Wine Myths…Busted: Never Choose Wine Based on the Label.

How-to-Select-a-Fine-Wine-Based-On-The-LabelThis “wine myth” comes up every now and then, and is generally written in lifestyle magazines by writers who have absolutely no clue about the topic they are covering, instead relying on regurgitating the rhetoric they’ve no-doubt read in some other lifestyle magazine.

Of course, the beautiful packaging and design of a wine label doesn’t really tell you anything about the juice in the bottle….or does it?

People are becoming increasingly visual in their habits, this perfectly demonstrated by the success of image-based “social pinboard” Pinterest and the influence it appears to be having on e-commerce.
To me, a great wine label says that the winery shows real attention-to-detail with the product they’re producing and is forward-thinking, innovative and image conscious towards what the consumer thinks of their brand. If that’s the attention they’re putting into their wine labels, hopefully the same attention will be paid to the juice in the bottle.

Does this theory always pan out? Of course not, but neither does buying wine from a particular region, sub-appellation, producer or the same importer (unless you’ve purchased it before). To this end, I have no doubt that a great number of wineries (Mollydooker, Orin Swift, Charles Smith etc.) owe a large amount of their continued success to their innovative packaging.


As you can probably tell, I place a large amount of value on a wine’s packaging, and the custom “hand-printed” bottle in the image the the left (Meeker Merlot) is a perfect example of why I hold it in such high regard.

Once-upon-a-time, when I was running a wine bar, I actually ran a Server promotion based on who could sell the most volume of this particular wine (bearing in mind it was going for $70+ a bottle in the restaurant and was still during the time when Merlot consumption was at an all-time low). The wine is phenomenal, to this day my favorite Californian Merlot; but I have no doubt in my mind that if the wine had been in a fairly bland package, we wouldn’t have sold a quarter of what we did. As it was, we apparently sold more than any other account in the South-Eastern United States (during the promo period), potentially even the U.S.

In this case, the label no-doubt assisted in selling the wine, added to the “euphoric buying experience” by having this bottle sat on the guest’s table (and other guests inevitably glancing over)and even potentially their mindset on the taste of the wine itself, even before it’s graced their lips.

Click here for the rest of my Wine Myths Busted series.


  • May 31, 2012

    Josh McFadden

    Good Article. I find it interesting that many of the old guard within the industry hold so much resentment towards more impactful/innovative packaging. Not only does this new packing movement resonate with different (and newer, and younger) consumers, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, it effects the way these consumers experience the smell and taste of the wine. A subjective experience: it’s about what they want, not “how it is suppose to be”

    Newsflash for wineries:No one is willing to settle for boring wine (or anything) anymore. Average is OUT and differentiation is the only strategy that remains. A loud/fun/fancy/new wine label may very well be superficial, but it’ll be this superficial skin they will have to defend to friends and family when your wine is on the dinner table. Give them something that makes them smile, or, be proud of, or, find depth in. Or, perhaps… something real?!

    If you show consumers that you can break the traditional rules on the outside of a bottle, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the inside.

    -josh, proof wine collective

  • May 31, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    Glad we’re on the same page! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • May 31, 2012


    Well we would hope not but then again I’ve seen many many people (especiallly from China) pick up a bottle and the first thing they look at is how deep the punt is on the bottom.  The deeper it is the better the wine must be yea  ?

  • June 1, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    Is that right? I’d never heard that before. Do you have a source for the info? I would do a story on that…

  • June 1, 2012

    Sunny Brown

    I think you and the comments below (Jzy aside) are crazy.  Assuming anything about the bottle based on the packaging is akin to making your decision on the quality of a car based on the paint job, or the quality of the human based on their attractiveness, etc.  Judging a book by its cover is clearly the tired analogy here.  Tired, but accurate. While many quality wineries put time, emphasis and thought into label design, there are ten times as many that sacrifice time, emphasis and thought in the winemaking process and make up for it with a snazzy label.  If I had a dime for every “label” that was created by a multi-million $ marketing firm last week and shipped off to Wine Conglomerate X to be included on their next launch of Junk Bulk Juice Y, well, let’s just say I could start my own multi-million $ marketing firm.

    If you want to be part of the 20% of wine drinkers that buy solely on label, fine, but should you try to convince your audience that it makes for a better experience?  Are we really that shallow and our palates that poor that we are so swayed by the label? 

  • June 1, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    My post could have been twice the length to further explain my points. At least this way it lead to an interesting discussion. To clarify:

    – Yes, I am crazy. I have a tendency to question everything I read and am told how I should think about wine. Certainly not the norm in the wine industry…

    – The point of the article was to dispel the myth that you can’t tell anything about a wine by its label. I disagree altogether. I think you can tell a lot about a wine by it label design, once you REALLY start understanding how marketers work. 

    – You make the point that people should trust their own palate, and I 100% agree, but how is that point even relevant if you’re buying wine from a retailer when you don’t have the opportunity to taste the wine? 

    – Consumers will always be swayed by a label. It’s just good marketing sense to have a product that stands out on the shelf. Can you honestly tell me that if you were starting a wine brand that you would completely ignore the label design? Opting for something that was just “the norm,” rather than something that totally stood-out on the shelf? I know which I’d choose.

    – As I already stated, wine label design doesn’t REALLY tell you whether the wine is quality or whether you’re going to enjoy it……..and neither does the region, appellation, producer or importer info. The only way to tell is to taste.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! I love to get all sides on a story.

  • June 1, 2012

    Sunny Brown

    We could probably go round and round on this for hours, but Producer CAN indicate quality, region CAN indicate style, appellations CAN offer consistency of quality and style that is applicable to individual palates and an importer CAN do a lot of the weeding out of the bad stuff for us.  I am not suggesting there is no credence placed on label, merely that a quality somm or wine seller can usually provide way more in terms of direction than the label.

    As someone who designs labels and works in marketing as well as selling wines, I think I do understand how labels work.  Which validates my point even further that there is way too much emphasis placed on the label these days and not nearly enough on quality production methods, farming techniques and desire to make a good wine.  For every one quality wine that happens to put as much emphasis on the label, there are 100 where no effort is placed on the winemaking and every effort is placed on the label to sell.  It is smoke and mirrors by the big companies.  They throw out hundreds of labels, every one more bright and eye-catching than the next, in the hopes that just a few of them stick and turn into marketable wines.  But do they care about what’s in the bottle?  Really?

    You mentioned Orin Swift, Meeker, Charles Smith specifically.  There is a reason why people keep going back to the Prisoner, Papillon, Velvet Devil, Queen City, the Boy and the Meeker Merlot- quality in the bottle.  Is it a surprise how many Prisoner knock offs there are now?  How many are as successful?  None.  Why? They have heavy glass like the Pris.  They have a catchy name, they have a fun story, they have a fancy label.  But are they as good? No.  Label means nothing.  Ask for a recommendation and trust your own judgement lest we fall back to the time not long ago when a consumer was more likely to select a wine with a critter on the front than not.   

  • June 1, 2012

    Kris Chislett

    Cheers! And I’ll leave it at that! :)

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