Sat 20 Oct 2007
A few weeks ago I posted to this blog an entry that parodied the elaborate narratives that some wineries, mainly in Australia and California, print on the back labels if their wines. As if a cute tale about musical monkeys or happy little penguins is going to persuade an intelligent consumer to buy a bottle of wine. It wouldn’t, right?
Someone responded to that blog, quite sensibly, by asking what I would like to see on the back labels. Fair enough.
O.K., here’s the text on the back label of the Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2005, Monterey County ($20):
55% syrah 45% grenache
Cotes du Crow’s
Produced and Bottled by
Morgan Winery Salinas, California
(851) 751-7777 / www.morganwinery.com
And then the prescribed government warnings.
So, who needs anything more than that?
All right, maybe this, on the back label of the Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling 2004 from Alsace ($12 to $16), after the statement of grape and appellation:
Style: Scents of lime and ripe flavors of apple and quince, with a dense texture underscored by racy acidity. Well-structured, crisp, dry with a pleasant intensity.
Food: Outstanding with seafood, shellfish, veal and pork dishes.
And then the prescribed government warming.
That’s not a bad description of the wine, though I don’t think that it has as much detail or layering as the label suggests (though it’s quite enjoyable), but these segments are, I think, helpful to the consumer as in, here’s what to expect; here’s what to drink the wine with (very generally).
The back labels of European wines tend to be more laconic than the back labels of “New World” wines. The back labels on bottles of Burgundy and Bordeaux frequently indicate nothing more than the name of the producer and importer. Europeans take the grown-up approach to wine; either you know where the wine came from and what grapes it’s made of, or you don’t, so just drink the damned thing. Perhaps Americans, not living in a comfortable wine culture, need a little more coddling or at least information.
Mostly, though, the chance to impart basic information turns into an opportunity for marketing. Take this, from the back label of the Septima Malbec 2005, from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley:
Located at the foot of the Andes cordilla, in the prestigious region of Agrelo, Bodega SEPTIMA produces fine wines of great distinction. This dramatic setting of our estate winery produces fine wines rich in flavor and color and will complement any fine meal. Our label features an artist’s rendition of the unique architecture of our winery, built with hand-stacked stones from the Andes mountains.
Aside from the shaky syntax — apparently the winery’s setting will complement any fine meal — this is primarily marketing obfuscation, i.e., the region is “prestigious,” the setting is “dramatic” — as opposed to the crummy “non-dramatic” setting of , say, Pauillac — the wines have “great distinction,” and the facility is made of “hand-stacked stone,” clearly superior, if not cooler, than stones stacked by, say, paws or magic construction elves. The text continues with “Tasting Notes” and a few sentences about “Aging.”
What tries my patience is the strenuous reaching for whimsy, as this, from the back label of the (frankly terrific blockbuster) Earthquake Petite Sirah 2004, Lodi ($22 to $28), by Michael and David Phillips:
Powerful Titan, arms reaching for the sky,
Earthbound devourer, open your eyes!
Throw off your blanket, the day has begun,
Indulge yourself in warm Lodi sun.
Take what is given, the world is your own,
Enjoy your dominion, you sit on the throne.
Stand and be noticed, grape without peer,
Instruct in the others what they should fear.
Raise up your standard, proclaim your rights,
Answer to no one, conquer with might.
Hail to the victor, the king without flaw,
Salute your new master … Petite Sirah.
I did not make that up.