The Life of Wine

 |  October 29, 2010

You can’t judge a wine by its label… or can you?

Ever stood in front of the shelf at your wine retailer dazed and confused at the wallpaper of labels only to give up and ask for help? Ever bought a bottle of wine purely because you liked the label? Ever refused to try a wine on the grounds that the label sucked? Most of us would answer yes to all.

Like food labelling, beer, spirits, perfume and the list goes on…wine labelling is vitally important from an aesthetic point of view, critical from a marketing perspective, and legally and factually necessary to various degrees in the wine world.

There could not be more polarisation between the bold, lavish, sexy labels of the Champenoise and the single font Burgundy label. Who can forget the bright orange label of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV, Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque NV, or the slightly Gothic batman emblem of Dom Perignon Vintage Champagne labels?

The most masterful works of art to adorn a series of labels is that of the artists commissioned by the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Bordeaux. Jean Hugo (1946) Salvador Dali (1958), Miro (1969), Chagall and Picasso (1970 and 1973) were all close friends of the Baron. The classic of anti-design has to belong to one of the most famous, rare and collectable wines from Australia. “Penfolds Grange” (formerly known as Grange Hermitage. The simple red typeface on white background has not changed much in more than 60 years.

You can always judge a winemaker/ producer by their label. Larrikin winemakers like to have a bit of fun at their own expense and sometimes at the expense. The Far Canal Shiraz from Australia (try saying it in a nasally Oz accent) was born as a bit of a joke between some of my colleagues. I once read a back label from a producer who went against the norm of providing wonderfully worded descriptions of the contents. Instead, he began the spiel in size 12 font and as the reader progressed down the label, the font became smaller and smaller until “it went up its own orifice…” South African Ken Forrester’s famous FMC Chenin Blanc was coined after a wine critic requested another glass of that ‘F&#+ing Marvelllous Chenin’.

What should you look for in a label and what can it tell you about the contents of the bottle?

Every country has label integrity laws governing wine. USA and Australia/New Zealand are rigid whilst some of the European countries are a little more relaxed depending on the appellation (wine growing region defined by laws). Here is a snapshot of what you should expect on a wine label and what it means.

Name and address of producer.
A producer would have to be bonkers not to advertise his/her name prominently on the label. If you are having trouble remembering what you drank, the producer name can narrow the field down.

Country of origin.
Do not assume that 100% of the grapes are from the stated country. Some countries allow 15% of grapes sourced from outside the stated region.

If a region is stated, most wines must contain at least 85% from that region. Strict appellations demand that 100% of the said contents is from that region, or vineyard.

Grape variety.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz are some examples here. Once again, the wine must contain at least 85% of the stated grape variety.

This is the year the grapes are harvested. February-April in the southern hemisphere and August-October for the northern hemisphere. A 2009 Italian Pinot Grigio will have spent less time in the bottle than its Australian counterpart.

750ml is the standard full bottle and 375ml is the standard half bottle size.

Alcohol content.
The % must be accurate within 0.5% for most countries. Generally wine has alcohol contents ranging from 11.5% for the lighter, fruit driven styles to 15%+ for the bigger, fuller bodied styles.

Number of standard drinks.
Recently became part of international wine law. This is important for those contemplating driving after a glass or two. Alcohol content affects the standard drinks number.

Preservatives and additives.
Anti-oxidants, ascorbic acid (300) and sulphur dioxide (S02) are in all but a few wines. International wine law dictates that the label show at least the words “contains sulphites”.

BEST BUYS – November 2010

This month I reviewed wines that drink well now but will benefit from at least 3-5 years cellaring.

La Chablisienne Chablis “la pierrelee” 2008, France

100% Chardonnay grape in its purest form. Fresh stone fruit and grapefruit marked by typical mineral tones. Clean as a whistle. Gorgeous drinking now and will show some extra complexity over the next 3-5 years. Serve slightly off the chill to allow full enjoyment of flavours.

Wine Connection Nim City Daily. Mahidol Road, 1500 Baht

Prunotto Barbera D’Alba 2007, Piedmont, Italy

Now we are getting closer to red gratification. Vibrant, dark and briary berry fruit with coffee/chocolate tones. Wonderful texture and balance. For those of you wishing to experiment with Italian reds from the north, this is your starting point. Low tannins make this wine flexible with a wide range of foods. Drink now to 2014

ItalAsia 193/1 Chang Klan Road. 1190 Baht

Note: All prices are correct at the time of publication. Citylife is not responsible for any price variations set by wine industry promotional activity.
December issue – Champagne and sparkling wine feature.