Wine Label Week wrap-up, plus a 1945 Korbel and a 2003-2005 Brandolini

No WLW is complete without a wrap-up, so this post includes a summary of the proceedings of the last week of September, the very first Wine Label Week aka WBW 1.

See bulleted items below for how wine labels are implemented (correctly, and unfortunately, incorrectly). But rather than ending WLW on a cynical note, I'd like to emphasize the comments and emails I received. Many visitors left insightful comments, which is great -- I appreciate them and give thanks for them. One visitor even sent me a photo of his most prized label from 1945, which is cool because I was waiting for a reason to run my favourite label. (Thanks Joe!)


People are interested in wine labels. I think there's a new trend toward valuing data like what is presented on the wine label. In fact, the SAQ -- the state-run wine distributor in Quebec -- has just redesigned its website to allow for a greater focus on wine labeling information. This means expanded information on current vintages of the bottles detailed on saq.com profile pages. And they increasingly include images of bottles and their labels.

I applaud this -- though the SAQ redesign means the hyperlinks on my site which used to navigate to inidividual wine profiles at saq.com no longer work. I will have re-code them one by one. Please bear with me as I redirect links to the spiffy new SAQ listings. At the very least, this tedious process will allow me to start pointing to the English pages at saq.com, something I was unable to do before, but as demonstrated below, can now do!

Here are a couple of favourite wine labels from WLW 1 -- a personal fave of mine and Joe's favourite label, which attaches to the oldest bottle he owns, a 1945 Korbel Brut! Click on each label image to be linked into the brand new SAQ profile pages for even more labeling information for these wines.

Whoops, actually the SAQ carries neither of these wines. Too bad.


Wine labels exist to convey important information about bottle contents, not the least of which is a wine's designation, critically acting as a kind of quality assurance system

  • A breakdown and analysis of label information was introduced on Monday

Labels, which allow a winemakers to market their wares better than almost anything else, can actually be an expensive undertaking and considering their cost, they are surprisingly not always perfect
  • In investigating labels on Tuesday and Wednesday, we saw mistakes or incorrect information, namely alcohol by volume (abv) discrepencies on the label that indicated levels beyond tolerance:
In terms of discrepancies between the actual abv of the liquid and that stated on the label, in Europe the abv on the label must rounded up or down to a whole or half percent. So if the wine is 13.1%, the producer can choose to label it as 13% or 13.5%. In the EU, a label that states the more exact 13.1% would be illegal, presumably for some bizarre bureaucratic reason. The tolerance for sparkling wine is 0.8% in the EU. NB these tolerances are lower than in many other countries, including South Africa, Australia and the US (for wines produced and sold in those countries).
    - Julia Harding, from the forum at JancisRobinson.com, where participants noted that the label expense often encourage winemakers to use labels from previous vintages with crucial updates made to the information that deviates from year to year, but these changes are corrected on the label with varying degrees of success.

The promotional elements of a label may be nice to look at or read, and they can affect your perception of a wine but ultimately judging a wine by its label can be a very difficult task
  • On Thursday, label details and especially prettied-up labels were acknowledged to influence shoppers and even evaluators, which is one reason blind tastings exist.

You can glean other things from the tradition and customs involved in labeling
  • The absence of a vintage label on Friday led to interesting assumptions about a wine's origin.

All in all, wine label information is serious business. Virtually all New World wines are labeled by grape variety but it's illegal to label a wine with a certain variety when it is actually another. Equally Old World wines can be fraudulent for falsely appropriating a wine designation and this has been in the news recently for misrepresentation.

And if you're wondering why my favourite wine label -- it's the one with the heart -- seems to be misrepresenting by neither specifying a wine designation, a grape variety or a vintage year, it's because the wine has none of those things: A blend of three grapes harvested over three years (hence the name "Treanni") by a winemaker that needs no designation. Friuli's Conte Brandolini d'Adda is the future of wine labeling because its singular and artful approach is all you need to know to buy its wines. Now if only I could find myself a bottle with this label. Here's a lead.


Joe said...

Thanks, Marcus. Rather shoddy photography on my part! But an unopened bottle of 1945 California bubbly? Very cool - my wife's granddad got that at the end of the war...storage has been less than ideal, if it could have gone the distance...

David McDuff said...

Is that a heart on the Treanni bottle? I thought it was a shield. Or maybe a few slices of roasted pepper....

Marcus said...

I like both these images. Joe, your Korbel is a great story on top of that. Who knew?

David you are right that it is a shield since it progressed from this.

I think the redesigned image is nicely suggestive. It's slowly morphing into a more-open-to-interpretation insignia from the traditional image -- just look at the direction implied by the website: http://www.vistorta.it/