As Dr Vino recently reported, Before the Courts: Cristal ($299) defeats Cristalino ($5.99), 3 August 2010, Louis Roederer, maker of Cristal champagne, recently won its trademark infringement lawsuit against J. Garcia Carrion SA over the misleadingly similar name and labeling of Carrion’s $US5.99 Spanish sparkling Cristalino.

While most wine lovers would concur with the old adage ‘that you can’t judge a book by its cover’, no-one can deny that a distinctive label gives a brand a strong visual identity and is the basis on which many consumers make their decisions. The phenomenal overseas success of Yellow Tail, for example, can be attributed in part to the eye-catching, wallaby on the label.

So what makes a great wine label?

I am struck by how much I liked the Dalwhinnie Moonambel label. (As few years ago I catalogued the wine of a collector who was a big fan of Dalwhinnie, so I handled a lot of them!)  No gold background or cute Australian fauna on this label.  Just elegant black lettering against a plain wine background! Even if I’d known nothing about this celebrated Pyrenees artisanal winery, I would have trusted the quality of the wine based on the quiet sophistication of the label.

But as Peter Bourne observes in his article, Willing  & Label, Qantas The Australian Way, August 2010, with over “2400 Australian wine brands vying for consumer dollars, … those with an eye-catching label are more likely to make a sale. And, assuming the wine is decent (and the majority of Australian wines are) a casual wine buy will become a dedicated consumer, which, after all, is the name of the (label) game.”

A few years ago, Alder Yarrow of Vinography: A Wine Blog wrote a very amusing post about the dangers of being seduced by eye-catching label, Wine Not to Buy: 2003 Alice White Shiraz, South Eastern Australia. His advice: “I want you to read the label. Yes really read it, front and back. I didn’t, and suffered the consequences.” The wine only cost $US5.99 and is one of those export only “critter brands” (it has a cute little kangaroo on the label) that populate US supermarket shelves. But, according to Yarrow, a closer read of the label would have tipped him off that the wine is made for an importer with grapes sourced from the nebulous region of ‘South Eastern’ Australia. Perhaps a couple of good reasons to not always judge a wine by its label!