Buying wine by the label: 5 Tricks to help you buy good wine with cool labels

Everybody does it. At some point in your life, you have bought a wine purely on the basis of what is on the label. For some reason we all feel guilty about it, we have a sense that we are supposed to spend more time on what is INSIDE the bottle than what is OUTSIDE the bottle. That is a fair critique, but the problem for most wine drinkers is...we have absolutely no idea what is inside that bottle, and how do you navigate the wine aisles when they all seem to be offering variations of the same thing? 

For the beginner, or new wine enthusiast, judging wine by the label is perfectly acceptable! We may critique the idea, claiming that you are essentially judging a book by its cover, but in reality this is a marketing act that we see in just about every industry, market, and sub category. The idea of the label is two fold:

  1. To provide you with information about the product, in this case the wine inside
  2. To stand out against competitors in a very busy shelf setting. And lets face it, the wine shelf is pretty damn busy.

Luckily, for the keen eye, people who design labels have some pretty standard tricks and practices that give you some subtle cues in to what is in store for you once you open the bottle. Follow our wine basic wine label guide, and you should be able to find some pretty good stuff.

1 - Get to the essentials

If you buy a wine because the label looks cool, and it happens to be a Merlot, but you hate Merlot, then chances are you still won't like the wine. You need to know what wine is in there, where it comes from, and a vintage! You cannot fore sake the fundamental stuff. If this stuff is missing, or vague (i.e. Red Blend, California, French Wine instead of telling you the blend, or saying exactly where it is from) steer clear. Yes, you do need to know what it is you are drinking.

2 - Look for subtle cues in the design

People who make wine labels are trying to get you to pay attention, and at the same time tell you a story. Its all about eliciting emotion, setting you up to enjoy the wine with the right occasion. Colorful labels on a Rose wine suggest it is for a fun occasion, while the darker labels on some red wines suggest it is for a more quiet occasion. Even really simple wine labels tell a story, suggesting they don't need to capture you with silly images but rather you should pick it up and get straight to the amazing wine that is inside. 

Key takeaway - Wine labels that are busy, may be cheap but are very suggestive. Wine labels that are simple often have some damn good wine inside.

3 - Read the back of the label

What a wine says about itself on the back of a label can say a lot about what is in the wine. Cheap wines tend to be very basic when it comes to flavor descriptors. Mediocre wines tend to focus on the story behind the wine with little substance. High quality wines will have something very elaborate on the back. In short, if it sounds and reads like they took some pride in the wine they are making, you'll end up drinking a good bottle of wine regardless of price. 

4 - Don't be foiled by the foil

The foil on the top of a wine says a great deal about the wine as well. For cheap wines, colored foil will tell you a bit more about the flavors. Dark red foils denote something spicy, while blue foils denote flavors of tropical fruit associated with white wines. In more expensive wines the designers will go that little extra mile to convince you there is something delicious inside. 

5 - Let it grab your heart and have fun with it

This is really where the "no shame in buying based on the label" comes in. For those people who are new to wine and not really able to pick it apart into a million pieces, having a fun wine label actually helps you enjoy the wine a little bit more. It has the same effect as price, where the price of a wine triggers some weird pleasure sensors in our brain, so does a fun wine label. A fun wine label can be the ultimate way to break down the barrier to enjoying a wine, just because you had fun buying it in the first place.

Today cool wine labels help us to enjoy the wine, and let it become an expression of who we are in the moment. Even Forbes celebrates the coolest wine labels out there each year! Cool wine labels are here to stay, especially as the wine shelves get even more crowded. Like anything in wine, with a little help from your wine guide, you wont get fooled by the labels and instead be one of the cool kids with backstage passes to wines that rock.