They are easy to spot. They stand about 4 feet away from the rack of bottles in the wine section of the grocery store or even in the wine shop. The position is indicative — close enough to see the labels, but too far away to actually read them. They might even pick up a bottle or two for closer inspection, but most often it’s just to check the price (if it’s not printed on the rack below the wine. Ever notice how big the print is below these bottles?).
These are the people who are choosing their wine by the label. It is an aesthetic approach to wine. Sort of. It’s actually an aesthetic approach to label art. Sort of. You see, there is much more to wine label art than beauty. Marketers figured out a long time ago how to evoke certain feelings by the images placed on a product, or by using certain colors, etc. Some of the labels are beautiful:
Critters are common on labels. Take a look at these:
I don’t know about you, but when I think about the aromas and flavors of wine I don’t immediately think of snails, frogs, elephants, cows, lizards, pigs, horses or much of anything from the wild kingdom. But there are lots of those creatures and a whole lot more adorning the bottles on the store shelves.
These make me scratch my head…
You may not know that there is a problem with ladybugs on grapes and with the wine-making process. These cute little critters actually have an excretion that, when left on grapes or when (how to say this without grossing you out)… when the bugs get “pressed” along with the grapes… it creates “Ladybug Taint” in the finished wine. No kidding — these little buggers can (and do) spoil whole vats of wine. Why would someone advertize with ladybugs???
There are erotic labels, funny labels, and even kid-friendly labels (interesting when you think about it…). Some have even gone so far as to fake a shape of the bottle and create a story around it — that the wine is aged underground and the weight of the dirt distorts the shape of the bottle over time, or that the bottle resembles the graceful growth of old grape vines. It even has sprayed on “dirt” (paint) to make it look like the bottle has been extracted from the wine maker’s cellaring cave after a century or so of delicate aging.
This is actually not a horrible wine. But amid the dozens of Chateauneuf du Pape’s on the shelf, wouldn’t you want THIS one???
And that’s the point. Marketers are working hard to have you pick THIS wine over THAT wine. And if an appealing label will make that happen, then their work has paid off.
Have I ever picked wine by the label? Of course! Sometimes the wine has been pretty good, too. Other times… well, the label was nice!
But here’s the point. The look of the label doesn’t tell you much about what’s on the inside. I know a lot of people who have shopped for dates or romance by “label shopping.” And as much as we might not want to admit it, in our culture looks matter. And boy doesn’t that contradict virtually every gospel value that we consider. We know not to judge books by their covers, but how about the person we want as our leader, or spokesperson, or partner, or self?
The best wines I’ve had in my life have pretty unremarkable labels. But pop the cork, look at the beauty of the hues that emerge, take in the aromas of mature wine, and taste the layers of character and depth in each sip. Those are the wines I hope to enjoy each time I open a bottle. And they are the wines I want to share with my friends.
I think those wines have something to teach us about the labels we use — whether to make decisions about wine… or people.