While wine geeks may cringe at the fact that many consumers purchase wine based on how eye-catching the label is, the fact remains that there is nothing worse than a spectacular wine with terrible packaging. I love that a great wine becomes a work of art. With that thought in mind here are five killer wines that have used their labels as a canvas, making them as easy on the eyes as they are on the palate.
Erna Schein “Ode to Picasso”
Perched high atop Spring Mountain on the Northeastern edge of the Napa Valley, Erna Schein (with its sister label Behrens and Hitchcock) definitely throws down some eye-catching labels. Although they have some beautifully illustrated examples (such as “The Knockout”, see top of this post) my favourite has to be the “Ode to Picasso”. As the name suggest, this wine is made in homage to Picasso, the owners beloved and long deceased cat. Each vintage the label features the noble Picasso photoshopped into different exotic locations and scenarios. The 2006 vintage featured this feisty feline gallivanting in a spacesuit on the moon, while the 2007 vintage saw him making a trek to stone hedge. 2008 will be the last vintage of “Ode to Picasso” and shows Picasso’s romantic side enjoying a gondola ride in Venice.
Rumour has it Erna Schein’s current winery is set upon what was at one time a massive marijuana grow up. If these labels are any indication, the rumours would seem to be true…
Sine Qua Non Syrah “The 17th Nail in my Cranium”
Made in Santa Barbara County, California by eccentric Austrian-born winemaker Manfred Krankl, Forbes magazine called Sine Qua Non “…the most coveted California wine you’ve never heard of”. These are cult wines in the truest sense; rare, sought after and often exorbitantly expensive.
Sine Qua Non crafts small lots of wine produced from the classic Rhone grape varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, etc) and his wines are fawned over by both critics and collectors alike. Krankl never crafts the same wine twice, each vintage giving his wines unique, colourful titles and compelling labels featuring artwork penned by the winemaker himself.
If I was forced to choose my favourite wine label and bottle of all time it would have to be Sine Qua Non’s “The 17th Nail in my Cranium”. The title is in reference to an incident involving an empty wine barrel falling on Krankl’s head, leaving a gash that required 16 stitches. He claims the wine is the 17th nail. The bottle itself is a work of art, featuring an inlay of stars and a beautiful shape specifically crafted for this wine. I find the label haunting and it immediately drew me in.
Although a combination of “epic factor”, scarcity and a perfect 100 point rating from Robert Parker (the world’s most powerful wine critic) have launched the price of this wine well beyond my reach (released at $200/bottle, it now fetches as much as $1500 at auction), it just so happens that two of my friends own bottles of this wine. Perhaps one day I shall have the chance to savour this sweet nectar…let the grovelling and ass kissing begin!
Read an in-depth feature on Sine Qua Non from Wine Spectator Magazine here.
Some Young Punks “The Squid’s Fist” Sangiovese/Shiraz
“A Battle in the Deep as Two Foes Collide! The Squid’s Fist lands hard against the crude steel of the submersible; the force buckles, kinks and crushes it as an old rivalry comes to a head…” – Some Young Punks Website
These outrageous wines are made by a trio of young Australian wine makers looking to push the envelope with sexy wines wrapped in even sexier packaging. Some Young Punks has two primary categories in their line-up of wines. The “Pulp Series” features “cover works from ‘low brow’ literature from the 20’s through 50’s” as well as some pin-ups of their own design. The “T’N’T” series, of which The Squid’s Fist is a part, feature dazzling comic book inspired labels. Either way the labels are stellar and the wines are pretty damn good too!
Visit Some Young Punks website here
Mollydooker “The Velvet Glove” Shiraz
While The 17th Nail in my Cranium may take the cake for my favourite label, The Velvet Glove surely wine the prize for the gaudiest label I’ve come across. The label – which features an ornate black glove adorned with silver script – is not only extravagant, it’s also made of Velvet. That’s right, swallow the purple pill and rub the label. Everything is going to be just fine.
Lead by wine makers Sarah and Sparky Marquis (you read that right, Sparky, how did this guy avoid the trapeze and end up in wine?), Mollydooker winery producers in-your-face wines with packaging to match. The Velvet Glove is their top wine, a rich and opulent Shiraz produced in small quantities and also fetching a handsome price. If the velvet label wasn’t kitschy enough, each bottle also comes with its very own black velvet drawstring bag. Yahoo!
Visit Mollydooker’s website here
Weingut Max Ferd Richter Riesling
While there’s something to be said for velvet labels and beautiful graphics, there is also something to be said for keeping it real and just not giving a f*#k. Enter Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter.
Dr. Dirk Max Ferd. Richter’s family has been making wine in Germany’s scenic Mosel Valley for over 300 years. With holdings in some of the greatest vineyards in the region, he doesn’t need cartoon characters and catch phrases. He’s like the Mohammed Ali of the Mosel; that is if Ali were Germanic, bearded, soft-spoken, wore wire rim glasses and had a Ph D in making mind melting Riesling. I guess he is nothing like Ali. Oh well.
Richter’s labels are as German as schnitzel and strange fetishes, proudly displaying the family’s estate in Technicolor wonder. Year in and year out there are no surprises, no gimmicks and no frills. Just damn good juice!
Dirk, I salute you. Don’t change one bit you crazy cat!
Visit Dirk here.
Although some of these wines may be near impossible to find and well beyond my price point, like a solid gold paper weight or chinchilla underwear it never hurts to look.
What’s your favourite wine label? Leave a comment below!