Why You Should Judge a Wine Strictly by the Label

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date: 2008/03/13 | release status: NR | date created: 2008:03:15

Forget about grapes, varietals, regions, “good years,” and such. Forget about the input of so-called “wine experts” as well. You know you’re going to pick a wine based mostly on the label. And is that such a bad thing?

Despite the ditty about the wrongness of judging a book by its cover, book cover designs generally do give some indication of what’s inside. We all judge people by their appearances, and the way one dresses, accessorizes, grooms, maintains a physique (or not) does say something about the individual. What’s on the surface isn’t everything, of course, but you can’t say it means absolutely nothing.

When it comes to the snobby (often intentionally so) and confusing (very often intentionally so) landscape of wines, the average consumer at the wine shop is like a kid in a candy store—in the sense that he probably has no idea what most of the stuff tastes like, though it all looks pretty good. And just like the kid in the candy store who is grossed out when he bites into some Whoppers while expecting caramel to be inside, wine enthusiasts are prone to being surprised when they uncork a new bottle. The surprise is not always a pleasant one. [time-link title=”(Read about how to buy a $75 bottle of wine for $25. Hint: Just remove the label.)” url=http://moneyland.time.com/2011/03/28/how-to-buy-a-75-bottle-of-wine-for-25-just-remove-the-label/]

Wouldn’t it be great if a quick glance at the wine label told you everything you needed to know about what it tastes like?

Since we all judge wines at least partly by their labels, a writer for New York mag’s Grub Street blog went to the painstaking trouble of scientifically analyzing how seven different kinds of wine labels correlate to what’s inside the bottle. OK, well, actually, that’s not what he did at all. Instead, Matthew Lakiewicz writes:

I also tasted a bunch of wines according to their labels and have made wildly ill-advised extrapolations about what the label means for your drinking experience.

The seven main types of wine labels include Animals Doing Things, Graphic Design Student, Clever, and French, with multiple subcategories—under Clever, for instance, there’s Word Play, Ironic, Fun, and Gimmicky. Among the labels it’s best to avoid is the Nostalgic Small-Town Vacation category, which may feature flip-flops or a beach on the bottle:

I have had enough hangovers to know with full certainty that these are cheap wines that taste like hangovers.

I’m remembering a vacation from several summers ago right now, and some awful cranberry wine from Cape Cod.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also advised to stay clear of the Clever-Gimmicky wine—like one attracting sports fans by featuring pro athletes—which are described thusly:

Young, young wine that’s bought in bulk by somebody like Charles Shaw and then sold for cheap. These are often one-liners. And while that one line might be Steven Wright quality, most are Rodney Dangerfield level.

If you were thinking that a wine featuring your favorite pitcher would class up your sport-watching experience, think again. And grab another Bud Light.

Jokes aside, Lakiewicz makes the case that there is some valid justification for judging wines by their labels:

I make the assumption that the crew who makes the wine also chooses the label, at least at some level, right? So, when a label appeals to me, I think: “Well, I like their font choices. I probably like their wine choices, too.”