Have I been living under a rock? I read an article in one of the food magazines excoriating the general public for buying wines based on critics ratings. Guilty as charged. Most of my wine is purchased from Costco and I concentrate on wines rated 90 and above which are reasonably priced. What other than these ratings are we supposed to use? To update myself on the current status of wine marketing (outside Costco and Trader Joe's) I walked around the wine section of Major Market looking for clues on bottles as to the quality and value of the wine inside. Have I been missing something? Apparently so...sometimes in the past couple of years, wine makers have taken to extreme measures to get attention in the clutter and clamor of the typical wine retail display.
Label art appears to be the big deal in selling wine. Either you have a big, established name which sells a lot of wine, or you get clever. I noticed that many of the wineries have taken to using unexpected names. "Bitch" is one of these that leaped off the shelf - bright pink label. Now I thought - would I ever buy this? Can't think of one reason why. Do I expect that this wine would be particularly good? No, I'd think it was a mediocre wine that some marketing person thought they could foist off with a unique label or name. I wouldn't buy it for the same reasons I wouldn't buy a wine called "Get Fat" or "You're Fat", although I wouldn't be surprised to see such a thing. Could you give "Bitch" to someone, anyone, as a Christmas present? Or would you just want to keep it for yourself to affirm your self-loathing every time you open the refrigerator. I had very negative feelings about another wine with artful graphics called Plungerhead. Call me a stick in the mud, but references to plungers or plumbing accessories do not belong on the same label as something you are going to consume.
There was a whole array of wines with names reminiscent of state of mind or mood. Permutations, Temptation, Earthquake, Horseplay, Layer Cake.
Another label-marketing technique appears to be the writing of a back story on the reverse side. One such bottle with eye-catching graphics was called "hey mambo". Copy on the back label was musing by an imaginary someone sitting in a cafe listening to a singer and sipping presumably, this wine. With 5 lines of copy they are attempting to be so entrancing that you will overcome with the desire to duplicate the mood and buying the wine. Tall order. Probably the most honest name was "Educated Guess". They admit on the reverse label they have no idea what label graphic elements translate into purchases and that they've made an educated guess and hope they are right.
An aside: If I ever worked for a big company again, I'd encourage them to beta test all labels because I've seen odd mistakes in food labeling - some just as peculiar as wine labels. When I worked at Lawry's we produced for foodservice a spaghetti sauce with mushrooms. For school foodservice customers, they began making the same sauce without mushrooms. Guess what they called it? Spaghetti sauce without mushrooms! What? If it's going to be called "without" something, why not make it more interesting than mushrooms. Another product had been packaged with a baking bag. When Lawry's removed the bag (the cooking fad passed), they added a button bug to the front saying, "Use your own pot or pan!" Big deal. And while I was at Denny's and we devised the Grand Slam Special, the ad guys insisted on putting in copy referring to using a pan "just the right size". Again I ask, does the consumer care? Crazy mistakes made by insiders who know the whole story and do not see how ridiculous this appears to the outsider.
After I finished walking down the aisles I was no more enlightened than when I began. Reviewing the labels gave me little or no insight into the quality of the wine inside. If they bore detailed descriptions of anything about their process: the grapes, the climate, the method of production, the personality quirks of the wine maker - that information would convey some facts related to price - hand picked versus machine harvested for example. That said, would any of this information really tell me whether I would like the flavor of the wine or not? No. I don't have the expertise to relate one method of crushing versus another to a finished flavor. In the final analysis, the cuter the name, the fancier the label and the wittier the copy, the more suspicious I became of the contents.
Bottom line is that I'm sticking with the ratings for making choices and to hell with the critics.
Another aside: on one of the little flaps hanging on the wine shelf, someone had written that a wine was "Taylor made" for fish and salads. Can you get more insider than that. Who's Taylor...why should I care? Later that night on the news broadcast about a "strange death" the background graphics read "strange deat". Once you start picking nits, goodbye happiness.