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Wine Labels, the Importance of the Bottle

Wine Labels, the Importance of the Bottle

How do you choose wine? The grape, the harvest, or is it the label? FDL investigates the importance of wine bottle labels when deciding which bottle to buy

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In order to encourage consumption in a country without a strong culture of wine drinking, Sula Vineyards, the expanding wine producer, and the most famous of its kind in India, has decided to replace the natural or silicon corks in its bottles with screw-tops - just like those you might find on a bottle of olive oil. 

The brains behind this somewhat sacrilegious minor revolution is an Indian engineer who emigrated to Silicon Valley before returning to look after his family’s vines. It’s thanks to his idea that Indians are beginning to develop the habit of drinking wine at home – even when they don’t have a corkscrew handy. 

The fact that wine producers come up with a wide variety of ideas in order to make the nectar of the Gods more attractive to consumers (especially the non-experts out there) and influence their choices is no secret. Starting with the bottle itself: in particular the label on which the wine’s name, vintage, producer and quality indicator appear. Because – at least for consumers who aren’t trained sommeliers - it’s much easier for a drinker to remember the design printed on label than the taste of the wine itself.

This was shown, for example, in Scotland a few months ago, when, at the Edinburgh Science Festival, a taste test was carried out on visitors. Invited to sample (blind) various types of wine, these tasters could not tell the wines apart on the basis of taste alone. Empirical confirmation of a marketing theory: most of times, it’s the label that makes a wine desirable. A large proportion of consumers of alcoholic drinks are not even able to recognize a supermarket wine when it’s been re-bottled as a prized vintage Bordeaux.

Labels can be very different depending on regional and state laws. In Europe, for instance, labels must feature the name of the producer, the wine’s origin and vintage year, as well as the percentage of alcohol content. But when it comes to the design of the label, graphics may vary widely. Labels are a serious business, then, just as much as corkscrews. 

Many wine producers turn to large design studios to create them, and the graphic designer who is also a wine expert is a profession in its own right. One that is well respected, and well paid. There’s no lack of imagination here: from labels that only feature text to more personalized designs which include artwork, to psychedelic and vintage labeling. There’s even an American expert, Matthew Latkiewicz, who has decided to create a classification of the 7 great wine label families

The first family pokes fun at the baroque lettering seen on prized French wines (‘The French’), while the second refers to names of animals attached to a particular iconography (‘Animals doing things’). The third group features the perfectionist style of design institutes (‘Graphic Design Student’) and also includes poster advertisements (those that play with the size of the characters, and the slightly naïve poster versions of independent winemakers). The fourth is reserved for the touristic ‘destination’ label - because drinking wine is always something of a holiday (‘Nostalgic Vacation’). The fifth is the large family of somewhat sly labels (‘Clever’) which can include anything, from a photo of a sports star to an ironic joke or a pun; the sixth is the family of labels featuring works of art (Painting), while the seventh and last is the family in which there is no label, but where information on the wine is written or etched directly onto the bottle itself (‘A-Hole’), which is very common in Europe. 

If even a graphic design expert isn’t enough to make us remember a certain label, then technology can also come to our aid. Many winemakers, fromProsecco country in the Veneto, Italy, to California’s Napa Valley, have added bar codes using RFID technology to their labels. When we get to the wine store and find the bottle we want, all we have to do is point our smartphones to the label in order to enter the world of the winemaker who made it, to see videos of the vineyards the grapes were harvested from, listen to interviews with sommeliers, and receive advice on the best food to pair it with. 

Rather than being purely casual, the choice we make here is motivated by an experience of total sharing between the producer and the consumer.The next step is bringing RFID technology to restaurant menus: by scanning the codes in the wine list with a smartphone, we can read up on what we’re about to drink before making a choice, or even looking at the label. 

Some producers have even tried to enliven their customer’s olfactory experience of the wine before they actually open the bottle. That bouquet that cleverly blends the smells of the forest, flowers, and seasonal fruits.

Domaine Bourillon Dorléan, a French entrepreneur from the Loire valley has put a scratch-and-sniff sticker on the labels of 50,000 bottles of his wines, which release the smell of the flora bordering the vines whose grapes the wine was made from. And after many tries – the first times he was able to ‘capture’ the smells of mushrooms, damp soil, and other things not particularly pleasant to the human nose – he claims to have found the perfect scent. Demonstrating that a glass of wine is not just a question of taste, but that it involves all of the senses, providing us with an all-encompassing experience.

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