2004 Magnet (Sin é) Pinot Noir, Sonoma

We all occasionally buy wine by the label. While I imagine that there are a few complete wine snobs out there who only drink four or five different wines whose names everyone knows, pretty much anyone who is curious about wine has at one time or another shrugged their shoulders and reached for that strange bottle on the shelf just because, well, it looked interesting.

What would happen if scores of people all over the world went out to their local grocery stores and wine shops to buy a bottle, with the only criteria being that they had to select it just on the merits of the label? You’re about to find out. Today is the sixteenth incarnation of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly virtual tasting event, where bloggers all over the globe review a wine based on a single theme. This month, our event is hosted by Derrick over at An Obsession With Food, and he has asked us to find a label we like, and then drink it.

In the course of wandering through wine shops over the last few weeks, I’ve kept my eye out for a bottle, something that truly grabbed my attention and stood out from all the other bottles, and about a week ago I found it.

Since this is an exercise in aesthetics as much as it is in wine criticism, this review will be a little different than normal for Vinography. I’m going to talk about the wine, of course, but I’m going to concentrate mostly on the packaging, because, if only for this week, we’re primarily judging the wine by its label.

So, let’s get the wine information out of the way first. This Pinot is made by a wine company called Sine é, based in Graton, California. The brain child and labor of love for Máire Murphy and Walt Averill, this little company has been in business for about 4 years. Sine é, meaning “that’s it” in Gaelic, was founded with the desire to make great tasting, inexpensive, and high quality wines. Typically those three don’t always go together, but Murphy and Averill, through a combination of using custom crush facilities, and buying grapes on reasonably priced contracts are able to produce small lots (2000 cases or less) of handmade wines without having to charge an arm and a leg for them.

The company, imbued with a wry sense of humor, produces four wines, each of which bears its own brand name (and not Sine é’s name). They make a Chardonnay under the name Solex, a Cabernet – Merlot blend under the name Ben Madigan, a Zinfandel named Megawatt, and this Pinot Noir under the Magnet brand. The grapes for this wine come from the Russian River Valley (80%) and the Sonoma Coast (20%) in a deliberate blend that the winemakers feel creates balance and depth. The wine was fermented in small open-top fermenters before being aged in French oak barrels for 9 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. 1900 cases were produced.

So let’s talk about the label, then, shall we? I will now remove my wine critic’s hat, and put on the hat of my day job in the world of design consulting.

In a word, the label, and the overall packaging is brilliant.

For starters, the bright red and mottled gray magnet label breaks out of practically every major convention for labeling wine that has resulted in so much boring consistency on shelves. Where to begin. There is no text on the label whatsoever. No name of the wine, no name of the winery. The label is not square, nor is it oval, rectangular, rhomboid, or any of the other common shapes that are typically applied to bottles.

Second, the label operates with a Foucault or perhaps Magritte-like duality of both object and referent. It is a magnet, and at the same time it means Magnet. Perhaps just the opposite of the random photographs that appear on Jones Soda Company bottles, this image of an old-school u-shaped magnet is perfectly symbolic, creating both an aesthetic impression, as well as serving as a label in the most literal sense of the word.

trad_label.jpgThe aesthetic impression that the bottle makes is quite dramatic. The typical wrap around wine label on a bottle of red wine visually chops up the bottle into three pieces, especially as seen from a distance. The dark top of the bottle has a distinct form, tapering up to the neck. This dark form usually rests on a lighter colored, or colorful band made up by the label, and then below that band, a small slice of dark glass finishes the form.

Because the magnet label image is so small, and irregularly shaped, it sits fully inside the outline made by the bottle, the result? A silhouette of a dark black bottle, and from the heart of the dark glass, a glowing red shape leaps out at the eye. This combination of full dark shape and simple bright red and gray visual element mean that this wine literally looks like no other bottle on the shelf. The eye cannot simply scan past this stark, strong image.

Up close, bottle in hand, the label takes on another, equally arresting character. Because of its irregular shape, the label does not sit perfectly square on the bottle, but is slightly skewed, or at least has the impression of being so. The bottom of the label is angled, and does not parallel the bottom of the bottle, lending the impression that it has been applied by hand. The quality of the printing (it’s hard to tell whether the label image is a slightly grainy photograph of an actual magnet or a slightly grainy photograph of a painting of a magnet) also encourages the notion of this being more of an art project than a highly produced piece of corporate design.

The dichotomy of the boldness of the wines appearance from a distance and the handcrafted feeling of the label (reinforced by the funky fonts of the back label) makes for a pleasant and ultimately attractive package that fits perfectly within the brand promise of the parent winery. One look at the bottle and you get it. Magnet. That’s it.

Tasting Notes:
Medium ruby in color, this wine has a heady nose of dried cranberries, orange peel, and redcurrant aromas. In the mouth it is soft with primarily redcurrant and sour plum flavors with a slight herbal quality to it that lasts through the finish which has the tiniest bit of soft alcoholic heat to it.

Food Pairing:
Because of its red fruit and herbal characteristics, this is a great wine to have with any sort of spiced poultry. My mother-in-law makes some pretty great spiced chicken wings that would be an excellent match.

Overall Score: 8.5

How much?: $16

This wine is available for purchase online.