There's a lot of down time in wine retailing this time of year so my mind wanders a bit, sometimes to frivolous things like wine labels. Or is it frivolous? Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal says, "A wine label with wide appeal is a wine's single greatest sales tool. It can make a good wine more desirable and a bad wine more salable. It is the sole emissary for the product on the store shelf and a source of great wealth."
If I may, my corollary would be - if the label sucks it doesn't matter how good the wine is because it's not going to sell anyway. My proof lies in the tragic losses littering the annals of wine sales history.
So I looked around the store at the winners and losers in wine labels and made a couple of obvious conclusions. The popular wines currently in the store must, by definition, have good labels just as the historic wines like Beaulieu Vineyards must be credited likewise since they have endured for generations. No big surprises so far, right?
What about all of the rest; the plain labels, the busy labels, the serious labels, the funny labels, and so on? Teague cites a New York retailer who believes twenty dollar and up retail wines should have a plainer, more serious label while lower priced wines can be silly. I agree with that. Moreover, if you look at French wine labels in general you can conclude that they take their product seriously.
But then there are the Orin Swift/Prisoner wines that have some of the most outrageous labels anywhere and they retail for $40-$50. And they sell great (!) so I guess they must be aiming for an other-than-serious audience.
Here are some other winners:
Forty Ounce Rose is a French liter bottle rose in the store that sells purely because of the label. I think it's supposed to resemble a malt liquor product and customers crack up as they purchase it.
Virginia Dare is a label from Coppola that I believe sells solely because of the packaging. It features a pale yellow background with antique image of the historic personage from American colonial times. It also has an atypical bottle shape and embossed glass, all of which is very, very retro.
Carlin de Paolo is an Italian Piemontese label that features a slim older gentleman in baggy suit and turned-up hat striding across the label from right to left. He looks comical, like he's on a mission of some kind. This label also has that light yellow background that's easy on the eyes.
My Essential is a California label that features painters' swatches across the bottom of the label meant to approximate the colors of the wine's constituent grape types. A larger swatch is front and center on the label to represent the primary type. Customers regularly comment on how neat this label is.
So that's a snapshot of the popular wine labels in these parts. Take it for what it's worth. And for what it's worth, Teague says, "a great label can probably convince people to buy a bottle once but only a great wine will inspire them to do so over and over again."