How do you know what’s inside your bottle of wine? The Ancient Egyptians inscribed a description on their amphora, and two hundred years ago glass bottles had the information written with a white paint. Today we have a label to give us some information. But that’s not the only indicator of contents.

On the top of the bottle is the “Capsule” – the plastic or metal cap over the top of the bottle which covers the cork. There’s no obvious way of identifying wine, as each winery makes its own rules. Maybe a logo, maybe the color means something specific (I know of one local winery which uses different colors to indicate premium wines, oak aged wines and unoaked wines).

So, we must turn to the label for more useful information. Different countries have different rules – the French are very pernickety about the labels of quality appellation controlee wines, sometimes even banning the names of the grape varietals in the wine. The USA demands a whole range of different information. To ensure that wine bottles conform to the laws in both USA and the country of origin, a second “Back Label” is often used. Boring stuff and legal blurb (including the stern warning from the Surgeon General gets shuffled off to the back label, leaving the “Front Label” for marketing.

To help the public know what the information on labels mean, the US Federal Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau provides a handy one page guide. But what the guide doesn’t address is the multitude of rules and regulations, both at national and state level. And it is easy to fall foul of one authority with something that another office has already approved.

For example, a few years ago the Alabama Beverage Control Board banned Californian wines branded Cycles Gladiator because they considered the label pornographic. You can find examples of the label in your local Georgia wine store or by clicking this link. What Alabama would make of a much more risqué French label of a wine I tried recently cannot be imagined (click here at your own risk!)

The Front Label is a marketing pitch. Where there is marketing, there is a marketing consultant – so it comes as no surprise that a consultant has used “core defining features” to categorize wine bottle labels into nine groups:

  • Prestigious
  • Simple Elegance
  • Vineyard Stately
  • Classic
  • Boutique
  • Simple Contemporary
  • Vintage
  • Bold Text
  • Cartoon Retro

So, when you next look at a bottle of Cavender Creek wine (or other brand), what label will you put on that label?

Robin Hall