A question of design: Casa Mariol Syrah
A wine importer in the US once commented to me about the labels on Spanish wines: “The great thing here is that I either love them or hate them. Being neutral never happens.” Generally, if he hated the labels, he’d ask the winery to change them, they would and all would be happy.
The reason behind the back and forth would always revolve around the design of the labels. Spain, while in the top three of wine producing countries, is most definitely not France nor Italy in terms of labels. Those two countries generally have pretty staid labels which just show producer, appellation and little else. Admittedly, there are sometimes a wealth of regulations that stymie such adventures but it’s pretty rare to see a French wine label that gives you a chuckle or really stands out, unless of course it’s Vin de France or “natural” wine.
I’ve gotten used to seeing wines dressed up in sleek, clever, well-designed labels in Spain that usually do not feature a forest creature to make them memorable. I could give an endless list of wines and design studios doing great work, although at times, in places like Barcelona I feel that every second business is either a tapas restaurant or a design studio.
While there’s a lot of understated work out there, some do push that envelope which may or may not push potential distributors to ask for some “modifications”. Several wines that stood out in this regard were those from Casa Mariol in DO Terra Alta of which I’ve compiled a full report from this DO that includes all the current producers and reviews for nearly 200 of their wines which you can order now.
Casa Mariol is one of the “older” cellars in DO Terra Alta having been founded in the mid-20th century. A great deal changed in 2000 when siblings, Josep Maria and Marta Vaquer Llop took over running the winery and made a rather massive generational change. Through modernization and expansion of the cellar as well as a redesign of the wines, they’ve become well known locally as much for their varietal wines, as for their excellent vermouth which you can find at their vermouth bar in Barcelona–very much worth a stop if in town.
If you’ve encountered their wines in the past, then you probably knew the previous design by Bendita Gloria which won the local design awards called, the Laus for it’s “anti-design” aesthetic. Not content to sit back, they’ve since had the wines redesigned again, this time by German, Mirko Borsche. As you can see above, the aesthetic is completely different.
I put this up for commentary on Instagram to see what people thought. Comments ranged from: “the label is brutal”, “Love definitely love a glass of this Syrah”, and “some beautiful stuff being made, hidden by the most awful labels”. I’m hard-pressed to say where I fall. Splashing “Enter Sandman” on a potential Syrah I’m to drink intrigues a great deal I have to say in terms of novelty. But here’s the issue: inside this is one of the best Syrahs I’ve tasted from south of the Pyrenees. In general, Terra Alta seems to be territory ripe for delicious Syrah but this went above and beyond, being excellent in that meaty, Cornas kind of way without being the least bit jammy as some of the Aussie or other warmer climate Syrahs can often can drift.
So my issue is that the label is playful, but that’s a serious wine inside and I’m a bit conflicted on this front. Maybe it’s just me but as it had more comments than most any other Instagram photo I’ve posted, it seems others might feel the same. Thoughts?
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Terroir Sense Fronteres - Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache · 13% · 250EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL