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How important are pretty labels?

While spending way to much at Ahlgrens this weekend, the topic came up about labels. One of the other customers asked why they had 2 different labels. Val replied that many restaurants complained that they could not sell because people reacted negatively to 1st label. They came up with the 2nd label which looks more, hmm....professional/industrial. They other customers all said they preferred the old label with signatures and scripting. Val said that in stores, people started buying up the old label stock, thinking that maybe the wine had changed hands. I said that for me, if I had come across both labels in a store, I would feel intimidated by the totally scripted label. My partner husband says the scripted label feels more genuine and like a hand crafted special product, but then he doesn't drink much wine and buys none.

Now I know most of the posters on the site are well versed in reading wine labels, but this is not just for wine semi-pros, but for casual buyers and drinkers. Do you get turned off by certain types of labels. Are you more inclined to buy wines with pictures or artwork? All things being equal, would you be inclined to purchase the first or second label?

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  1. Yes, labels do matter, sad to say.
    Personally I like the cool, older one but could see some of my customers being more comfortable with the newer style.

    I must admit to bringing in a few wines based on their label design since I have a number of folks that shop that way.

    1. As in, does the appearance of the label have any bearing whatsoever on what's in the bottle?


      I've had great wine with very plain-Jane labels, and undrinkable plonk with fancy foiled labels.

      7 Replies
      1. re: sunshine842

        Not quite what I meant to ask. If it is a given that the wine is the same and the only difference is the label, would you be more attracted to one or the other?

        1. re: budnball

          If I know the wine is the same, I don't care if the label is handwritten in crayon on a paper towel and scotch-taped to the bottle.

          1. re: sunshine842

            Or like a few I've really liked, no label at all.

            1. re: sunshine842

              I don't want to flog a dead horse, but it still seems to me you haven't addressed the issue -- or, rather, you're addressing an issue that has not been asked.

              >>> I've had great wine with very plain-Jane labels, and undrinkable plonk with fancy foiled labels. <<<

              We have ALL had wines with "plain-Jane" labels that were great, and garbage from bottles sporting "fancy foiled" labels. And, of course, the reverse is also true.

              >>> If I know the wine is the same, I don't care if the label is handwritten in crayon on a paper towel and scotch-taped to the bottle. <<<

              Yes, IF you know the wine is the same. But the posed hypothetical is that you DO NOT know. Ahlgren is a winery you have never heard of, seen, tasted, or experienced. Potential new customers have overwhelmingly preferred the "new" label, EXCEPT if they are actually at the winery itself. In that case, they actually prefer the old(er) one.


              1. re: zin1953

                No, the comment to which I was replying said "if you knew the wine was the same"

                If I know the wine is the same, it implies that I've actually drank that wine at some point in the past, and therefore know it (and since I'm buying it a second time, apparently I liked it) -- therefore a post-it note would suffice as a label.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  OK, let me revert to the ORIGINAL post . . .

          2. Very important. I remember a very similar story about a Scotch company too.

            1. To me, the first label is distinctive and suggests a small, artisanal vineyard - though, in strictness, labelling by hand implies only that only a small number of bottles were produced, and that has no necessary bearing on quality. The second would be inconspicuous on a shelf lined with other bottles.

              It is generally accepted that labels and price affect perceived quality. When I buy, I either know in advance the bottle that I want, or I have something in mind for variety/region/price and then guess between the bottles based on whatever other information is available (alcohol content, technical information, stylistic description, etc). I don't think that labelling would often affect the decision as to which bottle I buy - because I'm conscious that it's irrelevant - but a good label probably goes some way towards improving my expectations before I've opened it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mugen

                which can backfire, too -- you can have this great expectation from the label, only to be upset when you find it's nearly undrinkable...

              2. My wife is certainly influenced. She's not much of a red wine drinker, and she often turns down a drop of proper left bank claret, but a pretty flowered label from Georges Duboeuf turns her into a Beaujolais lover.

                1. I'd pick the old label every time, but that is because it is a Pinot Noir and not a Cab Franc. To folks who are really into wine, like most of us are, the label is meaningless for purposes of what we will buy. But to the average non-wine geek, the label probably has a large effect. Personally I think the old label looked more like a hand crafted wine and would be of more interest to me.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: dinwiddie

                    There is little rhyme nor reason behind the labels, as fas as I can tell -- though I'm sure Val could tell me. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chardonnay are all under the new label; Zinfandel, Sémillon, Syrah, and their newest addition, Pinot Noir, continue to use the old label.

                  2. What I look for is the information available. I want to clearly see the varietal, year, where from, and style of wine. For German whites, there is a huge difference between spatlese and trockenbeerenauslese of the same vineyard and year.

                    1. It's how my wife chooses wine

                      1. "Do you get turned off by certain types of labels."

                        If the wine's good, I'll tolerate about anything. Must admit I don't like some "cutesy" names some houses put out like "Cardinal Zin"... just give me the varietal, the appellation, the vineyard if there is one, the year...I think a simple, clear label reflects confidence by the winemaker.

                        "Are you more inclined to buy wines with pictures or artwork?"

                        Definitely not. In fact makes me suspicious, but if it's good I'm fine with it.

                        "All things being equal, would you be inclined to purchase the first or second label?"

                        I'd like to say it doesn't matter, but subconsciously I think I prefer the one on the right.

                        1. It's like picking a horse by colors or name, a complete crapshoot.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: baseballfan

                            Do you mean that you do NOT pick the horse, by the color of the silks?


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              I most certainly do and by name as well! Not a very good system as my track record leaves something to be desired. I am not averse to choosing a wine by the label alone and have better success with that than with the ponies.

                              1. re: baseballfan

                                My wife DOES buy by labels, and also by shelf-talkers (but seldom sees that they refer to the 2011 vintage, when it is the 2012 on the shelf), and hits about 50-50. Not THAT bad a set of odds, though I like things more in MY favor.

                                Think of Biale & Turley, mentioned elsewhere in this thread.


                              2. re: Bill Hunt

                                I dunno, my wife always bets on the grey . . . OTOH, my now 18 year old daughter -- when she was 14! -- picked 6 out of 7 winners at the track one day.

                              3. re: baseballfan

                                . . . and how is that different than with "non-pretty" labels?

                                (Presuming you are not familiar with the wine in the first place.)

                              4. Interesting.

                                My loving wife will buy wines, predicated on the labels. I, much less so. Heck, I love Diamond Creek, and those look like they were run off on a 120 dpi inkjet...

                                Now, when it comes down to labels, I have many preferences, but they depend on where I am buying the wines.

                                If in a well-lit wine store, then the beautiful foils, etc., are not an issue. However, if I am in a dimly-lit restaurant, then trying to accept a Turley, or a Biale, based on what I can see, is a big issue. I have mentioned that to both Larry Turley and Robert Biale. There, the foils (especially the single vineyard text) make it totally impossible to read. In a bright wine shop, they might win design awards. In a restaurant, well they ARE a big issue.

                                Personally, I want labels that, first, I can read, then that give me all of the information, that I need, in a form, that again, I can read. "Pretty," is never a consideration for me.

                                Maybe one exception would be the Southern Belle Shiraz, where there were three different labels, all by the artist James Jean. They are alluring, though the wine is no longer made.


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Mouton labels? Leeuwin Estate? Kenwood Artist?

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    But different labels on different vintages - not three different labels (in really a triptic) on the same vintage.


                                2. ....they are important on a Mouton Rothschild..... ;)

                                  1. Whether we want to admit it or not, I think it matters to everyone on a (at least) a subliminal level.

                                    Advertising works, and labels are just one form of advertising.