This article was originally published in Issue 15 of Root + Bone
I realise that beauty is only skin deep and you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but here at root + bone we're suckers for a bit of label porn.
London has long been the world's biggest wine marketplace, boasting the widest variety from around the world of wine. The explosion of interest in natural wine has seen that variety grow even more. Producers are on the case, doing everything they can to stand out, desperate to make their bottle the one you pick from the shelf.
This has focussed attention on the design of the wine bottle as well as the juice inside it. Some of the labels on show these days are literally works of art and I love it. Fortunately, the people who put effort into the outside of the bottle generally make an effort with what they fill it with too.
Before I go on, I need to take umbrage with a current wine bottle design fad that really pisses me off. Wax. Specifically, the use of wax to seal the top of the wine bottle. There is no need. It goes fucking everywhere when you open the bottle. Unless it's used to create light, as far as I am concerned, wax is surplus to requirements.
Back to the labels. Go into Clapton Craft or Hop Burns & Black and it's like the beer cans and wine bottles are giving a fashion show, flashing at you, touting for your custom. The quality and variety of label design is inspiring, from bold brash colours to fine art.
Wine label porn is not a new phenomenon. Although many of its peers opted for standard issue picture of the chateau, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of Bordeaux's First Growths, has been doing things differently for years. They first commissioned an artist to design the label for the 1924 vintage and since 1945 they have commissioned a different artist each year to come up with their own creation. Artists to have offered their services include; Picasso, Dali, Francis Bacon and Hockney.
One of the more interesting proponents of label porn we have encountered recently is Alpha Box Dice, a group of designer winos from South Australia. They produce a range of limited run wines, each representing a different letter of the alphabet, and each with its unique story translated onto the stunning labels.
We recently sampled three wines from their current range and to make sure our taste buds weren't swayed by the beauty of the labels, we conducted our very own "Winefold challenge" (check out the products page for more details on how you can get involved).
We tasted each wine with and without the blindfold with amazing results. Here's what happened;
Wightmare Chardonnay, 2016
No blindfold – quite light bodied, with a bit of bees wax, pepper and polish. Reminds me a lot of an Aligoté from Burgundy. Falls away a little at the end.
Blindfolded – takes on a totally different character, particularly the finish which is now full of salt and minerals, getting on for Chablis. What a difference!
Dead Wine Makers Dolcetto, 2015
No blindfold – My favourite of the three wines, this had a floral nose of dark fruits and cinnamon. Lovely soft tannins lead to a refreshing sour cherry finish. This goes down very easily, glou-glou!
Blindfolded – more intense cherry spice this time, with a powdery mouthfeel, like sucking a parma violet.
Grenache Tarot, 2016
No blindfold – sweet red fruit nose and the herby notes. Tastes like Vimto but has a nice bitterness to balance out the sweetness.
Blindfolded – the flavours are more intense and the wine has greater clarity. The herbal flavours are more precise and the sweetness less pronounced.
For more details on how to host your own Winefold Challenge party and raise money for the Royal Society for Blind Children, check out the products page.