“IT’S ALL IN THE LABEL”
By Marge Graziano
Easy to pick up most anything today at the store, especially if we are familiar with what we are buying. A bottle of wine is no different than a box of cereal. Corn Flakes are corn flakes, right? Do you even wonder where the corn was grown or how it got into the box on the shelf? The name of the grape, or the trade name, or familiar name of the wine is what we see right off. However, behind the name of the grape is only the “cover of the book” The wine label is the introduction to what is beneath the cork. That mysterious liquid, that unless it is Champagne, will not explode and throw liquid all over you, walls and the floor like soda pop will, if you turn the bottle over, shake it a little and even up-end it! Wine is patient and understanding and can hardly wait to flow with slippery legs to the bottom of your waiting glass. As you swirl the glass to aerate the wine, especially reds, do you ever wonder: “Just what the heck is in this stuff, anyhow?” Along the journey the grape has made over centuries, the juice has spent time in clay containers, wooden barrels, glass bottles, boda bags (I am sure somewhere along the way someone on a camel carried his juice in a leather bag), plastic, stainless steel, maybe canvas bags, and even in the individual grape on the wine, which containing natural wild yeast, will ferment itself. The Label on the bottle is the map to the liquid inside. I will briefly take you down the label road. If you like the road I have mapped for you, pick up “WINE FOR DUMMIES”, 2nd Edition by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan. So, rev your engines, here we go!
EVERY bottle of wine must have a label. The label tells us where we start and finish, the legal rules, mile markers, the pit stops, the terrain, road conditions, speed limits, rest areas, vegetation, and the good and bad stuff along the way, such as legalities we must be aware of, to name only a bit of the info we get. When we encounter detours, it all gets very complicated, so we need the map and a compass.
The BACK LABEL is the name of the wine and is meant to attract attention with color, drawings, photos, logos, fancy names, etc., kinda like a book cover. The FRONT LABEL is the meat of the book. The government has yet to define front label from back label. Certain stuff must appear on the front label, however, will the real front label please step forward. Truly, the front label is the info on the wine, legalities and all, but the back label, with all the pretties, is what we see facing us on the shelf. Confused? Remember, the front label, now facing backward, is where the ability to read comes in. Mandatory is the following: a brand name, indication of class or type, (is it table wine, dessert or sparkling), percentage of alcohol by volume, (Table Wine can be less than 14%), name and address of the bottler, net contents in milliliters, (standard is 750 ml,-=25.6 ounces), the phrase CONTAINS SULFITES, and of course the blessing of the government warning us of not drinking while pregnant, or some such notice, that most people ignore. If that bottle comes from outside the US and is sold in the US, it must have the phrase “imported by”. Wines made in Canada, Europe, and other wine producing areas all have their own sets of Government rulings regarding labels. The EU wines fall into a European category called QWPSE (Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region), known as an Appellation of Origin, (and that my wine loving friends is fodder for another article another time). Wording on Labels is, at times, meaningless, ambiguous and confusing. The year, with vintage or not), is optional. Reserve, a favorite meaningless word appearing on many American labels, is a shell game conveying prestige that the wine inside the bottle is special! (It may not be). In some countries it means extra aging. Estate Bottled is a sweetheart word that says the company that bottled also grew the grapes and made the wine. It does not mean that the wine is exceptional, good, bad or a bargain or over-priced. The Vineyard name can define the Terroir of that vineyard as unique. If labels interest you, start collecting them! Lots and lots of people buy the bottle not for the wine, but for the label. Most every wine we make has its own label, unique to that wine. Label making and assigning that label to a particular wine is an art that requires creativity, originality, artistic ability, a good eye, a graffic designer, knowledge of what is inside the bottle, where the wine will be marketed and sold, and a lot of money and luck. Labels can be in-expensive, where you see the same label on every bottle and just a different wine name, or each bottle can own its own label, (that is where they get pricey). Labels can define if that wine is feminine or masculine. Most reds tend to be masculine, however, Sultry Cellars are all red wines and they are all feminine. Go figure!
As our short trip on the wine bottle labels comes to an end, in another article, I will invite you along as we conceive, design, and submit to the Government, wait for approval, (there are some words, pictures, and sayings, etc., that are not acceptable to the folks that approve or reject your label submission). These folks are the LABEL GODS that determine if you re-do or un-do or scrap that label and start over. We then shop pricing upon approval, and await arrival of printed labels that show up in huge rolls, alternating front and back labels. Ever wonder how the label gets on the bottle? I will take you on that circuitous day trip next month. Be sure you bring along your bottle opener, ‘cause corks and capsules are another interesting story.
QUINFO: The labels matter if you are not familiar with that wine. Once you find what you like, enjoy it every time you buy and drink wine. Want to have a wine life full of adventure and risk? Hit the Verde Valley Wine Trail in Northern Arizona; take an overnight trip to Sonoita in SW Arizona, or Willcox in SE Arizona. Grab danger by the throat and try wines at tasting rooms that you are afraid of or have never tried before. That is the fun of tasting rooms where the Soms are full of knowledge about their wines. And, buy AzLo (Arizona Local). Yes, Arizona does grow grapes and our Arizona Growers and Winemakers produce World Class Wines.
Questions, comments? Call me. 480-518-3844.