Let’s begin with a simple truth – wine is a commodity. It’s bottled, packaged, and displayed for the obvious purpose of getting our attention, no differently than perfume, cereal or any consumer product. How many times have you heard someone say they bought a bottle based on the label? The front labels, especially those designed for a specific demographic, are the initial draw for aisle-browsers. They are a universally employed marketing tool, a means of identification, familiarity, introduction.
What, then, is the function of the back label, aside from providing space for the Surgeon General’s warning? For many producers it’s a means to specify where the wine was made, if and by whom it is imported (more relevant than you’d think), and other unvarnished basic facts. There may also be useful clues regarding how it was made: extended maceration, aged on its lees, tank fermented, the type and age of the barrel and the length of time the wine spent in it. Or revealing buzzwords such as “grown, produced and bottled” as opposed to “bottled for”, “cellared by”, “vinted by” – all of which are indicators of steps which were or were not taken to bring that wine to your glass.
Back labels can also be padded with superfluous fluff that tells you nothing about the wine, a wasteland of prose and cons that does little or nothing to enhance your enjoyment or help you understand what’s going on in the bottle. What follows is a random sample of some of the more egregious examples of what not to look for on a label. None of the wines have been identified, to protect the guilty.
“Laertes, King of Ithaca, took refuge in vintage farming to put up with the pain for the loss of his son, Ulysses…”
Apparently, someone felt the need to school consumers who had never been exposed to classical literature. Having been subjected to 800 pages of epic Homeric verse as a high school freshman, there are some memories that don’t need to be revisited, especially on the back of a wine bottle.
“Ancient bush vines are planted in the purest Classical Greek tradition.”
The Greeks didn’t invent winemaking, it just seems that way. What they were really good at was trading and sharing their methods and ideas. That said, there are probably about five percent of those who drink wine who know or care what those “classical” traditions of viticulture were, or how purely modern producers are adhering to them.
“Our passages through time have been serendipitous, many times sweet and always soul-satisfying. We have drank from the waters and wines of the world…our wine,___________, speaks to our embrace of new people, places and things and our desire to share the joy of our ongoing journey to the horizon.”
Over dinner with friends, this overwrought gem was thought to be: the result of a bad LSD trip; what happens when someone receives “Poetry for Dummies” as a gift; written by someone who spent too many summer nights singing “Kumbaya” around the campfire.
“Why does _______ ___ ______ go so well with meat? Why do men barbecue and women make salad…it’s just one of those things. Guys keep it simple.”
The red-blooded, manly men who market this wine must have missed the memo that a large volume of wine sold in America is purchased by women. They better hope that most of them aren’t taking the time and wasting brain cells reading this label.
“…a modern expression of the Napa Valley”
Ahh, yes, a true millennial wine, nothing like the ancient traditions of Napa, going back to…oh, the 1970s.
“…a small winery in century-old buildings among heritage oak trees…”
Here’s a thought – hire an artist to recreate this idyllic setting in the style of Norman Rockwell, put it on a postcard, and sell it in your tasting room.
This was included among a litany of facts touting the wine’s singular wonderfulness, an example of selling the sizzle and not the steak. Hey, folks, even if what’s in the bottle was scraped from the dregs of the barrel, at least it’s being delivered to you…vibrantly.
“…a unique combination of sun and soil.”
Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to drink this wine? It’s a product of natural forces that no other wine can claim! We know soils aren’t the same, so maybe it’s a different sun than the one that shines on all the other vineyards of the world.
This is not to imply that any of the wines to which these labels were attached are inherently inferior, in fact a couple were well made and fine expressions of their varietal. We welcome submissions of any similar label follies you come across.