19-12-2018 ~ 3 Comments

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?