Behind the Label: Charles Smith Wines

Behind the Label: Charles Smith Wines

The highlight of my winter social calendar is an annual fondue party hosted by our dear friends Erin & Mike. It’s a madcap evening of wine, cheese, charades, kirsch, cheese, drunkenness, laughter, and did I mention cheese? During this year’s event, one of the fellow guests had a great suggestion for me and STBNY: why not write about wine labels? The stories about them, what they mean, and what they can tell you about the wine inside. I thought it was a brilliant idea (not surprising — the guy is a physicist, after all), so here’s my first installment of a semi-regular feature called Behind the Label. (If you’re obsessed with the subject, here’s a great post from a design blog with some cool wine label pics.)

My first foray into the subject is Charles Smith Wines. Based in Walla Walla, Washington, Charles Smith makes Syrah, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are big, bold and in your face — in case you couldn’t tell from the label pictured here. In fact, that’s what I love about these labels: they do a great job of describing what’s in the bottle. For example, his Kung Fu Girl, an off-dry Riesling that I’ve served at several tastings, would indeed be great with Asian food:

And the Boom Boom! Syrah (my favorite wine of his, and a good deal for about $15) is just as explosive as advertised. Some of his wines are a little over the top for me (the Eve Chardonnay is too much alcohol, too much oak, too much everything), but I respect that he’s not afraid to go big. I love the graphic, black-and-white design that stands out among the soft curlicues and muted colors that characterize so many other wine labels. The mastermind here is Danish designer Rikke Korff, who used to the design director of Levi-Strauss. As she says:

“My style of design has always been and is always rooted in the pure perspective of functionality, timelessness & simplicity. I blend that well with the guts & raw directness of rock n’ roll to create future icons and cult brands.”

Rock on.

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