A few weeks ago wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled " "How to Read>"/>
A few weeks ago wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ""How to Read a Wine Label" that detailed what to pay attention to and what to ignore on a wine label. It's a good start, but the article focused on too much substance and not enough shallow, gut decisions that go in to buying a bottle of wine.
They mention critter wines, a phrase made popular by the (verb + "ing" + animal) formula of many cheap Australian wines and talk about their general inferiority (think Yellow Tail's jumping roo). I would argue that it's not the animal on the label but the quality of its rendering. A silly cartoon horse surely signals schlock (say that five times), but what about a fine line drawing of a stag? I asked a few random shoppers at QFC--without set up--to choose between 1.)The Little Penguin, a very economical wine out of Australia with a cartoony label and penguin slightly less ridiculous than the Linux logo and 2.)La Vielle Ferme, my personal go-to house wine, with a couple of chickens on the label.
Top comments: "I'll buy a bottle of wine with a drawing of a chicken, but I wouldn't buy it if it was a cartoon chicken." "How can I take a wine seriously if it looks like some Pac-10 university stationary?" Ouch. "That one (TLP) looks cheap, and this one has a better design, not so cheesy." "That's cute (TLP), and I don't know anything about foreign wine."
Then I asked everyone if they'd buy or not buy a wine because of the animal on the label. Responses: "Yellow Tail is just the new Blue Nun." "I like good wine, don't care what's on the label." "I wouldn't not buy a wine because of a funny animal, but I might need to know it was good first (before I buy it)." "Labels say a lot about a winery's taste level to me. If the label is tacky, I just assume the wine has the same taste" "It's kinda pandering."
The person who saw critter wines as pandering went so far as to say she would avoid these wines no matter how they taste. "I know it's all marketing, but it's so obvious that I can't bring myself to legitimize it."
Granted Capitol HIll, Seattle is a far tougher, snarkier crowd than the shoppers at your average American
supermarket, but still. I think the last quotation sums it up well. Can you judge a wine by its label? Some of us obviously look down on these wines, but their popularity means many of us either practice reverse snobbery or feel more comfortable buying them. More on this soon.