Judging A Wine By It's Label


Wine is a fun subject, at least I think so because I get to work with it every day – sniffing, tasting, spitting, reviewing, looking. It isn’t rocket science, but as retailers there is a method to our madness for determining what gets chosen to don our store’s shelves. Some of the questions we ask each other when we’re deciding if a vineyard’s wine makes the cut – is it good; will consumers like it; what is the price; and yes, what does the label look like. The first three questions are the most important to us but the last question can be pertinent too.

One of the biggest questions that always comes up is, “Does a label matter?” The answer is yes, and no, depending on the consumer. Wineries in general spend an enormous amount of time and money on the creation of labels because for some of them, the label is the most important part in getting the bottle off the shelf and into consumers’ hands. This is especially true in wine shops or liquor stores where there is no one around to assist. (Some wineries have been known to spend up to $100,000 to designers for the perfect label.)

Imagine this scenario - you don’t know much about wine and you’re trying to choose a bottle of Malbec under $20 from among many. You look aimlessly at the selection not knowing what to choose. Your head is spinning at all the choices; the labels are jumping out at you. You don’t know what to do, and sadly you’re not in a store where there is someone knowledgeable to help you. Should you choose the one from Punto Final with the sleek black label; Puerto Infinito with a conservative looking label; STLTO with a red high heel shoe on the label; or Layer Cake with a cake on the label? You honestly have no idea so you pick the one that looks the best to you at that moment and hope for the best. You have a 50-50 chance of getting something good.

I help people every day choose wine, and it is interesting how people react to labels. There are some who want my recommendations but simply won’t buy one of them, even if the wine is good, if the label is too gimmicky. Then there are others who want several recommendations for a particular wine, for example Cabernet Sauvignon, and then among my suggestions they will pick the label that is the most attractive. Then there is the collector who wants an ageworthy wine and one of prestige with a label that speaks this, and not cheeky.  I am fascinated by labels and try to understand the thought process behind what was created.


I have to say that wines with cheeky labels such as Mommy’s Time Out, Menage a Trois, Stlto, Fat Bastard, Cupcake, often sell on their own because of the novelty of the label. For instance, someone just had a baby, and Mommy’s Time Out might be the perfect gift because of the name. Or you are going to a girl’s night out party and want to bring the Stlto Malbec because it has a high heel red shoe on the label. But the question I always get from people about wines with cheeky labels is, “Is the wine good?” I am honest – sometimes the wine and label are at one with each other and sometimes, well, they’re absolutely not. For me personally I don’t really care about the label. I want to spend my hard-earned money on good quality in the bottle not on cheeky labels. Don’t’ get me wrong, have I ever bought a bottle with a fun label to give someone? Yes, I have, but I definitely make sure the wine is good too because that would be horrible to give someone a wine with a cute, fun label and the wine was actually crap. Luckily I have a job where I can taste everything and know what is or isn’t good. So, ensure when you are in a store that you ask, and hopefully the store’s team knows. I have to say in my experience in selling to others, more and more people today do not want to buy for the label. They are doing quite the opposite – wanting to buy a wine that is really good for its price, whether an $8 or $30 a bottle, and that looks good.

So just as you might with a book, don’t judge a wine by its label - because the boring, conservative label could be the star and the cheeky fun label could be the dud.