Do punny labels and good wine make a good blend? The case of Leitz


“I immediately assume that the wine is garbage if the punniness is high,” one of my friends said recently. Fair enough, as we have discussed before. But then there is the case of Johannes Leitz.

While many European labels can be confusing for New World consumers who are more used to varietal labeling, German labels crank up the degree of difficulty by adding terms such as Kabinett, Spaetlese, and–my favorite, linguistically–Trockenbeerenauslese. Although these terms express roughly the degree of sweetness, they only do so for the wine before fermentation (aka the weight of the must), so the level of residual sugar after fermentation may not be as sweet or dry as one might expect. Throw in some vineyard names on top of those terms and it makes running for Blue Nun understandable–from a purely linguistic standpoint.

Johannes Leitz, by contrast, makes some easy reading labels as well as tasty wines. He turned the Rudesheimer Drachenstein vineyard into simply “Dragonstone”–a cool label, easy name and easy drinking Riesling that I often recommend particularly as a wine for newbies. The single site, estate bottled wine is sweet in 2007 but obtains balance with some tangy acidity and minerality (find this wine). Pair with takeout.

New for 2007 is his multilingual punny “Eins, Zwei, Dry” (find this wine) The Riesling is, in fact, dry (well, 7 grams of residual sugar, barely above the threshold of perception). Dry Rieslings often seem to only come from the New World and Leitz only first produced this dry wine in the spectacular 2007 vintage (more details from the importer, Terry Theise’s page). The wine has more minerality and verve. I’d find this one most refreshing on a hot summer day with the Dragonstone one for the spring and the fall, when I prefer more richness.

Johannes Leitz has wit. And he makes clear labels good wines. He has my vote for federallabelminister! But I also think he is a rare exception, joining Rosenblum and possibly Bonny Doon, to the rule about puns and wine quality.

Do witty labels and good wine make a good blend? Or is the wine best left to do the talking?

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19 Responses to “Do punny labels and good wine make a good blend? The case of Leitz”

  1. Tyler:

    Humans are Visual Creatures, whether we like it or not!

    I think the wine packaging has gotta take that into consideration, especially in a sea of available wine everywhere we look!


  2. Punny labels make my brain hurt.

    The trouble with puns is that they presuppose knowledge. I’d rather explain to a customer — or have it explained to me — what kabinett means than explain how to count to three in German, plus what “dry” means and how this relates to the wine.

    We used to carry a wine called “Now and Zen Wasabi white.” I never could figure out the point of that one.

  3. I am drawn to aesthetically pleasing labels like Scholium Project, Maldonado, Corra, Scarecrow, Blackbird or Arietta. Some labels I like probably wouldn’t qualify as “punny”: K Vintners KungFu Girl or Herman Story’s Tom Boy for instance. The caveat for me, at least is that the wine inside the bottle needs to be something I would want to drink.

    Some labels just scream out “walk right past me. I’m not serious”, and I do. I know of some that have a back story and an appalling label that probably precious few people on the planet appreciate.

  4. The Bonny Doon labels were always great–I think my favorite was “In Defense of Pure Riesling”. Screw Kappa Napa was a clever pun that encouraged me to pick up a bottle (and it was decent). I’ve got no problem with a few humorous labels among the thousands. I sometimes write about the typography of wine labels, and one of my pet peeves is the solid color label with Shelley Allegro, a script font. It’s boring and so many wineries do it that it doesn’t establish a solid brand identity.

    Side note: it’s not a pun, but one wine that I have refused to purchase is the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush”. I get what they’re talking about but I’m terrified that novice wine drinkers are going to start thinking that all SB tastes or smells like cat urine. I really love that petrol aroma you get on some Rieslings, but I don’t think a leaky gas can would be appropriate on a wine label.

  5. Thanks for these comments.

    I probably should have flagged some of the previous discussion we’ve had here including the worst wine label competition and the most groan-inducing wine name.

  6. There is a great Shiraz-Pinotage blend from S Africa with a groaner of a name, Goats do Roam. I think it has expanded into a whole line of wines, but haven’t tried any others from them.

  7. I think puns have their way when they’re made subtle. Let the audience pick up their level, don’t underline it for them–that’s just too much elbow jabbing in the ribs.

    PS-“Herding Cats”, Great commercial (, poor wine label.

  8. As Parker notes, Goats do Roam [now supplemented by Goats do Roam in Villages] is a good wine with a stinker of a name. To, it depoends on deftness. Eine, Zwei, Dry is quick and easy; soon enough you don’t notice it. Many Bonny Doons were good too–but not all. Goats do Roam forces itself upon you every time and it embarrasses people to ask for it. After the second time [max!] it’s not funny.

  9. With the thousands of wines fighting for shelf space now, many are struggling to be heard. I’ve often talked about looking for alternative forms of marketing, particularly with emerging technology, but this is also an inexpensive way to be noticed. As long as the juice inside is good, I think consumers will return. But if it is a gimick wrapped around a crappy wine, no amount of PR is going to overcome that. I once bought a bottle of a great Michigan bubbly called “Sex” for no other reason than wanting to be able to say “Please, may I have some more Sex, hon?” BUT the wine was good, and a great QPR as well, so I’ve bought it many times since.

  10. Punny labels have a place in the market – really what is the difference between Goats do Roam and Screaming Eagle when it comes just to the name? Is it not worse to put a poor product in a package that shouts quality? I feel I have certainly had my share of those….

  11. As an artist, I can deeply apppreciate a well-designed label; especially one that includes a thought-provoking illustration. However I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to what the label may say about the wine. To me, more “classic” labels make a wine look more appealing as I tend to gravitate towards “old world” (earthy, leathery) reds. Outright gimmicky labels turn me right off: I think the wine inside is crap, or at least “pedestrian” at best. Sorry if this sounds snobby; but that comes with the terrior.

    I did like the spin on the traditional label on the Cigar Volante label (sp?) tho’. That was good wine inside too.

  12. I think German wines can certainly have a broader appeal if they can use more approachable labeling. I have done a fair amount of exploration into the subject and the amount and disparity of terms can still be daunting. In particular I have a hard time trying to find a desired sweetness level. This is huge, because I think that German riesling is some of the most complex and intense wine, marrying great minerality to incredible acid structures, seeing new oak yet often aging forever.
    I do think that you are a bit off when you suggest that dry riesling is a mainly new world phenomenon. there are great dry german riesling, and frankly I personally find them far superior to the much-ballyhooed Australian offerings in this category. The problem is finding them, both in terms of labeling and actual availability. I recently had a bottle of Gunderloch trocken Spatlese from ’04 that was fantastic.
    I haven’t had either of the Leitz wines yet, but Leitz does make a stellar (sweet) Magdelenenkreutz Spatlese that would rock with some spicy food, so I’d try the entry bottles listed. Also, they may be a bit punny, but they aren’t downright cheese, so whatever.

  13. Please do not consider me too impolite …. but saying that dry Rieslings come from the New World is just, simply false. On the contrary : Sweet or Off-Dry Rieslings as you cherish them, are the exception !! The Germans ( ever since the wine scandal of 1985 ) in the last 20 years have turned to drinking dry wines .. up to a point that a majority of consumers over here think it causes headaches … And it is in fact do to the reputation of these dry wines that german wine is has regained popularity. Let alone this … Mr. Leitz ( on which I do not want to comment ) produces dry wines every year … as do his neighbours … I am always very sad to see that – apart from winemakers like Mr Leitz, Mr Loosen and co… only those wine makers large enough to go travel, will be heard and seen. Now, with the strengthening of the USD – why doesn´t anyone come over and discover the vast majority of small boutique wineries – I know they are waiting !!!

  14. Michael – new oak aging? What’s an example of one of those?

    I do take your point about German Riesling being dry; they just keep most of that for the home market, as Chris points out. And of course they make dry versions such as Trocken or Grosses Gewachs or Erste Lage. I edited the text to clarify my remarks.

    And, Chris, it’s a great idea to take advantage of the rebounding dollar to go and check out some of the better producers in Germany!

  15. I don’t mean to compare to a riesling with oak, I just speak to the ageworthiness of the wine despite the lack of oak. I typically relate aging ability in wine with extended elevage in oak (with some notable exceptions), so it is nice to see how riesling develops over time for a contrast. That having been said I still find that the sweet rieslings age better than the dry, though the dry can go quite a while.
    Overall though, sweet or dry, I find a bit of levity more welcome amongst the harsh teutonic classes of german wine than I would in less dour company (speaking of the labeling and classification, not the wines themselves). Next time I see the tow perhaps I’ll pick them up and take them for a spin. In the meantime I recommend the Gunderlock Nachenheim Spatlese Trocken, I purchased the ’04 for under 20 and it absolutely sang.

  16. Some wine producers takes it even further than fancy wine names and tag lines on the label. One example is Chateau de Roquefort from Cote de Provence, who includes a bare breasted women (drawing though) on the label of its prestige cuvee called Rubrum Obscurum. The snag is that the size of the womens breasts depends on the quality of the vintage. At least one could say that this is consumer friendly labeling for those who want the label to express more than the just the hard facts…

  17. […] And it comes up regularly in my NYU class. If you want to see sweet and dry in action, try tasting these two Leitz wines or a Northern Rhone syrah against a ripe, sweet version of the same grape from somewhere in the New […]

  18. Wine labels can be confusing if you don’t know what your looking at. Here is a place to find out how to easily read the nitty-gritty:

  19. Much laughter, little wit. – Portuguese Proverb


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