Marina Gask-Ajani
December 2016.

Can I tell if a wine is good by looking at the label?

1 answer

To a certain degree I think you can. 

If the label is designed in a classic way that mimics the Bordeaux style of design it looks old world, so the winemakers are trying to tell you that's how the wine will taste. Or you'll get a design that's more abstract and contemporary, and they're insinuating the wine's light and fun and not to be taken too seriously. You should be able to tell the style of wine from the label because the wine industry is massively romantic, and it likes to sell a story and transport people to the region - to that Provence holiday where you drank rosé all summer. And the label plays a big part in that romance. 

As a sommelier I do focus on how a wine looks and I like quirky labels. If a label's boring it's quite hard to sell the wine, as it tends to get overlooked. I really like textured labels, embossed ones that are much more expensive than a normal printed label. Because if a winemaker is spending more on the label it implies he thinks his wine is of a higher standard. Wording is important too –if it says 'appellation contrôlée' it's a sign of quality. It’s a description awarded to French wine guaranteeing that it was produced in the region specified, using vines and production methods which satisfy the regulating body. So you can be sure it’s the real deal. 

The New World is trying to emulate this guarantee, by creating their own signifiers of quality. It used to say 'wine of Australia' on their wine bottles, whereas now it will specify it's from Victoria or whichever specific region. Generally speaking, if you see a distinct village or area specified on a label, it's a stamp of quality, as it's identified with that area. So inspect the label closely and choose a wine with a label specifiying it's from a small area, not a large estate.