The way a wine cellar looked never used to be of great importance. What mattered was whether it did the job. But the advent of the climate-controlled, glass-fronted wine wall – and its grander cousin, the walk-in wine room – has changed all that by putting the cellar at the heart of the home, reinventing it as a feature wall, entertaining space and even, in some cases, full-blown art installation. Prices at Halstock – a leader in high-end cellar designs – start at £50,000 for a basic wine wall, but they tell me they’ve had clients spend over a million on wine rooms complete with spotlit bottle displays, tasting areas, dining tables and state-of-the-art storage.
If you’re going to shell out for a room like this, then it makes sense to get some good-looking wine to put in it. The jewel in the crown, of course, would be a bottle of the new Château Mouton Rothschild 2014 (from about £310) with a label by David Hockney. But for rather less money – and almost as much cachet – you could enjoy the designs of South Africa’s Pieter Walser, the surfer-turned-winemaker behind Blank Bottle, a cultish range of short-run, terroir-driven wines (from £16.50) sourced from 64 vineyards around the Western Cape.
All the labels in the series – which mix illustrations and woodcuts with collages and unusual fonts – are unique, designed to reflect the eclectic nature of the wines within. Some are funny, some are beautiful and some are downright sinister – but every one of them tells a story.
On the label for the Familiemoord 2015 – a Grenache blend shot through with peppery blackcurrant – a replica of a cutting from the local paper commemorates the day a comical mix-up resulted in Walser’s near-arrest on suspicion of interring his own son (who grins happily on the front, clad in his favourite superhero costume).
Elsewhere, a line drawing of a child teeters off the edge of a blank label for the white blend Offspring 2015, while on the Kliptuin 2015 – a high-altitude Shiraz with intense, earthy-sweet notes of beetroot and vine leaves – a woodcut print of a winding mountain road gives some clue as to the location of this wine’s top‑secret vineyards on the Ceres Plateau.
Most intriguing of all, though, are the Orbitofrontal Cortex 2015 and Limbic 2015, a pair of white blends born of a chance meeting between Walser and a neuroscientist. Each was blended from five wines chosen from a selection of 21: Orbitofrontal Cortex is made with wines Walser “consciously” selected as the best, while Limbic is composed from the wines that lit up his subconscious when he was hooked up to an EEG machine monitoring his brain activity. The former is silky and full, the latter citric and fresh – as vivid and contrasting flavour profiles as the self‑portraits that grace each label.