on 22 January 2007
From Grapestalk Summer 2006 grapestalk.co.uk
WHEN STRUGGLING with the European Union wine label regulations for my Wine for Spice range, I'd often visit Peter F May's Unusual Wine Labels website at winelabels.org to get inspiration from the odd labels others had produced. They may not have proved sufficiently inspirational, but they provided a welcome laugh.
Now May has taken some of the best of those labels and hunted out many new ones for his new book Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape. Subtitled Odd Wines from Around the World, this 256 page full colour book features 112 unusual labels plus some back labels from over a dozen countries.
The format is simple - one page has the beautifully photographed label, while on the facing page May tells the story behind the label and the wine it was once attached to with tasting notes and food matching suggestions.
Of course there is an element of geekiness in the book but it is quite restrained. In appendices May explains how to remove recalcitrant labels -he suggests that, when travelling, a hotel hairdryer can be used to soften label glue. `Unfortunately, I have no other use for hairdryers these days' he wryly remarks. Err.... Why don't you use a digital camera Peter? Or get the label off the winery's website? To that end there is a useful and informative glossary as well as addresses, phone and websites listed for all the wines.
Along with the legendary Cats Pee on a Gooseberry Bush and Goats do Roam are less familiar labels such as the `wellrounded and forward' Cleavage Creek whose label has a well endowed woman in a low cut gown, and Stuart 'Stu' Pedasso's Sonoma Beach Zinfandel, names that could offend if spoken fast. And speaking of offence, who'd have thought that a painting of children in a vineyard could upset the good people of Texas (Tex-Zin), or that a cartoon of a churchman would get a wine banned in Ohio (Cardinal Zin)?
May's commentaries tells of a church moved by exploding dynamite inside it, (Blasted Church), a vineyard that produced 100 vintages in seven years (Aga White) and labels with a male and female whose clothes fade away to indicate when the correct serving temperature is reached (Rude Boy and Rude Girl). There are labels marking the day flying saucers were banned from landing in Chateauneuf du Pape, (le Cigare Volante), political speeches (Winds of Change) and even Mussolini (Nero del Predappio -- May's tasting note reads `leaves a bad taste in the mouth, goes well with humble pie')
As you've guessed, this is no po-faced serious text book; rather it is a cheerful celebration of the amusing, rare and quirky. But May, who lives in St Albans, Herts, knows wine. He has visited many of the wineries, spoken with winemakers, winery owners, label designers and artists and he packs a surprising amount of solid information wrapped up in the humour.
I must say that the book is gobsmackingly well designed and makes for a great coffee table book. Elegantly, motifs from the label are borrowed for the commentary page so that the flying rooster from Flying Rooster Red soars up to the title line, and the hippo from Fat Bastard is sitting reading the tasting notes, and broad end flaps give the paperback a solid feel.
Marilyn Merlot & the Naked Grape makes the ideal gift for not only the wine lover but anyone with the slightest interest in wine, label design or just with a sense of humour. It is a book to dip into and to keep by the bedside. I also expect to see it in many a friend's loo.