Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beautiful labels

For a while one of my memes was the beauty of wine label art. I thought up the acronym PREWIAKDS (Pink Rose Euphoric Wine Imagery Anti-Killjoy Defiant Seduction) Club after having read about a strangely Puritan streak a-borning in France these days, affecting French law and particularly alcohol advertising laws. Ad images are forbidden which seem to make the experience of wine and spirits unusually "euphoric." 

I am drawn to marketing in general. Anybody hiring and want my resumé, just let me know.

I've never tasted this wine, but the label is lovely. You can find it, and more, at Wine Label World.

It's a sweet white from France's Loire Valley, specifically from the Coteaux du Layon AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee -- a precisely defined growing area, one of fifty within the Loire valley). The producer is Domaine de Baumard, the grape variety chenin blanc. In years of fine weather, the grapes for this wine are not harvested until they are superripe or even botrytised -- attacked by a beneficial fungus, botrytis cinerea, which shrinks them and concentrates their juices -- so the fact that this particular pretty label carries no vintage year may indicate that the weather was not terrific and this wine is therefore a little more ordinary than not. However, the Loire is known for its fine white wines, so we should be careful how we bandy about the word "ordinary."

The grapes that make the Loire's fine white wines are primarily chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc; many wine drinkers will recognize the name Vouvray as mentally translating to "chenin blanc," and Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume as translating to "sauvignon blanc." Karen MacNeil, in The Wine Bible, goes over the ground:

Like Champagne, the Loire exists on the fringe of the lowest temperatures at which grapes can ripen. This is a plus in warm years. When the grapes get enough heat and sunlight to ripen, the cool climate gives the wines of the Loire their elegance and haunting precision (the result of high acidity). In great years the best wines can have such dynamic tension they seem poised on a tightrope. In French, their refreshing vigor is described as nervosite. ... Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, and Quarts de Chaume epitomize the complexity that chenin blanc, planted in the right place, can achieve.

A map of France will be helpful here.

Since I flatter myself that I am now deep in the study of Italian wine, I do fear getting muddle-headed by veering off, even for a moment, to other places. What actually first struck me about that pretty-as-a-peacock label, when I found it at Wine Label World, was that it belongs in my PREWIAKDS (Pink Rose Euphoric Wine Imagery Anti-Killjoy Defiant Seduction) Club and Virtual Gallery. And that led me to think a little more about labels.

Though it may render me the most ridiculous curmudgeon, I have a quibble about wine labels. The trouble with them, when they are given a lot of artistic thought and all dressed up and prettified, is that they reinforce many consumers' expectation that wine is a uniform product. And that means that the consumer, perhaps disappointed one day in his search for his favorite label, goes away without buying anything, and therefore without trying or learning anything new. He goes away without an appreciation for wine as a half man-made, half nature-made product, part of whose charm lies in its unpredictability and its miraculous dependence not only on nature's caprice or kindness, but on the skill, effort, and accumulated experience of all winemakers. It's natural to want to drink your favorite wine again and again, but the Cute Label, pleasing the eye and revealing nothing, obscures the fact that there is something of an experiment going on in this bottle -- and there always will be. Wine is not supposed to be a finished, perfect product all the time. If your eye-catching label disguised a pinot noir, why not try another pinot noir when you can't find that one? No? -- because it won't be the same?

And there are so many cute labels. Marketing departments, bless them, work very hard on them for a reason. Each one can be a kind of little trap from which the consumer may or may not realize he is permitted to escape. At least the French peacock label has lots of information on it too, in the European style.

Ah well. Good thing, in a way, that the world does have bigger problems than whatever your local neighborhood wine curmudgeon can think up.

More labels, anyone?

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