The Shit Written On Wine Labels

In which Old Parn takes issue with the arse-woundingly banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels

A macro shot of the text written on the back of a bottle of red wine from Marks & Spencer

A macro shot of the text written on the back of a bottle of red wine from Marks & Spencer

There are plenty of things in this life that give me a wounding great pain in the arse. If you want to hear more about them, I suggest you follow me and my wounded arse on Twitter.

But, today, my arse is in ribbons thanks to the banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels. Here are four arse-wounding things that wine producers should stop doing. Right now.

1. Giving ludicrously specific/esoteric food matching suggestions

Excellent. So your wine goes well with lava-cooked unicorn steaks marinated in dolphins’ milk and irony. That’s helpful. Your head goes well with your arse. May I suggest you match the two?

2. Giving ludicrously vague/fallacious food matching suggestions

Oh really? Goes well with fish, chicken and meats, you say? Now. You realise that chicken is meat, right? Yes, so Shakespeare could get away with doing stuff like that. ‘Angels and ministers of grace’ — that kind of thing. But you can’t.

Moreover, if your wine actually does go well with everything from pan-fried plaice to seared chilli tuna steaks to coq au vin to frigging beef and ale stew, congratulations. You have succeeded in distilling the mythical liquid of ambrosia. And all the other winemakers might as well just give up now and start constructing dubiously phallic monuments in your honour.

Or else, you’re a lying charlatan.

Now, which’ll it be?

3. Spewing out interminable, drivelling blather

I don’t give a halfhearted wipe of a frog’s arse about the view from your winery. Nor do I trust your declarations of ‘passion’ any further than I could throw the metaphysical concept of passion. Which is no distance. Because it’s a metaphysical concept, and TRY AS I MIGHT I CAN’T SEEM TO PICK IT UP.

I’ll be the judge of your goddamn capacity for passion. So let’s get a hotel room and we can work out a mark out of 100.

4. Including any kind of pun in the wine’s name. Whatsoever. No exceptions.

I’m not going to elaborate. I’m tired now.

What wounds your arse, dear reader?

What else do those label-crafting buggers do that causes you to double up in agonised rage and frustration? Tell us — share the pain — and, in so doing, administer the internet’s very own soothing arse-balm, by leaving a comment.

UPDATE: Inspired by Graeme’s comment, below, I’m upping the stakes. Provide a particularly lamentable example of wine label wank (in the comments, below) and I’ll send you some kind of prize. To be decided. So search those wine racks/liquor store shelves for the purplest prose you can find. Enter as many times as you like. Make us laugh/cry. Wound our delicate arses. You’ve got until the end of the week.

UPDATE 2: Okay, so the prize will be a bottle of this rather lovely wine, Verd Albera, I just reviewed. The best comment(s) will get one (unless you’re overseas, in which case you might have to settle for something else).

21 thoughts on “The Shit Written On Wine Labels”

  1. The Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier from the Society is described thusly:

    “Seductive spicy notes played by the Shiraz, harmonised by the floral, violet undertones of the Viognier. Culminating in a symphony of flavours.”

    Now. It’s not a bad wine at all, esp. at <£6. Which is a shame. Because if I ever meet the winemaker, I'm afraid I'll be unable to stop myself from going into Joe-Pesci-in-Goodfellas-mode.

  2. I certainly agree that a lot of what is written on back-labels is drivel. The whole “This is a dry,fruity, intense yet mellow and well balanced wine which goes well with meat, cheese, vegetables and toothpaste” is rarely helpful.

    However what is much more interesting for the consumer is the little clues that actually tell you whether the wine is likely to be any good.

    For example, with French wines you must look for “Mis en bouteille au Chateau”, or “Mis en bouteille au domaine” – meaning the wine was bottled at the winery, and thus the producer is effectively signing their name on the bottle (and therefore likely to have taken a lot more pride in its contents).

    Even better is a wine which says “producteur/proprietaire recoltant” – ie the grapes were grown and harvested by the producer, a further guarantee of quality effectivelt, since bought in grapes is sometimes a sign of a larger, less quality conscious operation.

    For German wines the equivalent is “Erzeugerabfüllung” (producer bottled) or “Gutsabfüllung” (estate bottled).

    If at all possible, avoid bottles which say things like “Bottled in the region of production”, “Bottled for GigantiCorp Ltd” and so on. (“mis en bouteille par xxx Corp”). This will typically indicate a mass-produced wine which may have little character or sense of place.

    I also tend to trust awards *if* they are for the current vintage (look carefully) and *if* they are from one of the larger competitions (eg: International Wine Challenge or Int. Wine and Spirit Competition).

    Many of these details can be so hidden away on a bottle that you’d hardly notice them – but they are much more important than back-label gumpf as signposts to quality.

    1. Re: bottling. As a generic rule of thumb it might help, but smaller boutique wineries often find it more cost effective to outsource bottling than do it in-house. Not talking specifically about France. I can think of UK and NZ examples.

  3. I agree with you Simon for those of us who know (or are interested) in what to look for. Many supermarket wine consumers still don’t know if Chablis is a grape, or Pinot Grigio a region though, so we mustn’t get too optimistic!

    Any gold medal type logo is as good as another to that particular segment. They trust the retailer to have weeded out what is worth showing (so most retailers only use DWWA, IWC and IWSC).

    What we need to do is try and help customers to understand what the wine will taste like, and therefore whether they will like it, and whether it’s right for the occasion they are buying for. And that is not as easy as it sounds.

  4. My cheap bottle to wash down the pasta is all about wind. “Named after the three winds that help make Mendozas high and remote valley one of the best wine growing regions in the world”. Must be something to do with the local diet…

  5. Ladies and gentlemen, a fantastic submission from @alexmcnamara via Twitter:

    Highlights: ‘garnet rims and purple glints’, ‘supple oak notes that intermingled with ripe fruit’ and the fucking coup: ‘Good backbone and fleshy to the mount’.

    At this point, I am unsure whether I’m reading a bizarre wine label or some very badly translated softcore pornography.

  6. The labels i hate are the ones that are full of guff but no info that might be of use.

    My biggest pet hate are the labels that say “drinking well now” or “drink over the next 2-3 years” This is meaningless unless you know when this was written. Merchants are guilty of this as well. Another reason to love the society. They give proper dates.

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