What's In a Label

It's what's inside that counts


I’m one of those wine drinkers. You know the kind. Pays no attention to the type, age, winemaker, etc., of the wine in her glass. Has to call someone when she’s picking out a bottle of red to bring to a party, and never remembers the name of her favorite blend. But in my defense, I do love wine! Really, I do. I’m an enthusiastic wine enjoyer. The only thing I’m concerned with, frankly, is the taste. Heck, I barely care if it’s red or white half the time, as long as it’s smooth going down and has a lovely complexity to complement whatever I might be pairing my glass with.

As I’m sure you can imagine, my disinterest in the finer details of the bottles of Chardonnay lining my refrigerator shelves or the Cabernet Sauvignons on my kitchen counter inevitably causes some struggles when the time comes to restock my stash.

I know I’m not alone here, right?
Often I’m swayed by pretty labels and catchy winery names when I’m faced with the endless rows of fancy bottles at my local wine shop – I’m a marketing agency’s dream come true. I’d never stopped to wonder, however, if that laissez-faire attitude was actually sabotaging my passion for good wine.

During a recent trip to the grocery store with a friend, I decided to do a little experiment. I had her select five bottles based solely on the appearance of their labels – vivid graphics, quirky names, and bright colors were all game for making a final decision – and paying literally no attention to make, variety, or region any of the wines derived from. Once on the checkout line, our wine collection was eclectic to say the least, and belonged to no well-known winemakers.

The contenders: Petit, a 2010 Chenin Blanc; Pancake Cellars, a 2010 Big Day White; Project Happiness, a 2009 Chardonnay; Mediterranean Red, a Tempranillo and Merlot blend; and ? (the name is a question mark), a red table wine that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

In a taste test, the final verdict was pretty clear, and perhaps unsurprising to anyone who has developed their palate to appreciate a true, flavorful wine. Clearly that’s not me, because I had high expectations for each of the wines we brought home.

Two out of three of the whites were completely flat in terms of flavor, and left a bitter yet slightly tart taste in my mouth after just a few sips. “Project Happiness” was slightly silkier with a lighter feel, but still left me craving a more well-balanced glass.

The reds fared slightly better, as both were relatively smooth going down and would have been just fine paired with a simple steak or even a bowl of pasta blanketed in marinara sauce. Although both of their vibrant labels had me hopeful about their respective tastes – even more so than the whites – I was still rather let down at the plainness of each glass. The flavor notes of both reds were stagnant, leaving nothing more than an abstract “red” taste to linger in my mouth. No richness, not a hint of spice, nor any varying level of complexity as I would usually desire in a delicious glass of Cab or Merlot.

Clearly, I need to stop and review the qualities of the next glass I especially enjoy! You can’t judge a book by its cover, and it looks like that principle applies to wine as well. I know what I like when I’m drinking it, but perhaps it’s time to pay attention to why. Not to say that a bottle of wine hailing itself as “Pancake Cellars” won’t find its way into my shopping cart again from time to time…

What? I’m still learning.

How do you choose a new wine?

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