that shows a nude nymph soaring along with a bike. This was evidently too hot for Alabamans, their government decided, so the label got the heave-ho. The wine is available in California in all its voluptuous glory for only $10. And, I'll have you know, it's quite a good wine for the money. And I'm sure all the sales in Alabama were not worth as much as the free publicity its getting from this story.

Of course, California winemakers would not be surprised at this feat of censorship. Talk to enough of them and you'll hear plenty of stories of the rigors of our own state's label approval board. And its not all just about nudity. In a famous case, Ralph Steadman's drawing of a wine-spattered clergyman for Bonny Doon's Cardinal Zin was banned in Ohio. Likewise, a nipple-depicting bottle of Australian Semillon was banned in 2001. And, famously, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the most important producers in france, changed a label with a Balthus nude on it because of protests from Napa prudes. Mouton released the wine in the US, but with a conspicuously blank label.

Now, we should know better than to be shocked about Alabama's state legislature.  After all, it was just 2 months ago that it approved beer over 6% alcohol. Prior to that, it was impossible to get good Belgian beer and, well, many American craft brews.  What's really shocking, though, is that the wines of Domaine Gangloff in France make it into this country at all. All the labels featured stylized paintings of full-frontals by the winemaker's brother and yet are somehow approved. Check out this photo of "La Sereine Noire"--a fabulous Cote Rotie, by the way--to see what I mean. Where's the pubic outcry over this?