Wine Labels


I love wine labels, and admit that I have purchased a bottle or two based entirely on the label design. Sometimes that worked out well, but there were other times… well, let’s just say their investment in marketing paid off – at least for the sale of that one bottle anyway! Fortunately this isn’t usually my primary criteria for purchasing wine, but it does add a little excitement to the purchase.

Many decades back, when the shelves of your local wine store were dominated by Old World wines, you had to know your geography in order to know exactly what you were drinking. The labels primarily stated who made the wine, where it was from, the vintage and whether it was red or white. That bottle of vin rouge from France could have contained any of a wide variety of grapes if you didn’t understand the terminology on the label and regions in which it was produced. Unless you know what grape varieties are grown in the Southern Rhone, that bottle of Côtes du Rhône would be a mystery wine. (See below for what is actually in this bottle.)

Fast forward to today when the shelves are equally balanced between Old and New World wines, the process of grabbing your favourite bottle of Pinot Grigio is far easier. With most New World wines of a single grape variety, the name is right on the label. Even some blends will have that on the front label, with the dominant variety being the first stated, as with the Campbells Shiraz/Durif (90% Shiraz / 10% Durif).

But with the proliferation of New World wines on the shelves, producers are having to become more and more creative in their labeling and branding to stand out from the crowd, especially those from new or lesser known wineries. Some even go as far as creating a complete ‘lifestyle’ around their brand, including special events. My current favourite in this category is ‘Ladies who Shoot their Lunch’, which even has its own branded website apart from the main Fowles Wine brand. The site not only includes information on the wines, but scheduled tasting events, food pairing & recipes, and an option to join their mailing list under the guise of The Hunt Club. Top marks should go to their marketing team for innovation.

On the other end of the spectrum, and yet still standing out for its simple and creative design is Charles Smith Family Wines / K Vintners. Your basic Pinot Grigio is highlit as just that – Vino Pinot Grigio. (Although in this case, the Pinot in the bottle is anything but basic – bursting with so much flavour you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d picked up a Gewürztraminer or Torrontes.) Charles Smith carries this theme throughout his range of wines, with similar black & white graphics and names like Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Boom Boom! Syrah, Eve Chardonnay and The Velvet Devil Merlot.

Although my current wine purchases revolve around far more than what’s on the label, the constant changes in names and labels designed to grab your attention makes for an interesting wander down the isles of your local wine store. And for those of you who are curious, that Côtes du Rhône will generally be a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. And at $15.95 CDN makes for a great every day French red.


Semantics in wine…

Exploring the world of wine is like learning a whole new language, one in which not only are some of the words completely unfamiliar, but even some of the familiar ones are now attached to properties that do not initially make a whole lot of sense. How can a drink that is made from fermented grape juice smell like a cigar box or coffee beans? When thinking of drinking a glass of red wine, it’s hard to imagine that the smell of the forest floor or leather is going to enhance the experience. But yes, these words and smells are often there, even if initially hard to discern, and if you work hard at it, maybe one day you too will be able to find them. Whether that will add to your enjoyment of the wine is a personal experience. It will certainly add to your vocabulary.

In my early exposure to the study of wine I discovered three words that I needed to modify my use of. Those three words are ‘I don’t like…’ followed by either a country, region or particular wine. “I don’t like Chardonnay” or “…Pinot Noir” were two of mine, and just a few days back I heard from a colleague “I don’t like Italian wines”, although to her credit she was quick to qualify that, stating it was more out of lack of knowledge or what is actually available locally from that country.

So what’s wrong with those three words? Primarily that it is a huge generalization, setting one up to be proven wrong very easily. Even just a few weeks into my wine studies, I discovered that a French Syrah could taste different just from one small region to the next! And given that there are literally thousands of wineries throughout the world, it would be virtually impossible to make a realistic statement beginning with ‘I don’t like…’ in the above context.

One of my goals in this blog is to encourage my readers to explore the world of wine. Don’t give up on a particular wine or country after one just one bottle. If you don’t like that bottle of Chardonnay, try one from another region or country. A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand tastes completely different from a Sauvignon Blanc from France. If you have found you don’t like ‘Italian’ wines, try one from a completely different part of the country. A wine from Southern Italy can taste completely different to a wine from the North, even when using the same grape variety.

So how did I personally modifying those three words ‘I don’t like’? Well, it now reads ‘I have yet to find a (insert wine / country) that I like’, which leaves it open for me to keep exploring until I eventually find one that I do like. And I encourage you to do the same.