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Don't Read a Wine by its Label

Does a great-looking label correlate to a great-tasting wine?

May 16, 2011

The 2002 André Clouet Millésimé Brut Champagne displays a flashy but elegant blue and gold design revealing a wine equally rich in flavor

Readers know not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to buying wine, the label is often the determining factor in the purchasing decision. The wine label is the first thing a potential buyer will see, which puts pressure on wineries and their designers to get it right, sometimes spending as long as three years and up to $100,000 to get the perfect label. In some cases, the wine label is just a clever marketing tool, while ideally — and traditionally — it properly reflects a wine's personality, origin and the winemaker's vision.

Whether or not a great-looking label will correlate to a great-tasting wine, however, is a different story. An article in the Wall Street Journal reported the results of a tasting, which compared how the label looked with how the wine it advertised tasted. The bottles chosen touted all sorts of label styles, from elegant and conservative to cartoon sketches. Only "good" bottles were selected for the tasting, but the results, comparing art with taste, were mixed.

The 2009 Occhipinti SP68 received rave reviews for its bright, full flavor, but lost points for its overly simplistic label and alphanumeric name. The Aussie 2009 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz received mixed reviews for its beer-like label, although the latter appropriately reflected its punchy fruit flavor and 16 per cent alcohol content. The winner of the tasting, displaying a label in harmony with the taste and personality of the wine, was the 2002 André Clouet Millésimé Brut Champagne, with its flashy-but-elegant blue-and-gold design revealing a wine equally rich in flavor. However, choosing by label is certainly not the best way to go when deciding which bottle to purchase — a tasty wine might be hiding behind a simple, alphanumeric label.

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