Label This!


Have you purchased wine based solely on the appeal of the label? Yeah, we thought so. Here are our top picks for wines that merge art with taste.

“Fine wine is the only true art that must be destroyed in order to be fully appreciated.”

Artist series wines make me suspicious. In fact, they almost scream of marketing endeavor. As such, I strain to imagine them as anything more than the end product of a strat- egy session of executive consultants aiming to further distinguish a winery’s portfolio of “select wines.” However, creating a wine so distinct as to remind us that art is one of our means to mediate the bounds of provincialism is a rare feat.

So finding a wine label that actually stands as symbol for the wine inside the bottle is almost impossible. I make the case there are a few.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild, perhaps the most famous and revered wine in the world, was the first to commission an artist to design the label for their wine with the 1924 vintage. It would later be resurrected as the modus operandi of the winery in 1945, coinciding with the victory over Germany in WWII, and since then has become the point of reference for the collision of art and wine. Since the first commission, artists of the order of Picasso, Kandinsky, Chagall, Haring, Motherwell, and many others have created labels for the Chateau, and the collection of the labels has been the focus of several exhibitions.

More recently, Manfred Krankl’s Sin Qua Non, a winery and winemaker that have reached a stratospheric kind of cult sta- tus, remind me of the potential relationship between art inside and outside the bottle. I have mentioned him before in some of the inaugural articles for this magazine, but examining the labels as art is a potential game of semiotics, and it is worth discovering if there are complex associations there, and not just a label. Krankl crafts both the wine and the art that becomes the labels for the wines which are made in a kind of garage in Ventura of mostly Syrah–each said to express the uniqueness of the wines that he believes are artistic expressions and one-of-a-kind works of art in them- selves. Each wine is given a name of the likes of Imposter McKoy, The Straw Man, Poker Face, Grenache Into the Dark, and so on.

If art is a medium to connect interrelated but not aways obvious things and to uncover shades of meaning and signification, then perhaps a represen- tative sample of what work has been done and how it has been presented can form a spiderweb of interdependent references and examples of the words, images, ideas, and work that stand for the wine it shelters inside.

Then, each person can discern for herself if form, function, and representation are intended to be art or instead design–and if they are indeed that. And decipher, too, if it is accurate to call design that has been repurposed as art or vice versa, by some other name. Or, finally, just to revel in the pure creativity and whim of these labels and their makers.

Labels, Series, And Wines To Investigate

> Bill Harlan’s Bond
> Imagery
> Julien Courtois butterfly label
> Kenwood Artist Series
> Peter Lehmann’s Artist Series
> Amuse Bouche
> Gunter Gross’ design of Casanuova di Nittardi
> Krover Nacktorsch, and Martin Donatsch in Malans in Switzerland. Every year, the owner paints a huge painting and then cuts the painting thousands of tiny squares. Those squares are put on his best wine as a label. So each bottle is unique.