Judging a Wine by its Label

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People say “never judge a book by its cover”. Apparently this is a particularly nasty thing to do to books who are generally unable to defend themselves against such potentially devastating judgements.
I wonder though, how many people judge a wine by its label? Admittedly a label is not the most important thing about a wine. If a wine tastes absolutely sublime and happens to be rather good value then people tend to hear about it and it tends to get bought.

On the face of it though, wine buying is a particularly superficial market. This is even more so the case in the more “bulk” end of the market such as supermarkets, wine superstores and large wine merchants. I imagine a great many people find themselves perusing wine bottles in their price range by looking for something of inspiration and one thing that naturally catches peoples eye is the label.

I know this is the case as I used to do it myself. A lot. Before I became the wine geek I am today, particularly when buying a wine to drink with others or as a gift, I wanted something that looked the part. It’s only natural.

It’s therefore astounding how many wines have frankly insipid labels that do nothing to inspire or catch people’s eye. I’m not saying a wine label needs to have flashing lights, be in neon or have so many colours that it’s impossible to focus on it, but merely that when a label stands out on the shelf or gives some impression of the inspiration behind the wine, it is more likely to be a winner in sales game.

By way of a stark generalisation, the wines of the Old World tend to fall into the bland and generic label trap more than those from the New World. New World winemakers tend to be much more creative with their labelling. There’s often a real contrast in Waitrose for example as you move from the colours and creative type fonts of the New World to a sea of cream and subtleness of the Old World. I’m not saying brash is best. Please don’t think that. Some people love subtlety and elegance. That’s fine. But there are also a great many people looking for something to inspire them. There must be so many great wines at good price points sitting on shelves with little prospect of finding a new home due to a useless label on the front of the bottle. Mouton Rothschild deserve a mention with their artist led labels which are frequently eye catching. Sadly though you don’t tend to see them on shelves.....

I know this will be an unpopular sentiment amongst some, particularly lovers of Old World wines. Some people love that there’s a picture of a (often entirely fictional) chateau on the front of the bottle and see nothing wrong with a cream and burgundy colour scheme. For me though, I think modernisation is the way forward. It doesn’t even have to be particularly bold. The labels of Chateau Bauduc in Bordeaux for example are conservative but effortlessly stylish. It makes a difference in my opinion.

Obviously the more prestigious of Old World wineries are keen to keep things as they’ve always been. Part of their appeal is that of the history. I’d love though to see more wineries being a bit more stylish or ambitious with their labelling. Wine is intended to be fun after all....

I’ve set out some examples of labels that, in my opinion, get it right. One from the Old World being Chateau Bauduc and one, slightly more ambitious, from the New World by Some Young Punks.


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