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It’s time we put an end to being embarrassed or apologising for choosing wines based on their labels. It’s a well-known fact that wine labels are a major factor, not only in influencing our purchasing decisions, but more remarkably on our actual enjoyment of wines. This is perhaps true of most experiences - if our expectations are high (as with expensive, rare or beautiful products), our senses become heightened, we give more anticipation and respect and a very good label can help set this tone. A label with tasting notes can guide budding wine enthusiasts and encourage us to concentrate harder on the taste, potentially increasing our sensitivity and enjoyment. So yes, labels can be important and can add a great deal of value to both the wine and ones wine drinking experience.
Approximately 70% of wine purchases are made in store, with the importance of wine labels typically ranking 4th as the most critical influence on our decision, after price, variety & region. And why should this be surprising? When faced with thousands of choices, which unless a professional sommeliers with years of experience, we have only the slightest hope of navigating – what other basis do we have to rely upon other then our perceptions and choosing a bottle that speaks to us? When making a purchase, we look to mitigate risks to ensure we make a good decision. With wine, firstly, we know how much we’re willing to spend, which mitigates risks as we pay a price we’re comfortable with. Secondly, we tend to know the grape varieties we like, so even if the wine is a poorly made wine of that variety we’re still more likely to like it then a well made variety you like less. Thirdly, if we know a region produces good wines, this also mitigates some of the risk as the environment will be favorable for good winemaking. These three aspects are often within most wine drinkers grasp and knowledge. Beyond that it can become a maze so looking to a label for some guidance becomes important. We’re looking for clues – does the brand look trustworthy? Does the Wine (label) look premium or exude quality? Do the tasting notes sound enticing? Does the label create a connection with you – does the label celebrate similar values or interests that you have? In Australia all ages generally consider ‘Text Impact’ labels to be the least attractive, followed by ‘humour’ and ‘classic’ labels, while ‘Photo Impact’ ‘Vineyard Stately’ and ‘Prestigious’ consistently rate at the top of most attractive labels. While conscious considerations, other aspects might be more subconscious, such as the psychology of colours, which can set a certain expectation for flavours etc. Some will disregard labels as superficial or trivial but in winemaking, a craft that involves thousands of decisions, wine labels will be the most visual and obvious indication of good decision making. Thousands of decisions go into making a great wine and someone who knows themself, knows what they stand for and knows why they’re unique should also know when a brand and label represents themselves well. Sure, not every great winemaker will have an eye for design, but they should at least know themselves and their target audience and therefore be able to help develop a suitable brief. Whether one likes it or not, labels do become an indication of good judgment.
Sure in it’s most basic form, wine is an alcoholic beverage with its unique tastes to be savoured and enjoyed, but wine can be far more then that. Wine is history, status, dreams, a story, a region, craftsmanship, farming, to be enjoyed with family and friends and so much more. Wine is an experience. We’re all looking for something different, some, particularly many in the over 65 bracket will tend to look for reliability and they opt to mitigate risks by sticking with their favourite brand and wine. For this audience, labels will likely be less critical, they will generally be less interested in trying new varieties, taking risks and discovering new brands, valuing consistency and value for money instead. At the opposite spectrum, the ‘Urban Explorer’ or ‘Elite Explorer,’ will place far more importance on new experiences, they enjoy discovering new brands, meeting young winemakers, trying rare and exotic brands and learning more about wine and winemaking in general. To this young and more adventurous audience, wine labels will be more important, they might want something unique, unusual, cool or cutting edge – values they might associate with themselves and something to show and tell.
I often wonder why people criticize others for choosing a wine based on a wine label when we find it perfectly acceptable to choose a partner based on looks. Sure we might be biologically programmed to associate attractiveness with good genes, but this is no indication that they’ll be a nice person, or compatible and the same is true with wine. An attractive wine label designs job is to get that first date, whether the wine is good or compatible to someone’s palate is the winemakers job, but every great partnership must first starts with convincing someone to take a chance. So yes, wine labels are very important.
 Wine Intelligence, Vintrac Australia, April 2014, Australian Regular Wine Drinkers