This post belongs of our Matters of Taste series, essays from our favorite authors on the artifacts and abstractions they hold most dear in their drinking lives.
You might use more laughs in your life. More warm memories with pals, more factors to split into old bottles clanking around your kitchen. You might also be running Americanly low on routines in your life. For all of these, I suggest trying the same solution: Each time you open a bottle of wine, someone at the table or at the picnic table or at the beach towel or anywhere you happen to be should, in the most amusing method they can summon, check out the label aloud.
Significant readings of red wine labels make a meal feel like a celebration. They don’t just break the ice, they smash it to a fine powder. Significant readings of white wine labels bring out comical flair, absurd accents, and a myriad of linguistic skills both real and aspirational. Don’t speak Italian? Let the label on your Chianti be your tutor. Never ever meddled German? Blitz a Riesling label and change that. As everyone swirls that milky Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, go on and treat the label, at top volume, with telenovelian strength, even if it sounds like Spanish-language karaoke. You paid $14 for that bottle, so get every last peso’s worth of enjoyable out of it.
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If you’re reading this in Canada, you’re in luck: Bottles there tend to be printed in English along with French, and every table in Canada has somebody who got enough French in high school to sound reliable. When I resided in Vancouver, British Columbia, on a grad student budget plan, every bottle opened at a group dinner got its remarkable reading. Anything I check out in French would strike a Quebecker’s ear like a tractor transmission offering. But in a pinch, I will read the French, and you should, too.
In the hands of a devoted dramatic wine label reader, even the mundane ends up being resonant. When a label changes to an all-caps chunky typeface to admonish you to “CONSUME PROPERLY,” your punchline comes pre-loaded, so to speak. You discover, when you’ve read enough of these labels, that you typically need to BYO commas and hyphens. The writing overall tends to be overconfident and a bit, well, thirsty. At times it checks out like a voiceover to drone video of the Willamette Valley. Lean into it. If you’re not delighted with your very first read, try approach acting: Complete half the bottle and take another swing– you’ll feel like Richard E. Grant in “Withnail & & I” in no time.
Usually, however, you’ll find this a basic workout since most of these labels want to read significantly. They are, after all, love letters.
“Maturing in a village in California implies being able to enjoy the Simple Life,” reads a 2019 bottle of Simple Life Pinot Noir that’s been hanging around my apartment for a number of years. “We stroll downtown and shop at the family-owned supermarket, we cook with fresh vegetables and meat from regional farms, and we consume wine made by our friends and family who have lived here for generations.” What does this tell us about the drink inside? Absolutely nothing but feels, baby. Read it in your best Susan Sarandon impression, though, and tell me everybody at the table would not be misty-eyed by the time you cheers.
One appeal of a bottle of red wine is that alcohol peels away our inhibitions and lets us experience a various measurement of our characters, and of the characters of our pals. The easiest inhibition to peel away over a meal is that of guile. In vino veritas, the old saw goes; the French tweak on it, la vérité est dans le vin, or “the fact is in the white wine,” is so customized to a wine label that of course someone needed to take it up.
Vintners compose these things with precious little chill, and it’s easy to laugh prior to your glass is damp. You might see the cursive label on your bottle of The Thankfulness, a Bordeaux mix out of Napa Valley by Pledge Red wines, and laugh as you intone: “This wine is the result of a commitment I made to my fantastic spouse”– here you pause for result, nodding to the most incredible spouse at the table, preferably your own, for while your words may say otherwise, your tone shows that you are at this moment accepting a Golden World– “to pursue my passion and follow my dream. Constantly consume the excellent stuff first. Steve McPherson.” As you raise your glass to your buddies, feeling simply a little ridiculous, a little discovered, permit yourself to enjoy the stagecraft of the moment. You simply conjured up a character, a wife guy called Steve, and now he’s at the table with you. Strangely, you’re having more fun with him here.
Not every label is so earnest. Lots of tilt toward the strictly practical: food pairings, a few tasting notes, a guarantee that the wine maker fell for this particular blend. Castillo Quebrado’s Cabernet Sauvignon tells me it offers “notes of juicy tomato, bacon fat, and Chilean oak.” That’s gon na be a yes from me right there. Others dive into the nerdiest aspects of their identity: “Sugar at harvest was 26 degrees Brix,” checks out the label on a Shannon Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. “The grapes were executed an early press with a slow extraction of color and tannins from the skins as well as one hundred percent malolactic fermentation in French oak.” When in doubt, default to some tasting notes, some genealogy of the grapes, and the word “enjoy.”
Individuals discuss purchasing red wines for the labels, and probably the majority of us do, eventually. Generally, however, we’re speaking about the front label– its design, its fonts, its colors, its reflectiveness or lack thereof. At a glance you can inform whether a winemaker’s aesthetic taste matches your taste; intuitively we translate that to the white wine itself, even as the connection between what remains in the bottle and what’s printed outside of it feels approximate. Once the front label lures you, the spontaneous buyer, to physically get the bottle, the chattier back label keeps you holding the bottle. Once the front has made eye contact, to put it simply, the back exists to begin a discussion.
A winemaker buddy of mine speculates that the large abundance of red wines and wineries led us to this point. The variety of wineries in the U.S. alone increased nearly fivefold between 2000 and 2020. The rapid market growth made branding crucial for survival. “Wine marketing has actually gotten a lot more sophisticated over the past 15 years or so,” he texted me when I requested his ideas on label trends. “And storytelling in the white wine space is front and center. If you don’t understand much about 2 $30 Taxis, then it actually comes down to identify design and story. Red wine utilized to market their regions more, however that’s harder to learn and remember. Stories work way better as something you can remember, and a sommelier or retailer can duplicate to a consumer.”
His analysis talked to a theory of mine, that these florid labels are mostly a New World creation. When you do not have popular growing regions that bring in buyers, and your purchasers are less sophisticated than the French or Germans to begin with, you have to improvise. But then there’s the (quite beautiful) bottle of Spanish vermouth in my fridge today called Tximista bearing an exemplary label that strolls you through the pronunciation (“chee-MEES-ta”), the translation (the Basque word for “lightning”), the provenance (100 percent Hondarrabi Zuri Txakoli wine grapes), tasting notes (“a fresh, crisp flavor”), serving tips (“rocks with a simple twist, or a splash of soda”) and simply sufficient misconception to make it fun. “Their vines grow along the Bay of Biscay, which is typically damaged by stormy weather condition, giving the grapes an electric mouth-feel, salinity, and level of acidity.” Generous aidings of details need not chase out the poetry.
If hasty wine buyers pick bottles based on basic info with a tip of vibes, the smart online marketers know to meet us there. At some point all of us have bluffed our method through a red wine tasting, tossing around “mouthfeel” and “body” and “tannins” before we knew our leathers from our barnyards. Naturally, we might use some crib notes. Tasting ideas are an excellent initial step. Where the grapes grew, exact same. Then, considering that we’re talking, the winemaker might wax lyrical.
Clear your throat and think about the front label of Hundred Acre’s Morgan’s Way Cabernet Sauvignon: “This is the story of a male, who was never ever at a loss. He had taken a trip far worldwide after the sack Troy, the virgin fortress; he saw many cities of guys, and discovered their minds. He sustained many difficulties and hardships in the struggle to conserve his own life and to restore his guys safe to their homes. He did his finest, but he might not conserve his companions, for they …” and there it stops. (The missing “of” prior to “Troy” appears deliberate; a star obscures the sentence.) This isn’t simply a significant choice– it’s the opening bars of “The Odyssey,” Homer’s 2,700-year-old epic that was sung long before anybody dedicated it to paper. These lines belong to the invocation to the muse, a call to a divine being who helps the poet recall and sing the work. If you start supper with a full-chested rendition of this label– attempt to funnel “Lord of the Rings”-era Ian McKellan– you have set your night on a course to success. After a number of bottles, you can even expose what comes after these lines. Why was this man who was never ever at a loss not able to conserve his companions? “For they perished,” you can expose, in your most mellifluous tone, “through their own sheer folly.”