Wine labels have become more than just a sticker with a bottle’s basic facts and figures. They are often decisive in whether a customer will even pick a wine off the shelf and nowadays they have to balance information with an appealing design, but soulless eye-catching doodles just won’t cut it in this highly competitive industry, a good wine label design has to “tell a story.”
We spoke with Kevin Shaw, founder of Stranger & Stranger, a packaging design and branding company who specialises in alcoholic drinks since 1994. With offices in London, New York and San Francisco, they label up about a billion units a year from low-cost to super-premium and have won numerous global awards for their wine label design.
Regarding the most important elements of a good wine label, Kevin highlights a wine’s name. You have to be “able to pronounce a brand name in a restaurant and remember it later.”
Looking expensive helps but standing out is by far number one. A label should catch someone’s eye enough to make them pick up the bottle and then engage them with a story that is reassuring and interesting.”
Kevin points out that designing for a small producer is different than doing so for a large corporation. “The big firms have lots of consumer data, category management information and are pretty clear about exactly who they are targeting and at what pricepoint”, while independent producers might need his firm’s help to identify their niche or opportunity.
Once they receive the briefing and do their research, the designers develop one or two proposals. “Naming is the tough part, especially if the client is looking for global registration, because most good brand names are owned already and lawyers aren’t cheap so that’s really where our experience pays off.”
Then everyone hi-fives and we produce artwork and beat up the printers until they do a great job. We try and keep it simple.”
So, a great wine label will communicate and attract the right demographic. Bonus points if it’s Instagram-friendly or if it features something interesting that can be used as a conversation starter while pouring the bottle. And while we wouldn’t wish to encourage you to judge a wine based on its label, the following recommendations are all tasted and loved but besides being beautiful on the inside, they’ve creative and appealing label artwork.
So, treat your eyes before you even open these wines with great label design that are available in Ireland. Besides the tasting notes, we’ve included the story behind the label and the inspiration behind their look…
Lingenfelder Hare Label Gewürztraminer
12.5% ABV – Germany
€14.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
Made by a family-run (13th generation) winery in Pfalz, this Gewruztraminer offers purity of fruit and a floral charm. Low in acidity and with aromas of rose, lychees and orange blossom, it’s a generous and plump white which will pair very well with gyozas, Thai food or spicy prawns.
The Story Behind the Label: Its sylvan label was developed by artist Chuck House and it’s part of the Lingenfelder Vineyard Creatures range, in which each bottle features a forest creature that embodies its personality. The collection also features a bird, a fox, a fish and more creatures, in a style that seems taken out of the pages of a centuries-old fairy tale.
The Liberator: Episode 5 – Old Breton
14% ABV – South Africa
€19.95- Available at Kelly’s Off Licence, La Touche Wines*
This 100% Cabernet Franc comes from South Africa’s Franschhoek Valley. The name is a nod at Cab Franc’s nickname in some parts of the Loire Valley. Toast, licorice and dark fruit preserve combine with moderate tannins in a lean and intense red.
The Story Behind the Label: Old Breton takes its inspiration from the historic association between the 180 French Huguenot settlers who, escaping religious persecution, left their homeland on New Years’ Eve in 1687 for a new life in the Cape. This wine also has its own comic explaining how it came to be and it’s part of The Liberator range, known for its distinctive artwork.
*The Liberator range’s “episodes” are limited editions, and if one edition is gone, new episodes will follow (no worries, they all have really cool labels).
13.5% ABV – Portugal
€9.95 (on offer from €12.95) – Available at O’Briens Wine
This smooth Portuguese red is as fruity as they come and offers an explosion of cranberries, blackberries and cherries delivered with mild tannins and a juicy, rich texture. It’s a blend of Tinta Roriz (the local’s name for Tempranillo) and other regional varieties.
The Story Behind the Label: German artist Hauke Vag might not remember when he painted the lively postcard from Lisbon (he said so in an interview), but he managed to catch a glimpse of a typical Portuguese community, the colours, the characters and the relaxed vibes. The grapes are grown north of the city so it’s real Lisbon in and out!
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 2007 Vintage Champagne
12.5% ABV – France
€125 – Available at Mitchell & Son
This light gold jewel aged beautifully and a decade later, remains vibrant. Very floral, with honeysuckle and acacia aromas, white peach, ripe citrus and pears. On the palate, subtle almonds hint at its maturity.
The Story Behind the Label: This iconic bottle features the delicate Japanese anemone, designed in 1902 by Art Nouveau luminary Emile Gallé. The flower graced the bottles of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Vintage Champagne for the first time in 1964. Each bottle is still hand painted, and the detail has inspired a series of art collaborations for glasses, silverware and other accessories.
14.5% ABV – Spain
€13.75 (on offer from €14.50) – Available at Wines Direct
This blend from the Spanish DO of Calatayud mixes Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dense and tannic, this powerful red combines Grenache’s acidity, Syrah spicyness, Merlot plump body and Cab Sauv depth and intensity. An eclectic palate of ripe black cherries, plums and sweet spice.
The Story Behind the Label: It’s a celebration of traditional winemaking. It captures the family name and symbolises a way of understanding wine in which natural grapes are used and minimum intervention gives wines that know no rushes. Frenesí is Spanish for frenzy, also evoked in the celebratory silhouettes on the bottle.
13% ABV – Italy
€8 (on offer from €10) – Available at Tesco
This go-to red from Puglia is a juicy and youthful parade of ripe cherries and strawberry preserve. Moderate tannins and body make it a simple yet balanced crowd pleaser, ideal with a cheese and charcuterie board or pasta bolognese.
The Story Behind the Label: This is one of the designs by Stranger & Stranger, which they describe as “the only private label in the UK top ten wine brands. Millions of cases. Dozens of imitators.” In Ireland, it’s sold by Tesco, and it features a clean design with a “front window” and sleek typography. A modern approach that contrasts with the region’s old school bottles.
Testalonga Baby Bandito ‘Follow your Dreams’
12.5% ABV – South Africa
€20.95 – Available at Baggot Street Wines
This is a rare treat, 100% Carrignan, whole bunch fermented and organic. It offers a mouth watering combination of pomegranates and sour cherries. With grippy tannins and a lean body, it’s sharp and fruity with a rough edge but a balanced structure.
The Story Behind the Label: Winemaker Craig Hawkins has taken inspiration in street artists to come up with this wine’s (and others from his Baby Bandito range) style. Inspired by Banky’s famous line “all art is stolen”, he has taken the tag line “Follow your Dreams” from Banksy himself and placed it on top of a photo of a child taken by his brother.
Condes de Albarei Pazo Baion Albarino
13% ABV – Spain
€26.99 – Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop
This unusual Albarino has a richer texture and fuller body thanks to 10 months on the lees, and its beautiful intensity comes from old vines. Expect ripe citrus, orange blossom, pineapple and a sea-breezy mineral touch.
The Story Behind the Label: Its singular bottle marked a “before” and “after” once the vineyard was acquired by the Cambados Condes de Albarei co-op. Prior to that, it was owned by a notorious drug lord so a competition was launched to renew the brand’s image. The winning design, Metamorfose, by Madrilean artist Lucas Gil-Turner, evokes the change from a stone that signifies the past, to a ripe grape symbolising the present and future.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.