The worst wine label – a competition

herding cats
We’ve all seen them–wine labels that are so ugly that they make us cringe or run to the next aisle in the shop out of horror.

So right here, on this blog, we’re going to “out” the worst wine labels you’ve ever seen. Channel your inner graphic designer and post a link in the comments or send me an image of a label that has rubbed you the wrong way by next Friday. Then our panel of experts (yes, perhaps more than just me) will review them and put a list of finalists for your vote.

Send images–even bad cameraphone images such as mine above–to tyler at drvino dot com and, if necessary, say why it rubs you the wrong way.

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25 Responses to “The worst wine label – a competition”

  1. I can’t begin to describe what’s disgusting about the label for Orin Swift Cellars’ “The Prisoner.” The drawing is difficult to decipher to begin with. If you concentrate, you see the lumpy mess is a hooded man, sitting, with his arms chained together held off to the side, and his feet pinned in a huge clamp. He’s on a bench in a dungeon.

    It’s ugly, depressing, pretentious, and vulgar. Call me an old sobersides, but you know, people really have been abused this way in dungeons — using the theme to sell wine is tasteless and juvenile. I gather the excuse is that the zinfandel in this red blend, or the wine itself, is so mighty that it has to be imprisoned or something. It’s completely off-putting when you consider what a sensuous and healthy experience wine is.

    The winemaker takes his labels from the work of his favorite artist, Goya. To be fair, I should admit that I loathe Goya. I’ll send the image separately. Thanks for permitting the vent.

  2. I’ve gotta disagree Nancy. I don’t think Orin Swift is “using the theme to sell wine.” The label is a piece of art, as you mentioned, by Goya. So IMHO it’s a matter of putting art on another work of art. It’s not like they are condoning torture here. Nor do I think it’s a matter of shock value, as we can leave names like Cleavage Creek and Sex to that. Not all art is uplifting, but it doesn’t make it less beautiful. Just my two cents!

  3. I think Nancy is dead wrong here. Not only have I often admired the image, and that at not ever having sampled the wine mind you, but I think that it is an insult to art and to freedom to try to paint the use of this image with a brush of shame just because it could be seen as depicting suffering. There can be beauty in suffering, and yes art too, but I think that this is reaching. I imagine Nancy herself was closer to the mark when noting that the image could represent chained power and, if I might add, bottled darkness. To imply that Orin Swift is using the suffering of those who have ever been imprisoned in dungeons to sell wine is to accept the idea that people would respond positively to an image of suffering. But I, like most, view the image in more figurative than literal terms, and suffering never even enters the picture.
    I like the label, and some day it may even convince me to overcome my innate distaste for Zin and try the wine. For horror I look more to the aesthetic abomination that you have lead this story with and all of that ilk, and in doing so I weep for art, not for those mauled by cheetahs.

  4. Oh lord. This wine is a *ridiculously* good seller at my store because of the “cute name” and “adorable label.” I’m so embarrassed.

  5. N.B. “This wine” being the pictured Herding Cats.

  6. I’m with Nancy: in the case of “The Prisoner,” the image and concepts of imprisonment, suffering and torture are being used to sell wine. The fact that it’s art doesn’t mean it gets a free pass (although I certainly wouldn’t want the political speech police deciding what you can put on wine labels). The picture of the busty blonde on Marilyn Merlot is art too – whether it’s good art, mediocre art, or tasteless art is in the eye of the beholder – and obviously the art and the themes represented therein are being used to sell the wine. If I personally find a wine’s marketing themes and/or techniques tasteless or offensive, that is reasonable cause to buy a different wine, is it not?

    Ugliest wine label nomination: the sickening visible-from-the-next-county “anything to stand out on the shelf” dayglo shocking pink label of Piper Heidsieck rose champagne.

  7. Yes, I agree Cats is pretty bad. One label I think has no integrity is Sweet Bitch . Just horrendous, really. Reminds me of Silence of the Lambs. It doesn’t even seem like an after-thought, because that would have required thought.

  8. Thanks for the many submissions via email! There are some truly horrific labels out there. Feel free to post links here for everyone’s previewing pleasure.

    It’s an interesting discussion about “The Prisoner” label. Pity there’s no clarification about the wine’s name or design either on the back label or the producer’s web site.

  9. Katie doesn’t find Cleavage Creek uplifting? Am I the only one who finds that funny? It might explain their sagging sales. 🙂

  10. Wino, thanks for the first laugh of the day! You should hear what I think about Naked Winery’s Foreplay!

  11. Actually, it’s Cranky Wino. Hmmm. Naked Foreplay. Foreplay must begin much sooner, or else we’d only drink wine at nudist colonies.

  12. Honestly, I found the wine a bit flacid, but that’s just me. All kidding aside, though, “Sex” which is a Michigan bubbly (yes, I said Michigan) is a great bottle of inexpensive sparkling rosé. First time, I was suckered into purchasing by the label, but consequent purchases were because it proved its virility.

  13. I can’t find the pic right now, but I would have to nominate “Cosmic Cruzers” to this competition. No offense CC (it’s really really good wine!), but you may want to ditch the Windows 95 clip-art 🙂

  14. Personally, I thought the Prisoner was a wine for people into S&M.

    My vote for worst label is Pax Wine Cellars, even though I really enjoy their wines, because obviously someone put some serious money into this winery and this is the best design they came up with? I just don’t get their marketing strategy. For one thing, do people really care about “Pangea” – the mythical pre-expansion map of the continents pictured in the background, and anyway, what does that have to do with wine? and what does it have to do with “Pax?” It just looks like a blob to me. There is no connection between “pangea” and the name “pax.” And what’s with all the color coded bottles and bright gothic fonts? That as I said, I really do like their wines…

    but see

  15. Can anything top the label I saw at the OC Home Winemaking competition several years ago called “Incest”? Granted, this was a home made wine, but DAMN!

  16. Just a few thoughts on the topic. First off, Orin Swift is never a pushover on the wine labels. All of the line has an art focus as a topic of conversation just like the one that has started her. Prisoner, must be doing something right to be the number 17 wine of the year and to be sold out. Not to mention the orignal name for zinfandel based blends was “mixed blacks” which can still be found on york creek labels. Which do you find more offensive now? Secondly, have you looked into other products from O.S.? Papillon the newest release has a black and white photo of tatooed knuckles referencing an old movie and Mercury Head has a small silver coin attatched to the bottle. Tell me that with these sitting on a shelf, in your cellar, or at a restaurant that they are not at least, a conversation starter. Try the wines and you will see what all the fuss is about.

    Finally, my vote for worst label is Red Flyer…a cartoony ufo dawing with an awful webiste to match. Not to mention the wine is note worh the “monetary output” as they refer to it as.

    I can’t wait to see peoples response when the best wine label category comes up for discussion. Maybe there should be a mock award ceremony?!?!

  17. Can there be any labels worse than the Marilyn wines? Especially “The Velvet Collection?” Nevermind the ill-suited pairing of Marilyn’s name and image with wine, the labels themselves conjure up a tawdry, 1950’s Vegasy style joy juice. An aroma of garter belt, anyone?

  18. Here is some background info on “The Little Prisoner”, etching by Goya:
    I’ve read that Orin Swift owner Dave Phinney is a fan of Goya, and there may be no more to it than that. The pic reminds me of prisoner photos from Guantanamo.

  19. Goya’s faith in humanity – while never high – was on a downward path at the time he did this etching. A lot of his work focused on human folly and the politics of the time: the Inquisition, economic and social problems in Spain, etc. etc. His etchings are beautiful, but often quite bleak. “The Little Prisoner” is more or less an especially arty political cartoon about the barbarity of imprisonment. I’m with Nancy on this one – it doesn’t seem to be a good image to use to sell wine.

    My ugly wine nomination is White Lie chardonnay. Not only is the concept patronizing to women it’s got a hot typographical mess of a label.

  20. Seriously, it is hard to nail down just a one…Here are my top 2
    1. Red Hiney (Walla Walla, WA) I would never want my product associated with something that makes on think of a baboons butt.
    2.Tiger Mountain Winery(Issaquah, WA)-the logo looks like an 1980’s tiger on velvet hanging found in many a college apartment during the velvet heyday.
    This is just the tip of the horrible label iceberg. When do we get to address the plethora of awful names out there?

  21. […] this one in saying “It’s ugly, depressing, pretentious, and vulgar.” It sparked a heated discussion. Steve: “In Europe, we’ve had a lot of coverage of the Austrian dungeon nightmare story […]

  22. “To be fair, I should admit that I loathe Goya.”

    That should have been your opening line, as it colours your entire comment. If we paid so much attention to the labels, we may all be drinking something innocuous and exotic sounding, like Riunite Lambrusco. That has a fun sounding name and a non-offensive label!

  23. […] Mmm! Nothing says good times like putting indigestible things that you put in your mouth–or a Chenin Blanc rosé (?!?) or a glass of sweet Rubired, the rosé and the red in the lineup of so-called Slender wines. Just to crank it up a notch, they also note that it “prevents tooth decay.” And, people, we might have a new finalist for this year’s worst wine label contest! […]

  24. The Prisoner…is likely our single favorite wine. First tasted in a local upscale sushi restaurant, their wine list description announced “The 2007 Prisoner has been released!” This summed it up for us. It’s something we look forward to each year…so, it’s not the suffering we celebrate…but the much anticipated “release” each season.

  25. none of you have ever heard of the book “Papillon” by Henri Charrière? Both bottles (Papillon & The Prisoner) are related to that story- and try the wine before you start bashing the label! its b-o-m-b! PS- Dave Phinney loves literary and visual arts, so dont hate on his creations! RELEASE THE PRISONER!


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