I admire a good wine label, and for me, the more fun it is, the better. Nothing wrong with a classic graphic label, but anything that takes the starch out of wine appreciation and gets me in a good mood is just fine. I admit it. I get a kick out of funny labels.
Not so much some of my fellow tasters. As a I mention in my video, every time the bags come off after a blind tasting, someone will have a critique that goes beyond what’s inside the bottle to comment on the impression the outside makes.
For most of us, I venture to say, what the label says in word and image doesn’t matter. But for commercial success, it does. We righteous wine drinkers may only buy wines we know by experience, reputation, or because one of our favorite critics says it’s good. But most people shopping in a store get a visceral reaction to a wine first from the packaging.
That’s why we see so many big, heavy, energy-wasting, oversized bottles. The winery obviously doesn’t care if it won’t fit in my wine rack. But the label communicates “I’m important,” as do many serious-looking labels.
When the look of the label doesn’t fit the reputation of the wine, do you experience some sort of cognitive dissonance?
Not to pick on Washington, but I encountered an instructive run of offbeat labels on the wines I tasted from there this week. Now that I am doing my tastings in the Napa office, there’s a whole new cast of passers-by to comment.
There were a lot of snickers, for example, over the comic book art label for Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog. I love the frog label. It depicts a loopy green amphibian hopping off a garishly colored background. Audience reaction made we wonder if that really was appropriate for a $75 bottle. Another Cayuse wine, the Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend Flying Pig ($70), depicts a delirious pink pig with wings. Fortunately for Cayuse, the winery sells both wines entirely on its mailing list, so the labels need not lure customers in the store.
Using similarly wild labels hasn’t seemed to hold back Mollydooker, an Australian winery that has built a rabid following in the U.S. despite the circus-like label for its Shiraz called Carnival of Love (a Wine Spectator Top 10 wine two years running).
Although labels that tilt to the risqué are more common to Australia (think of the va-va-voom figures on Some Young Punks’ Passion Has Red Lips, Naked on Roller Skates and Quickie), at least one Washington winery has a wine that fits the category. It's called Lick My Lips. The label features a big pair of puckered-up shiny rosy lips. Would you pay $27 for it?
One label that made us all smile was a fruit-forward, easy-drinking red priced at $10. The label depicts a cherry, its stem sizzling like a fuse. It’s called “Fruit Bomb.”
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon would never do something called “fruit bomb” (he’s a terroir guy, not a fruit guy) but I’m sure the mind that started the trend for witty labels and created the craziness of Big House Red, Cardinal Zin, Le Cigare Volant and Old Telegram appreciates the word play.
But what if the wine does have to attract shoppers but the price doesn’t match? On the Lone Canary wines, which are pretty good, the rudimentary sketch of a little bird says, “I am a $10 bargain wine” to me, but the price is in the mid $20s. Does it bother anyone that the label doesn’t jibe with the price?