Reader Poll: What’s in a Wine Label?

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I’d like to pose a question to my readers: How do YOU read a wine
label? What is the relevant information you look for when deciding
whether to buy a particular bottle? And what is the fluff you look
beyond? I’m considering a column on this topic, and while I know what I
respond to on a wine label, I’d like to hear your perspectives. So
please let me know in the comments.

Obviously, the following are relevant, if not crucial:

  • The producer (Winery, chateau, etc., although this sometimes blurs into “brand” … )
  • Grape variety
  • Place of origin (Country, state, appellation, district, vineyard name, etc)
  • Vintage year – perhaps less relevant for $5 “California” wines, but more so for high-end bottlings.

But what about some other information:

  • Pretty picture/artwork (critters)
  • Importer’s name
  • Alcohol content
  • Back label blurbs
  • Government warning(s)
  • Ingredient labeling (if there – if not, should it be? By this I mean
    disclosure of additives, fining agents, oak chips, flavoring or
    barrels, etc.)

What other things do you look for when sizing up a bottle on the store shelf?

  • Screwcap vs. cork? (No way to tell if it’s a natural cork until too late, of course.)
  • Bottle weight?

Cheers!
Dave

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6 Responses to Reader Poll: What’s in a Wine Label?

  1. Jeff Siegel says:

    Besides grape/region and producer, the alcohol level and importer if
    it’s a foreign wine. The rest of its fluff, sadly.

  2. The single most important thing for me is the region. Yes, initially I
    am attracted by cool, unique labels, but if the grape varietal is from a
    region not known for that particular varietal, it goes back on the
    shelf.

  3. Allen Clark says:

    For illustration by parallel, consider the album cover. Notwithstanding
    the demise of the much larger canvas of the vinyl LP, even for a CD
    album, the cover is a medium of communication that quickly transcends
    the base information (artist, title, etc.) and communicates much more in
    terms of style (or, if you prefer, mood, approach, legacy, etc.). I
    think this is true of most wine labels – they usually attempt and often
    succeed in presenting a sense of the style of wine, or at least the
    intended style either for the wine or the winery in general. This can
    come across whether the label is largely occupied by photographic or
    graphic art, or simply designed text and layout (the mainstay of the old
    world producers). Some labels could be argued to actually achieve art,
    and I don’t mean the likes of Mouton and Kenwood who reproduce
    traditional artworks on their labels. The striking labels of El Nido
    come to mind, but there are others in different veins, like
    Gundlach-Bundschu or the new line of Churchill’s still wines which
    recently caught my eye.

  4. We’re rather drawn to the label which tells us the price…

  5. Tom says:

    TTB requires practically all that information except for the varietals
    and the photo/artwork and specifies minimum and maximum type sizes for
    it, so wineries don’t have much of a choice when it comes to that stuff.
    Nutrition labeling is undoubtedly coming, the major benefit of that
    will no doubt be to show people how many calories are in a glass of wine
    — so they can decide what not to eat instead (heaven forbid they drink
    less wine).

  6. Depends on my mood, but lately picking wine has become a geography
    lesson for me. I’ll pick a country and fixate on that for a while,
    sampling the different regions, trying to get to know the producers,
    their styles, which varieties they grow. I get a sense that if its a
    “creative” label they are trying to attract a younger demographic, but
    it also makes me think they may be using more up-to-date methods in the
    cellar, too. Obscure labels get a nod before a well-known producer —
    if I’ve had it before, what’s the fun there? After about a year of
    fixating on Italy, I think its time to get to know Spain a little
    better.
    That said, once past the country and producer, first and foremost since
    this will be consumed with dinner (usually), is the varietal or blend,
    followed by alcohol content.

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