What do you want on a back label?

Yesterday’s post sparked a discussion about which words and/or information you really would like to have on a back label. While everyone can agree that pabulum (ahem, “handcrafted“) should end up in the dump bucket rather than the back label, what would you like to see?

A site reader sent in the above photo from New Zealand, which blends tech specs with some yadda yadda. Another small importer/distributor commented that half the people he asked actually wanted tasting notes on the back label. Do you want grape varieties on the back when place names only appear on the front? Even though about a quarter of wine consumers feel “overwhelmed” by wine, there’s still a strong case that, pace Mies van der Rohe, more is indeed more when it comes to useful information on the prime real estate of back labels.

Previously, we discussed Randall Grahm’s decision to bare all on his labels and that the FDA may push all producers in that direction. And don’t forget barcodes! So here it is, an omnibus thread for all your back label venting/discussion needs!

Please note that this post does not contain sulfites. And that you may operate machinery after reading it.

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55 Responses to “What do you want on a back label?”

  1. Interesting question which I haven’t thought much about. I like reading the grape varietals in a wine, and for some reason there’s a compelling thrill to read “unfiltered” (which could be just a ruse in itself). I’m not moved by tasting notes, as I may taste something totally different; or sometimes NOTHING at all…

  2. I’m suspicious of this post. Afraid, really, that wineries might read it just to do the opposite. Am I being unfair?

  3. Food pairings might be nice, perhaps with tasting notes. Wineries could find out from their actual customers what they would like to see on the label. For starters, they could put on the back label a query asking what people would like to see there and have a phone number and website link for them to respond. Put this query on their website too.


  4. I had a customer just yesterday tell me she couldn’t purchase a wine because the tasting note said bananas. And she’s allergic to bananas.

  5. I’m a huge fan of LIOCO wines back label. Very tithe point with the “story.” solid tasting notes that are basically bulletted, and food pairing that make sense (Rosemary Crusted Rack of Lamb) ether than “Lamb.”

    If you haven’t seen the labels (or tasted the wines), you should.

  6. Good point, Kim. Quite a few people do assume those flavors and aromas are added to the wine. When I worked for a winery some people asked if the fruits were added to the grapes before fermentation or juice or flavorings added afterwards.

  7. Customers I work with daily would love to see tasting notes along wine and food pairing suggestions on back labels. I, as a wine steward, use tasting notes to help me match a wine to a person. When customers ask me for help in finding a wine that they would like, I always ask questions to help me guide them. So, the wineries that list the aromas and flavors on the back always helps me since it’s impossible for me to taste every single wine on the market.

  8. A specific food pairing, such as “rosemary crusted rack of lamb” can also turn off a customer because if he or she is not planning on that dish, they may go to another wine.

    I doubt there is a solution that will satisfy everyone. People buy wines for different reasons. Even shelf talkers which can be helpful in wine shops can also turn people off if there are too many of them.


  9. Tech Specs +1

    Really it should be that or nothing.

    btw how does one bottle of wine contain 8.3 drinks not in my cup its more like 3 hah

  10. I would like to see all the percentages of grapes used in the blends especially Bordeaux.

    While the description of the wine can be made up to sell the product (how many times have we seen a $5 wine sound like a 2nd Growth)I would like to see the food pairings.

    The other thing that would be great is how to pronounce producer, region, etc. from France, Italy, Spain…

  11. That back label is great. It’s exactly what I’d like to see. The numbers don’t make the wine, but accurate info allows one to infer stylistic differences. Varietals, ABV, pH, TA and oak regimen are incredibly useful. Suggestions on aging and serving temperature are also good. Tasting notes can be good, but they’re usually written by a marketer who’s writing what he/she thinks people want to read.

    I know I’m in the minority here, but often times I’ll buy one wine over another because there is more info. On the web, that means descriptive tasting notes (not just scores!) and winery tech sheets. In a store that means a good back label or a shelf talker/salesperson that says something descriptive (not just scores!).

  12. The words “Available FREE for Joe Roberts of 1WineDude.com” ?

  13. I’m a fan of tasting notes, but only semi-accurate ones, not the fluff notes they sometimes put on. Ballpark food pairings would be nice. I think what is really missing from a lot of labels is whether the wine is ready to drink, needs to be decanted, or needs cellaring and for how long.

  14. I do appreciate a web site on the back, then I can go there and read more about the wine and the winery.

  15. Dr. Vino – thanks for conitinuing this. I find all the feedback helpful.

    How often does anyone refer to the website, if it’s listed? One commenter on Twitter yesterday said simply that he can google the wine so the url is a waste of space.

  16. Brently- good point, and not one that has been made here so far. My label is becoming longer and longer…

  17. Grape varieties first, unless it’s on the front label or self-evident (e.g., a white Burgundy). Maybe a little bit about the producer, and a web site if there’s one. And maybe specifics on oak aging. No tasting notes, no food pairings, no discussion of how long it will keep.

  18. @Bob R. – “No tasting notes, no food pairings, no discussion of how long it will keep.”

    Why is that Bob R.?

  19. Perhaps a fold out label to accommodate everyone. This of course might add considerable weight to the package, adding to its cost. But then, it might revive the paper industry which is in decline because of failing newspapers.

    Asking actual consumers, rather than wine bloggers might be of more help. We get lots of our wines free. Why should you care what we want? 🙂


  20. Nice post Tyler. As mentioned on another blog, I’d like to see this happen more – though I don’t think it should be legally mandated to use the label. Making information available on a site is cheap and easy to update. I definitely would like to see this – but then there is a lot of information that is currently lacking on winery websites.

    To Damien – I am always happy to find a website listed as a wine writer. Sometimes google isn’t that reliable, and can be a pain to dig through all kinds of other information to just get what I want.

  21. Here is the latest on my side:

    Our “Tuscan IGT”, as it will be registered with the Italian government will be a blend of Sangiovese, Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc, all of which are included in the IGT laws, but the law goes on to indicate that we can not mention Sangiovese because there is a disctinct listing for “Tuscan Sangiovese IGT”. Despite a desire to tell the public what is in our wine, we might have to say simply “Tuscan Grapes”.

    Ryan – this is a case where I will set up a website to tell the whole story as I can say just about anything I want on my own pages.

    Can you tell that I am learning as I go? I can not imagine that consumers would know much of any of this.

  22. I have to fall into the “skip the purported tasting notes” camp. I’d rather see what I find in the glass as opposed to have someone suggest it–the whole power of suggestion thing can be avoided this way.

    I don’t know that I need a lot of technical information. But wineries ought to put their web address and post the tech info there. Better to have more tech info than less.

    In blends, I like to know what the varietals are and the percentages. I’m not sure why the percentages are important to me other than it completes the picture about the blend.

    Also, for wine newbies, it’s sometimes helpful to put a bit more information about the place of origin. Most people get Chianti OK, but outside of that DOC, newbies seem to have more trouble. Heck, even a “star on a map” would be good, perhaps even better than a city/town name.

  23. The tasting note is a turnoff for me, they’re subjective, presumptious and a bit condescending, and the producer should be above wasting the limited space to print it. Food suggestions that incorporate taste accents are a much better idea.

    Besides ABV and proportion of varieties, the residual sugar g/l, total acidity g/l, time in and type of oak, type of fining agent, even type of yeast, ought to be mandatory label info, not to mention declaration of the use of Mega Purple™ or wood chips, etc.

  24. I agree that tasting notes are a turn off. I want to read about facts, possibly some point of interest in the vines or harvest, but mostly facts. Don’t let the marketing dept have at it on the back label. I have a micro-winery in NC and customers buy my wine over Two Buck Chuck because of the story, whether at the Tasting room or on the back label. my 2 cents. smile.

  25. Tyler–

    Great topic.

    As evidenced by the array of comments, there will never be a perfect answer for the broad array of wine drinkers. Does the average punter really want pH, Pinot Noir clones numbers, vineyard soil types, fullness of the moon at harvest? No, of course not, and there is plenty of commentary here from knowledgable tasters that they do not want all that either.

    Which brings me around full circle to the way that I think that info should be made available.

    Winery websites are the best place to tell the whole story of the wine, of the winery, of the philosophy behind the wine. No one is going to put fold-out brochures on their wines with 500-word essays, yet there is a type of wine drinker/aficianado (of which I am one) who wants all that stuff and more. Simple answer. Put it all on the website.

    OK, so now that we have that out of the way, here is what I think belongs on wine labels–front or back. Since wineries these days blend the two, I am including some info that is required.

    –Name of the producer stated prominently–not hidden in the fine print
    –Alcohol level stated clearly, not hidden and the acceptable range of stated alcohol reduced to plus/minus 0.5%.
    –Lot number. We need to end the practice of having wines with the same label but different contents being put on the market.
    –Residual sugar. Sure, RS is not the only determinant of perceived sweetness in wine, but sugar is an indicator of sweetness and ought to be on labels.
    –Appellation, place of production, etc
    –Website. A waste of space for some, but a useful reference for others.
    –800 number. I use the 800 all the time for wines I taste. Maybe its just me, because I do a lot of tasting during the day.

    What do I not want–

    –Food pairings. The problem with food pairings is that so many back labels simply list a string of foods from cupcakes to chicken vindaloo and everything in between, all in fifteen words or less. Wineries who take this topic seriously put both food ideas and recipes on their websites.
    –Pictures of the family dog (sorry, canine lovers)
    –Detailed tasting notes. Wine writers deservedly get blasted for their purple prose, but try reading a cross-section of winery-driven tasting notes. Just like value-loaded words like “handcrafted” that do not belong on labels, so too do “this wine made me die and go to heaven” tasting notes not belong there.

    Let the retailers, sommeliers, critics, your tasting group, your buddies tell you how the wine tastes.

    So, there’s my two cents worth.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Charlie Olken
    Connoisseurs’ Guide To California Wine

  26. @ Charlie
    I do like the 800 numbers on all of the Ole stuff- you call, type in the product number and they tell you everything you want to know about the wine, the region, the climate, the grape, etc

  27. I cannot agree more with getting rid of needless tasting notes and jibber-jabber about the “loving process” the grapes undergo. If a producer wants to tell that story, Post it online. I’d like the facts. Straight up. The pictured example is exactly what I’d like to see. I don’t need a producer to tell me what the wine tastes like.

    If anything, I think the power of suggestion brought on by back label tasting notes tends to harm my drinking experience rather than enhance it. I want to decide for myself what I see, smell, and taste.

    That said, I do think that general suggestions regarding meal pairings would be very helpful. On the other hand, I agree with the post earlier that suggestions which are too specific can be a turn-off if i’m not having the exact dish listed.

    Great post thread! Really interesting reading so far.

  28. From a consumer perspective, customers should be made aware of the non-obvious. For instance, people have allergies which can cause grave reactions like death. Certain components that winemakers put in wines (i.e. egg whites for fining, egg proteins to kill gram-positve bacteria like malo-actic bacteria, etc.)should trigger a mandatory note like WINE CONTAINS DERIVATIVES OF EGGS is helpful for those with egg allergies. Otherwise, the status quo should remain. Information shown on the back and front of the bottles besides alcohol and the current warnings on alcohol and sulfites is strictly marketing by the winery. Wineries should not be compelled to provide nutirtion data since each wine is different and made in most batches of the size which is uneconomical to analyze.

  29. These thoughts have helped as we go through iterations for our little Tuscan number. Below is our current draft, which depends on a number of approvals, not the least of which is from the US govt.

    By way of intro, we are talking about a $12 to $14 Tuscan blend of younger vines from a single vineyard that is certified by demeter. To keep costs down, this label will not indicate certification. The front label will have the name (still a trade secret), alc level and vintage, and below, some iteration of :

    Happy. Tuscan. Wine.

    On the back, in addition to gov’t warnings et al, we are looking at:

    What is a happy Tuscan wine?

    It’s a hand picked blend of traditional Tuscan grapes from our family’s vineyard, matured in old wooden barrels.

    It’s ready to drink today with red sauces, red meats, and cheeses.

    It’s the product of sunlight and elbow grease,
    not chemical additions in the vineyard or winery.

    It’s limited. Just 1000 cases produced.

    It’s exclusive to Candid Wines. http://www.candidwines.com

    Site feedback has been great and I am sharing this to share the process rather than sell the wine. Any thoughts on the relevance of these descriptors would be much appreciated.


  30. In my experience I’ve found that the best wines don’t tell you what to taste on the back label. I would just like to see some technical information on the back label so I know how the wine was made and can use that to asses how it tastes or smells

  31. A lot of this might depend on where a particular wine is sold, and its price. Wines sold only at the tasting room don’t need the same info as those in high end wine shops, and both differ from what is sold in supermarkets.

    If a winery has wines at a large range of price points, and is able to vary this info, perhaps a different choice for low end wines versus high end wines.

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  33. I think it depends on where you live. I live in China and would be happy to see local producers indicate what portion of wine found under “Chinese” labels is actually imported bulk wine from China, Argentina, Australia, Spain, etc.

    The same goes when I return home for vacation in Canada: No more “Cellared in Canada”, please — just tell me where the wine originated.

    Cheers, J. Boyce

  34. I think the label you show on this post is wonderful. I want tasting notes and tech specs.

  35. I am firmly in the camp that would prefer to eschew tasting notes (subjective and self promotional), but would appreciate large and easy to find alcohol levels (I simply cannot handle the 15% and up anymore) and a list of varietals and percentage of varietal. That information tells me more about the wine in the bottle than self congratulatory tasting notes and wine pairings ever will.

  36. Hi! Love the topic of this post, BTW. I like to see specifics about the wine on the back. Enough information to let me make a decision if I’m in a quandary at the wine shop. If I’m at the winery, it doesn’t much matter, as I can ask whatever questions I have right then. Specifically; percentages of varietals in the wine, some tasting notes, barreling stats, and any other info that the wine maker/producer thinks their customers should know about their creation should be on there.

    P.S. I agree with the notes about food pairings being a potential turn-off. Everybody has their tastes and opinions, for marketing reasons, a winery shouldn’t write themselves into a corner on this one.

    Peace and wine,

  37. I understand that wine producers want to utilize all the label space they can in an effort to sell the wine. But these ridiculous little “story segments” that are turning up a lot give no real information. They’re only purpose is to make the consumer want the wine from an emotional level. I am much more motivated by real information, especially varietal components and percentages, than by ad copy. Is it the fault of the producers for trying to sell us with silly blurbs and no real information? Or are consumers to blame for allowing that to work?

  38. Count me in with the “tech specs yes” and “tasting notes no” crowd. Although a dryness/sweetness scale, like the “wineometer” that Shelton uses on its back labels, might be useful. Certainly more useful than the mysterious Zind-Humbrecht five-point scale.

    There is a very short video of what they look like here.

    Scroll down past the first video to see it.

  39. Maybe at one point the technology will be such that a customer could scan a bar code on the back label with a cell phone and any and all information will pop up on the screen.

    There is obviously no way to satisfy everyone since one person wants tasting notes and food pairings, another doesn’t want this at all.

    A winery has to sell its wine, not just appeal to the intellect and aesthetics of a few. And the right approach for one winery and even one wine is not necessarily the right approach for another.

    Since this discussion started I’ve paid more attention to back labels in wine shops. Interestingly enough, I was surprised to discover I don’t really care at all what’s back there. All I care about is the producer, the vintage, the varieties, the region and the ABV, things that are on the front label. (And sometimes the importer if I know nothing about the producer of an imported wine.)

    Fascinating and intelligent discussion though.


  40. Slightly O/T, here, sorry, but Larry’s comment rang a distant bell…

    “A winery has to sell its wine, not just appeal to the intellect and aesthetics of a few.”

    I have always taken this as a given, but lately I’m not so sure. I’m thinking of guys like Thierry Puzelat, who are making wine to a particular self-defined standard, and who seem to embrace the notion that they will always play to a very small audience.

  41. Wine Mule is right. I did not mean to say that all wineries should strive to sell to as many people as possible. Clearly there are some small wineries that will appeal to a small selection of people. Not every winery wants to sell millions or even thousands of cases. Some will make the kind of wine they like and hope others like it too.

    For the most part, a winery needs to sell its wine to stay in business. And since a winery can make several wines (at least here in California), it can appeal to different segments of the market with different choices. But it should pay attention to what their customers want, both in the bottle and on the label.

  42. Wineries may have to sell wine to stay in business, but a wne label is a legal document and it is required to avoid language that is suggestive of quality.

    There are minimum requirements for informaton, some of which are at present insufficient (see my comments above). Beyond that, there is information that many of us would like to see, and certainly ought to be optional.

    Listing clones of PN seems like a waste to me, for example, but it is truthful so it ought to be optional for the winery. There are all kinds and types of truthful information for which there is simply no room on wine labels, but a winery certainly should be able to tell the truth.

  43. To add to what Kim said above (about someone being allergic to bananas), I have had the same thing happen where I work! People come into the store and read descriptors like “notes of plum,” or “chocolate notes,” or the like, and think that those things are actually IN the wine! Funny.

    I for sure like knowing the grape varietals and percentages in blends, and you don’t always find this info on labels. Which I just don’t get. I find it so darned annoying when this info is nowhere to be found ON the wine label itself, or even online when you go to the producer’s website. I for one want to know what’s in a blend I’m drinking, as it helps me know what other kinds of blends I’d like to try!

  44. I would love to see the varietals on the label, however, one of the reasons producers don’t add that information (at least in the case of non-vintages) is that the blend may be different from season to season.

    However, this really is only applicable to informing the customer of percentages of each grape.

    When it comes to the actual grape names, it should be easy to disclose that info.

    Tasting notes always make me happy, because unless you are a wine buff you don’t know what the difference is between one wine from the French Rhone Valley and another.

    Pairings on the other hand do tend to back a wine into a corner. Any decent wine store clerk should be able to recommend a wine to pair with your dinner.

    As far as the organic and allergen info, I think its a good idea, because I don’t like doing the research to tell my customers that info.

  45. On the back of a wine label, I would like to see the varieties and their percentuales, information on the place of origin of grapes, place and manner winemaking. Also information is combined with what foods.

  46. Ciao! I work for a small family winery in Italy and found this discussion really fascinating. We just had our first harvest in 2009 and spent lots of time trying to figure out what to put on the back label. Finally we resorted to a sentence about our winery and reference to the website, as this is where anyone can get more detailed information e.g. tasting notes and technical information. I also find tasting notes on a back label ‘subjective and self promotional’ as Laurie put it 🙂

  47. I would like only government mandated information on the back label. We is the U.S. have successfully made wine so confusing to consumers that we are victims of our own over-zealous attempts (read: “BS”) to turn even insipid wines into mythical objects. While people in other countries treat wine as part of their food and culture, we have poked it, prodded it, over-analyzed it to death and created a category that many consumers view with suspicion and dread. Let the wine speak for itself and do away with all the noise contributed by pompous winemakers and starry-eyed marketers that no longer have the ability to look at their wines with objectivity.

  48. I think the cellaring potential on that label is a nice touch. I wouldn’t have thought to ask for it.

    And I definitely don’t need to know about brix.

    Additives would be nice. Natural yeast or designer yeast. Sulfites. Wood chips. You know, the things that let us see how much the wine has been worked on.

  49. Can we differentiate between flavor characteristics and “style notes”? Sometimes I say I want “tasting notes”, but I really mean “style notes”. I don’t care about words like chocolate, cassis, or bark.

    Same with “pairing” suggestions. What I really want is a note that tells me that this wine’s characteristics make it suitable to be drunk in certain ways (alone, ice cold, with fatty red meats, with spicy foods, etc.).

    This needn’t be off-putting – independents and contrarians should be proud to ignore this info!

    I really do find style notes and drinking notes helpful when I’m in the wine shop, both on expensive and on inexpensive wines.

  50. This has lead me to recognize a parallel between info at an art museum and wine labels. I am more idiot than savant when it comes to art, so I like to see context next to the piece I am looking at, without being “sold”. I love shows that help me appreciate a particular piece or style more thouroughly through education.

    I’d love to write a label that worked the same way, introducing a consumer to a region, maybe even asking a few leading questions that spark a train of thought. I leave well run exhibits wanting to learn more. I wonder if it’s possible to find a voice that can speak in an encouraging tone – i.e. one that encourages the consumer to try not only this wine but others from the region, as opposed to a pure sales and marketing push.

  51. I do think “non-obvious” information should appear on a label, but I may have a different notion than some of what “non-obvious” means. For example:

    “Government warning: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems.”

    Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is real, but complete abstinence from alcohol is hardly the only permissible response. In Immoderate America, it seems it’s always got to be all or nothing.

    Anyone who doesn’t realize that wine will “impair your ability to drive…” should not be drinking wine at all, and probably shouldn’t be allowed out on the streets without a leash.

  52. I would love it if the producers would print the sweetness scale – e.g. “demi-sec” somewhere on the flippin label. Loire whites like Vouvray are a nightmare in this regard.

  53. I think that if a winery must put notes on the back label, winemaking methods, aging potential, and style are much more useful than tasting notes. Technical details other than a precise alcohol percentage are very confusing to 99% percent of the people out there and probably lead to the perception that enjoyment wine is too complicated for the everyman.

  54. I continue to receive good feedback from friends. This just came in today:

    Hi Damien,

    I ran the back label copy issue past my personal focus group (sister & brother-in-law) over the weekend. It was done in a somewhat scientific manner as they did not know why I was asking or where I was headed with the questions.

    While they don’t make wine a hobby, they are regular wine drinkers and consciously note their preferences to style, varietal and sometimes even country/region. While they don’t maintain a “cellar” they routinely buy wine to maintain a 3-4 case inventory in the house that is made up of about 60% daily drinkers $14-$19, 30% “better meal” wines in the $20s and a few special bottles beyond that. They read no wine mags and their store selections are usually based on price point/region (e.g. French chard at $19 vs. Cali at $19), store recommendation and occasionally an exploration into a different price point/region/varietal for fun.

    Their thoughts on the back label:
    Flavor descriptors are definitely welcome and do not reduce the wine perceived quality or status. Descriptors would not affect whether they chose a bottle or not.
    While they found food pairing interesting, they stated it would reduce the perceived quality and status of the wine. They would be less likely to buy a wine with food pairings than an equally priced bottle without them. The interest probably stems from the fact that they cook from recipes quite a bit and most include a wine pairing.
    Details regarding winemaking beyond the most basic (e.g. Oak, No Oak, etc) were found to be excessive and were ignored.
    Information regarding the winery, winemaker, history of the dirt, etc. was interesting and desirable and might cause them to pick between two equal priced wines.
    Hope this is helpful.

  55. […] with bulky, bling bottles from a bygone era. Give us good wine, give us a pretty front label and an informative back label, but keep the heavy […]


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