As you sip your favorite wine, consider the long history of labels since they first appeared carved into clay pots in Egypt about 3,000 years ago.

Today’s wine labels are marketing tools, mood setters and even works of art. Instead of sharp etching tools, label designers in 2017 use cutting-edge technology. Their work is showcased in museums and competitions around the world.

Turning point

The birth of the modern label can be traced to the so-called “Judgment in Paris” 41 years ago. In a blind taste test, a panel of nine French experts opted for upstart Northern California wines over respected names from France. The event opened the door for enterprising vintners from beyond the borders of Europe and boosted competition. There are about 9,000 wineries in the United States alone.

Three decades later, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held a landmark exhibition titled “How Wine Became Modern: Design and Wine 1976 to Now.” It included historical artifacts, and the latest design trends for glassware and labels. A wine label wall showcased nearly 200 examples from around the world.

Marketing tool

Considering the rows of bottles confronting wine shoppers, it is easy to appreciate the importance of a thoughtfully designed, well-executed label. Studies show at least 70 percent of wine purchasing decisions are made in the store. notes that wine drinkers tend to be notoriously disloyal. They love to try new brands. So it is crucial for a label to use colors and graphics to convey the quality of the wine, reinforce the brand name and appeal to potential buyers at an emotional level.

Yellow hues represent warmth and optimism, where shades of blue exude professionalism, sincerity, and calm. The best graphics incorporate bold, clean lines and simple shapes.

Typography also is important when considering a brand’s target audience. Type with serifs appeals to a more conservative audience; sans serif fonts are better suited to younger buyers. One survey of millennials found that 94 percent remembered wines with bold graphics.

Another survey by of 2,000 wine drinkers showed just how big a role labels play in purchase decisions. Participants were shown a selection of wines priced from $10 to $150. They did not know the prices of individual bottles. In making their choices, a whopping 82 percent said the label’s appearance was the biggest factor.

Formal Recognition

A quick check of the world’s top 10 selling wines conjures up some familiar, if dull, labels. Who doesn’t recognize Robert Mondavi (No. 1), Gallo (No. 3), Beringer (No. 9) or Sutter Home (No. 10). Yellow Tail (No. 5) with its jumping kangaroo is the only label of the bunch that does not rely on primarily on type.

With the big players opting for consistency over creativity, recognition and awards for the most innovative labels mean big opportunities for small, remote wineries to get noticed. Recognition these days is available at a range of levels. Here are a few examples.

  • In its 47th year, the respected International Wine and Spirits Competition is based in the United Kingdom.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Label Contest has been held annually since 2005.
  • The Biltmore Estate Winery in Ashville, N.C., is the most visited winery in the United States and has its own in-house label design contest.
  • ArtWeek Boston’s Wine Label Design Contest is open to everyone.


Less formal — but no less valuable — recognition for outstanding labels comes from the many lists of favorites compiled by media outlets and industry businesses.They are subjective, quirky and fun.

Forbes magazine publishes a list of the year’s “coolest” labels. The most recent group includes:

  • Gramma Wines of Romania, with the whimsical art of Horatiu Malaele.
  • Nuova Raccolto Cabernet Sauvignon from Pott Wines of Spain, featuring a stylized firebird design by Don Clark of Invisible Creature.
  • Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir from New Zealand uses an original font based on the handwriting in wartime letters of Allan Teece, father of owner David Teece.

Another favorites list worth checking out is from Beetle Creative, a Melbourne, Australia, design agency. Titled “The Best Wine Labels of All Time,” it includes:

  • Motif Wine. This winemaker from Austria combines bold colors with vibrant geometric patterns and uses no text on its labels. Yet brand prominence is achieved by emblazoning the Motif name and logo on the capsule of each bottle.
  • Andevine. This label, created by _Co of Sydney, Australia, for Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Leembruggen, is truly a piece of art. It combines the official flowers of Leembruggen’s native Holland, Australia and New South Wales in a museum quality image that evokes the Dutch masters.
  • Pandora’s Amphora, from Billy Button Wines in Porepunkah, Australia. Owner Glenn James drew inspiration from images on the very old amphora in which the wine was fermented. Understated elegance and unrivaled quality carry the day. A custom ribbon attached to the capsule is the perfect exclamation point.

From ancient Egypt to Australia, it has been quite a journey through the history of the wine labels. Next stop? Your local wine shop.


The Cork Stop

Written by Audrey DeSisto