ON THE WINE ROAD: Beauty and the Bottle

The label is the face of the wine bottle. Although The Police sang about the ‘Message in a bottle,’ there is also a message on the bottle.

By Michael Venezia
Photography by Erin Gray Cantrell

Marketers are fully aware of the importance of packaging and what it silently communicates to the potential purchaser. Buying decisions are made due to appealing visual stimulus and most commercial wineries desire to sell their product to the thirsty consumer.

Wine is frequently gifted and often a theme, icon, color scheme, coat of arms or a vineyard scene will generate a sale. In addition, the ability to translate what the label is saying will encourage interest to take the bottle in hand. Let’s take a look at a few memorable bottles and examine them more closely.

An important label in the global wine market is Louis Jadot from Burgundy, France. This wine house, founded in 1859, has the memorable face of a youthful Bacchus, the mythical Roman god of wine, his head adorned with a vine wreath and grape clusters. The parchment paper has an Old World look and impresses with its classical message.

The label shares information in French and in large letters assigns the wine as a Le Musigny Grand Cru or Great Growth. Although it is produced from Pinot Noir, nowhere on the label are you informed of that fact. Keep in mind that if the wine is labeled red Burgundy table wine, by law it is produced exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape.

The Bordeaux region in Southwest France is globally recognized for their exceptional red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec grow in this large area influenced by the maritime climate of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gironde estuary and the beautiful, tranquil rivers of the Dordogne and Garonne. French Bordeaux, or Claret, as known to our British friends, is translated as “au bord de l’eau” or a place near the water.

The chateau or winery house is most often identified with the area and over 6,000 estates produce a wide assortment of blends from the previously mentioned grape varieties. Chateau bottles can range from affordable to very costly wines enjoyed by the rich and famous. Chateau Marbuzet, in the village of St. Estephe, sits on Bordeaux’s left bank in the Haut Medoc.

The words “mis en bouteille au chateau”, guarantees that the wine was bottled at the estate and that all grapes, vinification and cellar ageing was completed on the property. Prominently depicted on this label is the 18th century Louis XVI style chateau.

Reminiscent of the White House in Washington DC, but much smaller, it has been said that some of its architectural features were incorporated into the home of the President of the United States. Keeping in mind that each vintage has its own distinct identity, the winery website will share with you the components of the 2000 vintage.

In this year the wine is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot aged in new and seasoned French oak barrels. A fine French chateau bottled red wine from Bordeaux in the current vintage would retail for about $60.

Another example of a red Bordeaux wine is the famous Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Recognized as one of the greatest wines in the world, its 205 acre estate is in the village of Pauillac. As a premier cru classé or first growth, it was ordained to its lofty position by the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a passionate vigneron and patron of the arts.

Since 1945, in honor of each vintage, a celebrated artist creates an original art composition with complete creative freedom to grace the label. The likes of Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Jeff Koons and Prince Charles have been granted this honor by the Baron Rothschild, and now his daughter Philippine continues this tradition.

The vintage 1996 features Gu Gan, a contemporary master of Chinese calligraphy and an internationally recognized interpreter of the 4000 year history of this artistic aesthetic. Along with the Rothschild coat of arms which includes two sheep in profile, as mouton in French translates as sheep, this docile creature shares label space with this edgy drawing. A visit to the art museum at Mouton to view the collection of original art is a must for any wine pilgrim.

Inspired by Mouton, Champagne Taittinger took the idea of art and wine marketing to a whole different level. Instead of artwork incorporated into the label, the artwork was created to enclose the bottle. The 1985 Taittinger Brut Collection Series featured a creation by the late New York pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Known for vibrant paintings and prints, his works inspired by comic books and advertising are displayed in many permanent collections of the world’s greatest museums. The bold blue plastic sheath features a vine, grape cluster and a human profile with wide eye open, and lips pursed ready to capture floating bubbles. This visually stimulating work of art is then laser sealed over the bottle, and when properly refrigerated, the champagne remains well chilled and the need for an ice bucket is not necessary. Simply revolutionary.

A recent tasting of Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2007 at La Grotta Ristorante Italiano in Buckhead caused me to research the unusual graphics depicted on the bottle. Montalcino, a famous village in Italy’s Tuscan region is famous for a red wine vinified exclusively from a superior selected local clone of the Sangiovese grape. Produced by the Marchese Frescobaldi family, Michael Mondavi imports a small quantity of this distinguished wine into the United States. Luce, Italian for light, honors the importance of radiant sunshine on the vine and the energy it imparts to the grapes during the growing season.

The distinctive logo is inspired from a sacred image borne for centuries on the main alter in the Santo Spirito Church in Florence. A blazing sun with twelve flames adorns the bottle with its beams of light expanding through infinity. The wines energy, color, aroma, and texture delivered the message on the bottle.

Sterling Vineyards, Diamond Mountain Ranch is a stunning high-altitude vineyard precariously perched at 1,700 feet in Napa Valley’s Mayacamas Mountain Range. The vineyard is planted on terraces carved into the steep volcanic hillsides overlooking an old stone winery from the late 19th century. The name refers to the quartz crystals which sparkle dramatically in the clear mountain air. The vines yield grapes, which are small in size, with thick skins and deep pigments.

The pictured bottle of the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon is etched into the glass and shows in relief the vineyard and mountain landscape which captures the remote and wild nature of this remote mountain vineyard.

Over the decades I have learned to appreciate not just what is in the bottle, but what is on the bottle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s