More than a Pretty Label

Hilary Berg, OWP Editor

For many consumers, including me, buying wine can be an intimidating process.

Back in college, buying a bottle was a breeze. If I needed to bring wine to a party, I would gravitate toward labels I liked. No need to concern myself with the details of vintner, vintage or varietal; it was all about discovering eye-grabbing graphics — for the visually inclined, wine shops and liquor stores are really like a mini art galleries.

I would scan the shelves and bins, and if the artwork spoke to me — and was in my meager price range — I’d consider it. The bottles, themselves, were also a factor, as unique shapes had the same graphic appeal to me. Of course, I don’t remember what the wine tasted like. I was in my early 20s and hadn’t been bitten by the wine bug just yet.

It wasn’t until a few years after I graduated that wine intrigued me — thanks to my wine-loving husband. I had a lot to learn.

Although I was still paying off my student loans, I was faced with yet another round of education. This time lessons learned were staged at tasting rooms and wine events, instead of classrooms. I would explore by taste while listening to others around me offering detailed flavor descriptions. I’d also pay attention to what the winery staff said about the vintage and the vineyards sourced.

In my opinion, this is the best way to learn the basics of wine and to figure out what your palate prefers, making trips to the wine shop more fruitful and fulfilling.

Once you know what you like, it’s the job of the wine steward to further educate you on the wines they sell. If no one approaches you at a wine retailer, you know the shop can’t really “talk shop” and it’s better to buy elsewhere.

Wine is a personable product. From bunches to bottle to bins, all wines have a story to tell, and it’s the responsibility of the retailer — or tasting room staff — to pass on the narratives. Without this interaction, wine is nothing more than fermented grape juice.

I still enjoy looking at labels when I shop for wine. I realize now maybe it wasn’t the graphic appeal that drew me in; it was the potential story hidden within the image, and ultimately, the wine.

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