While wine experts know exactly what they are looking for in a wine, checking out the grape variety, the terroir, the country and the year on a wine label, let’s face it, most of us aren’t wine experts and we are frankly fumbling in the dark trying to figure out which wine is a good buy. Like other aspects of life, we rely on visual clues to help us make choices about which wine to buy.
I did a ‘scientific’ survey of how people choose their wines (i.e. I talked to my mates). Most people agreed that the label has a huge influence on how they select a wine. I did notice that women tended to buy pretty floral labels or labels with attractive drawings. Men liked modernist or minimalist designs. My daughter Sienna, 21, however preferred a classical looking label, probably because as a broke student, she wants a wine to look ‘classy’.
I must admit, when I’ve had less money, I look for wine labels that make a wine look more expensive than it is, especially if I’m taking a bottle to a dinner party, choosing from the over-priced selection at the local corner shop. In that case I’d look for a classic wine label, with perhaps a bit of gold, some scrolled writing, an etching of a chateau.
If I’m taking a bottle of wine as a gift, I may choose something artier or more feminine.
WineTrust has bottles with some beautiful labels. But if not buying from WineTrust, you have to make sure that a pretty label isn’t a disguise for some pretty rank wine.
Serious wine lovers know how to decipher a wine label. European convention differs from new world label information. French wines never mention the grape on the front of the label: it’s all about the ’terroir’, the precious bit of land that the wine is grown upon. Whereas new world wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, America and Canada will emphasise the grape on the front of the label. However as the wine culture of new world territories progress, famous ‘terroirs’ such as Marlborough in New Zealand will broadcast that loudly on the front of the label, too.
Prettiest labels on Winetrust100:
2012 Pink Moscato, Innocent Bystander, Australia £7.50 has an attractive water colour of flowers and a bucolic wine farmer. A pretty label for a pretty wine, perfect for a summer’s day drink.
2014 Les Volcans, Cotes D’auvergne Gamay/Pinot Noir, France, £9.50 I like the volcano graphic describing the terrain of the central massif volcano area, and the slightly retro font in red, using bistro style lettering. Both modern and vintage.
Strictly speaking this is an orange wine and the label colours reflect that. It has attractive squiggly graphics and evocatively drawn blossom branches on a white and gold background.
This is a pared down minimalist design with a tree silhouette against an olive green background. It denotes a cool classy style, just like the wine inside.
2012 Malvasia Bianca, Birichino, USA £16.00 The label is somewhat oriental in style, with delicate blue flowers etched against a gold background, which belies its American origin and Italianate name. But the eastern vibe chimes with the notes of jasmine and quince. Nevertheless Nick Adams MW notes that this wine is bone dry and ‘birichino’ means naughty.
This label suggests a pared down elegance, with William Morris wallpaper style ferns in naturalist colours of green and yellow. A good match with what is inside: acidity and fruit with Spanish
2013 Drink Me, Branco, Niepoort, Portugal. £11.95 The slightly jokey name, the ‘amusing’ label of animal shadow puppets could lead one to believe that the wine inside is equally humorous, but in fact the label also denotes the modern wine making techniques of the Douro based Dutchman that made it. A fruity, mineral wine with a hint of oak, sturdy enough to stand up to the salted cod dishes for which Portugal is famous.
2014 Percheron Chenin Blanc Viognier, South Africa £7.50 A horse engraving picture suggests a traditional and expensive wine, but this easy drinking wine is remarkably reasonably priced. A ‘percheron’ is a sturdy heavy weight French horse bred for war and to pull stagecoaches.
2013 The Francophile ‘Liberator’ chenin blanc, South Africa £9.50 Another South African wine that leans on French imagery; the symbol of Frenchness itself, the proud coq in red white and blue. The name suggests the French revolutionary creed of liberty, equality and fraternity, all qualities that are brought to the fore when one is drinking a good wine.
I like this yellow etching of a man cutting vines, which beautifully suggest the tasting notes of nuts, toast, honey and herbs. Eben Sadie is the name of the wine maker.
The name Big Top, the vintage illustration of elephant and tamer evoke the 19th century world of the travelling circus. This is what the wine cognoscienti call a ‘fantasy brand’ meaning it’s a blend rather than the name of an actual terroir of wine. It’s playful marketing but WineTrust only stocks wines that taste good. You can trust them to deliver on flavour which is the case with this dry but jammy fruit wine.
2011 Sequillo Red, Eben Sadie, South Africa £20.00 This is the red version of the aforementioned Sequillo White. This time the red label is an engraving in silhouette of a man digging up vines. There is something of the tarot card about it, certainly you will feel fortunate when drinking this red berry wine from the South African spice route. A fantastic wine.
2013 Camins Del Priorat, Alvaro Palacios, Spain £18.00 Ooh I like this label: it’s like a Spanish flamenco outfit, embroidery, femininity and rosy colour. It reminds me of a sampler, but this one would be embroidered with the motto ‘Drink me and be happy’. This Catalan wine is savoury, full bodied, with blueberry jam notes. This full flavoured powerful wine belies its delicate label.
If you were doing a psychological evaluation of this wine based on its label design, you would say it is proud, confident, erect, so minimalist and sleek in design, a mere stroke of the artist’s brush, that it doesn’t need to shout loudly about its inherent quality. And you’d be right: red and black fruit, polished and lush with creamy mouthfeel. A treat.
Although this is the most expensive wine on this list I’ve compiled, I wouldn’t actually say the label suggests a high price. It evokes sunsets, hot nights and holidays with a 1950s vintage look, redolent of Hemingway and bullfights. But make no mistake, this is a traditional Italian Barolo, tannic, herbal, able to stand up to big flavours.
If you are a fan of wine labels do check out this pinterest board that I made and feel free to add to it! There are nice labels but also some fairly awful ones.
Do you choose your wine on the basis of an attractive label? Or are you a wine geek, never influenced by aesthetics, judging merely on the content of the bottle? Does the label design indicate the quality of the wine inside? Please let us know in the comments…
Kerstin Rodgers, aka @MsMarmiteLover