Mes­sage on a bot­tle

Art can be found on the out­side of the bot­tle as well as in­side

Singapore Tatler Regional Best Restaurants - - Contents - Text By Suzanne Brock­le­hurst

While ex­po­nen­tial growth in the va­ri­ety of wines now avail­able for the con­sumer is seen by many as an ad­van­tage, for some the choice can be over­whelm­ing. Un­less a cus­tomer has a spe­cific pro­ducer and wine in mind, how do they dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween thou­sands of wines? The ob­vi­ous an­swer is that wines are of­ten cho­sen for their la­bel de­spite the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”


On a prac­ti­cal level, the role of wine la­bels is to in­form the cus­tomer of what is in the bot­tle. There is a le­gal re­quire­ment to state ori­gin, quan­tity of fluid and vol­ume of al­co­hol, amongst other de­tails. Strict la­belling laws in Europe also re­quire in­clu­sion of pre­cise clas­si­fi­ca­tion lev­els, for ex­am­ple DOC or DOCG sta­tus in Italy, and his­tor­i­cally even the size of the let­ter­ing would be spec­i­fied. With the con­tin­ued adop­tion of back la­bels around the globe — a prac­tice read­ily em­braced amongst New World pro­duc­ers — cus­tomers are made aware of the ex­act con­tents, in­clud­ing the pres­ence of any ‘in­gre­di­ents’ that may, for ex­am­ple, cause an ad­verse re­ac­tion, such as asth­mat­ics sen­si­tive to the pres­ence of sul­phites.

Aside from these manda­tory-la­belling re­quire­ments, the pro­ducer has a free hand to be as cre­ative as their bud­get al­lows. Some choose graph­ics and type­set­tings that dis­play only the most im­por­tant de­tails. As one highly re­spected pro­ducer re­cently re­marked, his la­bels do not in­clude ‘pic­tures’ be­cause he wants to walk into a res­tau­rant and see what ev­ery­one is drink­ing from 20 paces away. The counter ar­gu­ment be­ing that walk­ing into a res­tau­rant, a bot­tle of Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able to most wine con­sumers be­cause of its pic­ture. In fact, each new vintage has an in­di­vid­ual piece of new art­work de­signed specif­i­cally to en­hance the mar­ketabil­ity of the wine.

Baron Philippe de Roth­schild was a noted art lover and of­ten seen as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary force be­hind mod­ern wine la­bel de­sign. He be­gan the Artists la­bel se­ries in 1924, a se­ries that has been un­bro­ken since the 1945 vintage when avant-garde artist Jean Carlu was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate a new la­bel for that vintage of Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild. Since then, artists whose de­signs have graced the bot­tles of this First Growth Bordeaux in­clude lu­mi­nar­ies such as Pablo Pi­casso, Marc Cha­gall, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Henry Moore. Re­cent vin­tages have dis­played the di­verse tal­ents of Karl Lager­feld, Prince Charles and pop artist Jeff Koons. With the grow­ing im­por­tance of the Chi­nese mar­ket for the Borde­lais co­in­cid­ing with the aus­pi­cious num­ber ‘8’, the 2008 Chateau Mou­ton Roth­schild la­bel in­cludes a paint­ing by Chi­nese pain­ter Xu Lei.

The bot­tles and their la­bels have be­come pre­cious essen­tials for some col­lec­tors, many of whom may never con­sume the con­tents them­selves. Neigh­bour Chateau Lafite added a Chi­nese sym­bol for its 2008 re­lease.

Other wine pro­duc­ers have not ig­nored the link be­tween the Chi­nese mar­ket and strong growth in the lux­ury goods cat­e­gory. Chanel bought Mar­gaux pro­ducer Chateau Rauzan-Segla in 1994. Cel­e­brat­ing their 350th An­niver­sary Rauzan-Segla com­mis­sioned Chanel’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Karl Lager­feld, to de­sign and paint a spe­cial edi­tion la­bel for the 2009 vintage. It was hoped that this col­lab­o­ra­tion and the la­bel, which shows a colour­ful sketch of the chateau and is signed by Lager­feld, would help heighten the pro­file of the wine and con­sid­er­ably boost sales in China.


Do­rian Tang is the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Man­ager for ASC Fine Wines (the largest wine im­porter in China). Tang com­ments, “Many of our cus­tomers of­ten ask to look at the wine la­bel pic­tures af­ter se­lect­ing wines from the list, as some of the wines may not be con­sumed but given away as a gift, there­fore the wine la­bel and

pack­ag­ing are quite im­por­tant in the Chi­nese mar­ket. For in­stance, Pen­folds has sim­ple red char­ac­ters on a white back­ground and has a very mean­ing­ful Chi­nese trans­la­tion ‘Benfu’ i.e. ‘run­ning for pros­per­ity’.”

Aus­tralian pro­ducer Leeuwin Es­tate ini­ti­ated their fa­mous ‘Art Se­ries’ wine la­bels with a paint­ing com­mis­sioned from the late West Aus­tralian artist, Robert Ju­niper for the 1980 Chardon­nay. The own­ers “es­sen­tially be­lieve that wine­mak­ing is an art as well as a science and in­cor­po­rat­ing the works of fa­mous Aus­tralian artists on our most op­u­lent and age-wor­thy wines has been a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to celebrate both our affin­ity with the arts and that our wines are proudly Aus­tralian”. There are now over 150 paint­ings in the col­lec­tion, many of which are dis­played at the win­ery’s gallery in Mar­garet River. The only la­bels that do not change an­nu­ally in the Art Se­ries are those that adorn the Art Se­ries Ries­ling. John Olsen cre­ated four works en­ti­tled ‘Frogs in Ries­ling’. These paint­ings are ‘ir­re­sistible’ in their whim­si­cal way, with the time­less sim­plic­ity of the green and yel­low de­sign ad­di­tion­ally de­not­ing the fresh­ness and al­lure of the wine within.

Cham­pagne pro­ducer Per­rier-Jouet launched the house’s pres­tige Cu­vee Belle Epoque in 1970 with the flower-adorned bot­tle inspired by glass de­signer Rene Lalique. Veuve Clic­quot was one of the first houses to put a logo on their bot­tles and the ubiq­ui­tous Yel­low La­bel was orig­i­nally de­signed in white. The colour (more or­ange than yel­low) is now trade­marked as ‘Jaune Clic­quot’ and was ini­tially pro­duced for the UK mar­ket, which pre­ferred a drier wine style. Just like Tif­fany Blue, Veuve Clic­quot ‘yel­low’ is in­stantly recog­nis­able and has cre­ated end­less mar­ket­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties with mer­chan­dis­ing prod­ucts from ice buck­ets to beach um­brel­las. Cham­pagne Tait­tinger com­mis­sions artists for its ‘Col­lec­tion Se­ries’ whereby the bot­tles them­selves are dec­o­rated. For the Tait­tinger fam­ily, this was a way of re­mind­ing peo­ple that mak­ing cham­pagne is an art. Artists have in­cluded An­dre Mas­son, Roy Lichen­stein and Vic­tor Vasarely.


As long as the manda­tory re­quire­ments on a la­bel are ful­filled, the pro­ducer can use his artis­tic li­cence to cre­ate quite in­di­vid­ual la­bels. Sim­ple or in­tri­cate; monochrome or brightly coloured; sin­gle or multi la­belled; cir­cu­lar, rec­tan­gu­lar or diamond shaped; the pos­si­bil­i­ties are in­fi­nite. Por­tuguese pro­ducer Mal­had­inha Nova chose the in­di­vid­ual paint­ings of the fam­ily’s four young chil­dren to use on their la­bels. The la­bels are sim­ple and mod­ern, but above all they are fun and eye-catch­ing.

Aus­tralian Fine Wine Spe­cial­ist and Master of Wine, An­drew Cail­lard, now makes wine in the Barossa Val­ley from two ex­cep­tional vine­yards of Mataro (of­ten known as Mourve­dre). A tal­ented pain­ter, Cail­lard’s own pic­ture of a pea­cock, painted in 2012 and inspired by a 19th cen­tury Ja­panese wood-cut de­sign by Ut­ta­gaw Hiroshige, pro­vides the at­trac­tive la­bel for the Cail­lard Mataro 2011. In­ter­est­ingly, the term ‘pea­cock’s tail’ is used in wine tast­ing to de­scribe a wine with tex­tu­ral length. Es­teemed Pied­mont pro­ducer, Vi­etti, cre­ator of text­book Baro­los, have la­belled some of their wines with orig­i­nal works that were inspired by that par­tic­u­lar vintage. These may in­clude lith­o­graphs, etch­ings, silkscreens and linocuts with the first 100 la­bels be­ing signed by the artist in ques­tion.

Bou­tique Chi­anti Clas­sico pro­ducer, Fat­to­ria Nit­tardi, has taken the art of wine la­bels and pack­ag­ing one step fur­ther than many. This does not come as a sur­prise when con­sid­er­ing the links be­tween the re­mark­able history of this prop­erty and the cur­rent owner’s in­di­vid­ual in­volve­ment in the world of fine art. The es­tate of Nit­tardi lies in the heart of the Chi­anti Clas­sico re­gion, be­tween the prov­inces of Siena and Florence. The prop­erty be­longed to the un­par­al­leled re­nais­sance artist Michelan­gelo Bounar­roti dur­ing the 16th cen­tury who is re­ported to have sent some Nit­tardi wine to Rome as a ‘gen­uine gift to the Pope’. The prop­erty was pur­chased in 1982 and painstak­ingly re­con­structed with the vine­yards re­planted by its new own­ers, Peter Fem­fert and Ste­fa­nia Canali. Fem­fert is a Ger­man pub­lisher and art gallery owner, whilst his Vene­tian wife, Canali, is a his­to­rian. Since the re­lease of the 1981 vintage, Fat­to­ria Nit­tardi an­nu­ally com­mis­sions an em­i­nent artist to paint both the la­bel and wrap­ping pa­per for a lim­ited edi­tion of their Chi­anti Clas­sico — Casan­uova di Nit­tardi. The last four re­leases have been ded­i­cated to the four sea­sons, be­gin­ning with an au­tumn la­bel by Gunter Grass for the 2008 vintage. Korean artist Kim Tschang-Yeul painted the latest la­bel for the 2011 vintage, and the last in the sea­son’s cy­cle. The la­bel, which has just been

re­leased in Seoul, fea­tures Kim Yschang-Yeul’s sig­na­ture wa­ter drops and al­lude to the prom­ise of win­ter — a sea­son when na­ture evolves silently be­neath the earth, await­ing the warmth of spring. The list of pre­vi­ously fea­tured artists in­cludes Yoko Ono, whose ‘ink on pa­per’ la­bel and wrap­ping pa­per adorn the 2005 vintage of Casan­uova di Nit­tardi. Over the years artists have cho­sen var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate their in­di­vid­ual works, in­clud­ing wa­ter­colours, inks, acrylics, pas­tels and pen­cils, on both pa­per and can­vas.

El­e­gant and time­less, hu­mor­ous and quirky, edgy and fash­ion­able, or clas­sic and un­der­stated, each wine la­bel tells its own story and may well con­vey a mes­sage about the wine within the bot­tle. It is only by try­ing the wine it­self that a real sense of what the wine­maker is try­ing to achieve can be grasped — for finene wine in par­tic­u­lar, this is where the true ex­pres­sion of the wine­maker can be fully ap­pre­ci­ated.

Barossa Val­ley's Cail­lard Mataro 2011's beau­ti­ful pea­cock la­bel

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