Letters from Europe

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The Art behind the Wine

Whilst creating wine is an art form in itself, we often forget about the beautiful drawings and images that adorn our favourite vino vessels. Throughout history, a lot of thought has been put into the artwork that is used to attract us to our favourite wines - after all, they do say we taste with our eyes first! – so we decided to take a look at our favourite two “stories behind sketches” that adorn and market some of Italy’s top wine products.



Contratto is a beautiful winery in based in Piedmont, in the small town of Canelli, the birthplace of Italian sparkling wine. Whilst it is mainly renowned for its breath-taking “underground wine cathedrals” (an underground network of wine cellars housing 1.5 million dusty Contratto’s sparkling wine produced by the metodo classico), Contratto is also special due to its iconic 1922 logo of a young, opulently dressed lady holding up an overflowing glass of sparkling wine against a strong, dark background. This beautifully designed emblem was created by none other than Leonetto Capiello, who is considered the father of modern Italian poster art.

Capiello was born in Livorno but spent a lot of time in the French capital, so it is unsurprising that his artwork bears a resemblance to the striking posters we all associate with roaring twenties Paris, created by similar artists such as Jules Chéret. As well as producing the renowned image that adorns all of Contratto’s wine bottles (and many of the posters seen around the winery), Capiello also designed their logo for their Vermouth - which displays another young, carefree female reclining in and cradled by a leaf, and holding up bottles of the product – and also created trademark images for other nearby wineries such as Gancia and Cinzano … I wonder if there was any rivalry about who had the best Capiello poster?



La Spinetta

Today, Contratto is owned by Giorgio Rivetti, who is the lead winemaker at La Spinetta, based across Tuscany and Piedmont. La Spinetta may not have had a poster created by Capiello – after all, they only formed in 1977! – but they do have an equally interesting story behind their renowned Rhino logo. It wasn’t drawn especially for the winery, and doesn’t even have a connection to the wine itself, but was chosen by Rivetti due to his long-time admiration for the drawing, and when you hear the tale behind it, you will definitely understand where this admiration came from! The image was drawn by Albrecht Dürer, an artist and theorist from the German Renaissance, and depicts the arrival of an Indian rhinoceros in Lisbon, Portugal. But here’s the catch, Dürer had never been to Lisbon!
So how did this artist, who had never seen a rhino in his life, record the exotic animal in such detail?

He did it all from brief sketches and letters that arrived in Germany describing the event, and considering this it is amazing the level of accuracy he achieved. Imagine trying to create a fine wine without ever having tasted it before… we wouldn’t know where to start! The rhino isn’t the only Dürer masterpiece that La Spinetta has adopted as a logo, as they have used his pencil drawing of a lion to grace the bottle of their first Barolo Campè. But this time, the animal selection is not at all random. What with Barolo’s nickname as “the King of Wines” and the lion being the King of the Jungle, the two are a marketing match made in heaven.  


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