5 Graphic Designers Critique a Wine Label: Castaño Monastrell

Posted on: April 8th, 2014 by

castano monastrell

I have looked at so many wine labels in my decade-plus career in wine as someone selling it, tasting it, buying it, and writing about it. The good, the bad, and the ugly have all come across my path. One wine and label I’ve been fond of belongs to the Castaño Monastrell. This bargain Spanish red is made from Mourvedre, which is called “Monastrell” in Spain. It’s a crowd-pleaser in every positive sense of the word. Bold without being overblown, and with an added dash of intrigue on the finish, the Castaño Monastrell keeps things (in your glass) interesting.

john and elanaBut so what if I like the label? What do the pros think? I contacted five of my pals who are professional graphic designers with a passion for food (and wine) to chime in. Four have their own blogs I read with regularity and great pleasure. And Darlin, though sans blog, adds enough food and restaurant knowledge that could provide a half dozen sites with Grade A material forever.

Naturally, I started with Elana Iaciofano of John and Elana Talk About Food, because she designed my blog! And I knew she would do something cool, like take the photo I sent her and embellish it with her critique. Read on to discover four more takes on one wine label:

Denise Sakaki: Wasabi Prime

I have totally bought wines based on labels, sometimes to disappointing tasting results, and inversely, have passed up really great wines because the label didn’t jump out and grab my aesthetic, which speaks to the power of effective packaging. I often give wine as host gifts, and I like the label to be its own gift wrapping. Pretty illustration, interesting use of font and texture in the design, or a photo of a cute dog on the label? SOLD — that wine’s going in my cart.

wasabi prime

While I admit to being easily-wooed by a beautifully designed label, I do think it’s wise to put extra thought in label design. I really like the Castaño Monastrell label because it uses a mosaic stacked-type layout to handle a lot of information in a visually appealing way. The main information like the winemaker and vintage is easy to see, and the descriptive information adds a nice decorative texture, while still being useful if you want to read it. I appreciate the little notches cut into the top and bottom of the label; it’s a nice, subtle nod to the Familia Castaño family logo, their little curved shape below the “C.” It’s a very modern design, which contrasts nicely against words like “tradition” and “old vines” that are on the label; it makes you feel like it’s a family of winemakers that value the old ways, but recognize that wine appeals to all ages and all settings, from formal to casual. A wine bottle is so often a part of a tablescape — its aesthetic appearance should compliment the experience.

Kristin Guy: Dine X Design

This bottle of Monastrell is extending his hand with a friendly, unassertive handshake. The paper sleeve wants to introduce itself with formalities and impressive levels of quality, which is true on the inside…but we all know (and feel comfortable with the fact) that he’s really just a cool dude high-fiving, wearing a chambray bespoke apron at the cool new restaurant downtown and not the type to be wearing an overly pressed dinner jacket at the stuffy white table cloth establishment across the street. The typography choice tips a well-placed cap filled with nostalgia for both wild west wanted posters and  90s indie rock album covers in a slightly offbeat (read: offset) manner. This is by no means an effort to intentionally be ironic, he’s just effortlessly enjoyable to be around.

dine x design

In a nutshell: His hair is perfectly imperfect, he tells bad jokes at the exact right time and we want to be best of friends with him over dinner tonight.

Regula Ysewijn: Miss Foodwise

At first glance the label looks fresh and new. Using the style of old letterpress designs it has a vintage feel that has been transported to modern day. But then one needs to look closer to read what is on the label. There is a lot of information on the label which makes it very hard to find the things that matter most. Looking at the label I find it hard to determine if the name if the wine is Castaño or Monastrell. You could argue that Castaño is written is the boldest font but then again Monastrell is highlighted in the red box in the centre of the label.

After being very pleased by looking at the label and figuring out what information is important and what information is rather less relevant it strikes me that the typography isn’t solid. The different combination of words are floating in their boxes with no structure in distance from the dotted lines or kerning and leading of the text. There is too much leading between ‘South East’ and ‘Region’ for example, which makes it very hard to determine just by looking at the words rather than trying to read them, if they are connected to each other. It could have looked much better if there had been more space between ‘Yecla D.O.’ and ‘South East’.


miss foodwise

After looking even closer at the label, one will notice that some things are translated into English and others aren’t. I wonder why Vinas de Tradicion Familiar isn’t translated. And I can’t help but think they just ran out of space.

Spotting the logo of the C on the bottom side of the label it sheds light on the name of the wine. It appears that Castaño isn’t the name of the wine after all, it is the name of the estate and Monastrell the type. This leaves me only wondering why the large C is on the top left side other than to highlight the name of the estate. I would have made that letter smaller so the bottom part of the label under the Monastrell box would have more space to breath. It all looks very forced down there.

Over all this is a lovely looking label, I would pick up the bottle for the label but as often is the case, a fancy label can also be there to mask a wine of a lesser value. If the typography of the label would have been solid, I would have more faith in the quality of the wine.

I have three words for this label: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! It’s modern and sassy and absolutely gorgeous.

It’s always interesting to see an unconventional wine label, and this one is fabulous because it’s both unusual and a totally successful design.

darlin grayThe name of the game in great design is to create a visual hierarchy to lead the eye of the beholder from the most important information through to the least important. This label succeeds on that level by using a very strict grid system to organize the info and pops of red to pull us in and lead us around.

The complex layout is balanced by the simple color scheme and the beautiful, creamy stock. Add in the subtle die-cut top and bottom that are a curved v-shape and we have a real winner!

I’d buy that bottle in a heart beat. I hope the wine is as amazing as the label!

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8 Responses

  1. Great to be introduced to some wonderful blogs via this. Such an interesting post – love the concept and the individual reactions. I would pick this up for the label but agree with Miss Foodwise (hello Regula) that there is something that might make me doubt the quality, if only for a second. Ultimately it would come home with me – but I would open it for myself first before daring to share with others…just in case. Hope you’ll do more of these Jameson.

  2. denise says:

    Thanks for the chance to admire lovely wine label designs! It really is an art to balance the marketing of a product with the consumer’s expectation of how a product should look. It would be interesting to hear the consumer’s side of if they’re more or less attracted to wines with an old world/vintage look or wines that have a modern feel.

    • Jameson Fink says:


      Thank you for taking part and your comment. I’m guessing consumers would welcome something more modern as the “Chateau Fancypants” wine with the chateau image is intimidating, and it’s hard to differentiate one from another when they are clustered together on the shelf.



  3. Jen says:

    Hi – I saw your blog on the Seattle blogger Unite Facebook page. I like this post, it was interesting to see what designers have to say about this. I am not a designer but I do like good design and this label is just not appealing to me personally. There is way too much going on and I agree it is hard to tell what is the exact name of the wine. I also, feel like this style of design with the different sizes and sections of type is super trendy and a little overdone right now. It feels cluttered and without focus. Hope to see more posts like this shared in the SBU facebook page! 🙂

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