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CRUDE BUT AMUSING

Move over, Fat Bastard merlot, and make room for Horse's Ass chardonnay from Ocala.

The horsey chard may not ride to the global success of the pudgy one, but Florida's bluegrass country is getting a kick out of a polished wine hiding behind a rude brand name.

The cartoon label was the brainchild of Julie Atkinson, a young Englishwoman who runs the Ocala Wine Experience shop and bistro in downtown Ocala. "It's really just for the fun of it," she says, and to draw attention to her shop and the reviving downtown.

If the name offends you, however, the wine itself won't. It's a modest 2003 Sonoma County chardonnay, quite smooth, with lots of green apple, citrus and a little pear in aroma and taste, and enough oak to give it some vanilla and an easy, round texture. It's made by River Road winery in Sebastopol, a respected custom bottler that Atkinson chose after several years of searching for wine worth calling Horse's Ass.

So far Ocala's buying it, more than 100 cases at $14.99 a bottle, and Atkinson will soon add a merlot and cabernet to her stable. For now the wine is sold only at Ocala Wine Experience (36 SW First Ave., Ocala; (352) 369-9858), but other wine shops and restaurants may eventually carry the brand.

BLAME DALI

Silly labels aren't all that new, and the evidence will be on display in St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum.

When the museum's "Dali & Mass Culture" show opens Oct. 1, one example of avant-garde advertising will be a decanter of Conde de Osborne brandy that Dali designed for the big Spanish wine group in 1964. One of its few requirements: The bottle had to be able to stand upright.

The result does, albeit with a slouch: a misshapen vessel of milk-white porcelain with a classically Dali twist on the company's black bull logo. The mad artist and master co-brander reduced the bull to a beefy bull's heart, pulsing and bleeding, with an abstract gold crown. Looks a bit like Ralph Steadman's Cardinal Zin labels for Bonny Doon.

Inside it is pure Osborne, a smooth, sweet grand reserva, the best brandy the house makes from aged sherries. The brandy is still being made 40 years later and now sells for around $50. If that's too high, a Chupa Chup lollipop, with its floral logo designed by the artist, will give you a kid-friendly taste of commercial Dali.

WINE OF THE WEEK

Periquita 1999

Castelao, one of Portugal's modest red grapes, is also known as periquita, or little parrot. It makes pleasant red wines in the area south of Lisbon and rather grand cablike reds in Garrafeira, none of them like the rich ports of the Douro.

Yet in the hands of good winemakers, such as those at Jose Maria da Fonseca (they gave us Lancers and much better), this country pleasure has been modernized and sophisticated into an easy-drinking red. It's part of a revolution going on in unsung wine regions across Europe. If you want the more tannic, old-fashioned version, Fonseca makes that too and brands it Classico.

Fonseca's modern 2002 Periquita is fruity and floral to the nose, bright of color and flavor, both like raspberries, dark red with fruit and pepper tastes. Give it a few minutes in the glass, and it's smoothly textured and of medium body. The result is as enjoyable as a light zinfandel or a Beaujolais and happily versatile at the table with dishes from burgers, pizza and cheese to grilled meat, pork and heavier seafood dishes.

Availability: $6 to $10, at wine merchants.

_ CHRIS SHERMAN

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