Wine Label Art: Why Most Modern Wine Labels Are so Ugly

Updated on March 23, 2018
whereyouwatch profile image

I have worked as a writer in France for ten years, writing professionally for primarily entertainment and food publications.

I give the fun hipster labels credit. It is not trying to be something it is not
I give the fun hipster labels credit. It is not trying to be something it is not

If you’re somewhat of a wine nerd and have travelled to a few wineries, there are two things you don’t want to hear. If the winemaker nonchalantly enquires whether you are going to taste their brand-new range of négociant labels. You want to say “Not in a million years”, but it blurt but as “Yes please”. The second is when a winemaker utters s those immortal words: ”We have just redesigned our label”. Here we go again. They tilt the bottle in your direction so that you can admire the new artwork.

Feigning interest, you squint and work out what, if anything, has actually changed. At the hack of your mind you know that some spotty teenager with the French equivalent of GCSE in Graphic Design at Bordeaux Polytechnic spent approximately three minutes during lunch-hour tweaking the font, shifting it a couple millimetres down then back again, lightening the background a random notch. These half-dozen mindless clicks of the mouse will cost thousands of Euros once Marketing has sprinkled this feckless redesign with pretentious psycho-twaddle along the lines of “Vermillion is so ‘in’ for cash-rich millennial oenosluts” or “Wine critics give higher scores to labels with Aleppo beige backgrounds”. You hide your incredulity, remark something banal like “That’s nice” whilst fathoming what, if anything, is different from the previous label that has served them so well since time immemorial.

Sometimes the classics works the best.
Sometimes the classics works the best.

Back in the old days, it would seem that all properties just bought off-the-shelf fonts, a choice of three or four at most, which is why, half a century later, they are so easy to fake. There are exceptions, most notably Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's striking font, Figeac’s red and gold lettering and those magnificent gothic.

German Riesling labels that make the Sistine Chapel look like an Etch-a-Sketch doodle. Even after so many decades these labels are unmistakable and distinctive. Some had little designer motifs. Think of Calon-Ségur s heart. It derives from Nicolas-Alexandre, the Marquis de Ségur who claimed his heart lay in that Saint Kstéphe chåteau rather than Lafite. Fast-forward a couple of centuries and the bottle flies off shelves in the Far East because that same heart is seen as the ultimate romantic gesture and (I quote verbatim here) “gets women into bed quicker”. And sure, it’s different now that we buy a lot of wine online. And ordering wine online - You do get sucked in by those hipster fun labels.

I doubt that was the marquis’s original intention. Michel Chapoutier’s labels include script written in Braille so that the blind can know which single-vineyard Hermitage they are buying, though unfortunately not the price - not until the cashier rings it up and tells them. Labels can be works of art. Manfred Krankl’s bottles of Sine Qua Non are so aesthetically pleasing that you don’t know whether they should be cellared or displayed at the Tate Modem. Baron Philippe de Rothschild hit upon the novel idea of commissioning famous artists to paint a unique label. The roll call is impressive: Salvador Dali, Picasso, Francis Bacon and Tony Hart, who forewarned the baron that any bottles sent to Broadcasting House could not be returned. Sadly, Gilbert & George scented excretion label was dumped and Damien Hirst's insistence that little should be sliced in half and bathed in formaldehyde was rejected. Marcus Harvey proposed a ‘Pol Pot’ label which, after a long meeting, the marketing department felt it “gave the wrong message".

The best labels, sadly a dying breed, are those produced when even the most famous estates could not rub two francs together.

The proprietor would wait for a suitably sunny day, then traipse into the vineyard with his Brownie and take a photograph of the chateau and its surrounding vines. The resulting monochrome image would be out of focus and. upon closer examination, he would notice that the village inebriate had stumbled into shot. Merde. But whatever. He would ask his local printer to run off a few rolls and, hey, presto, that would be the label until the end of time because, despite its simplicity and amateurishness, it captured something bucolic and timeless. There are some prime examples: pre-1970s Chateau Nenin and old Domaine de Chevalier labels are beautiful, even if neither feature the aforementioned inebriate. Negotiants are a prime source because having bought the barrels, they had to find a different label to the chateau and the easiest option was to just slap on a photo.


Of course, there is that old saying that the only thing that counts is what is inside the bottle, not outside. This is bollocks.

Most consumers buy on pretty labels, not the hint of blackcurrant leaf on the nose or the average score of 4.99 on Vivino. And sure, Petrus might taste amazing but that label kicks arse, especially when you make sure that it's within sight of every other diner so that they may gaze admiringly at your wealth, your impeccable taste and, of course, your wealth. My advice to winemakers? Don't go redesigning labels every weekend. Stick with what you've got and resist sexing up the image by tweaking the font size or changing the background colour an imperceptible degree, because in 99.9% of cases nobody notices - and if they do, it's because it looks worse.

Fun and stupid, like the above, or elegant and classic.
Fun and stupid, like the above, or elegant and classic.

Pomerol, France

33500 Pomerol, France

get directions

Promerol, home of some great wine labels.

How to Read a Wine Label (Video)

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Bruce Donners


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)