Is it Bad to Shop for Wine By the Label?

School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. 

Today's teacher: Stephanie Caraway, Terlato Wines International's southwestern regional manager
Drink more wine: This is one resolution that made our 2011 top 10, but we're guessing it flew under your radar completely. We're willing to skimp on the French fries and ramp up the gym time to continue our wine education, are you? Don't worry, we're still shallow and superficial, so this week we ask...

UNCORK THE ISSUE: Is it bad to shop for wine by label?

SPILL THE JUICE: "No!" says Stephanie Caraway, the southwestern regional manager at Terlato Wines International. "We all do it. The way I see it is if the aesthetic on the front of the bottle matches my aesthetic, I'll probably also like the aesthetic of the wine."

NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: "Marketing plays such a big role in the wine industry now, especially from a retail standpoint," Caraway explains.

The descriptions on the bottle are almost as much of an art as the winemaking itself. "The label should really try to convey what the wine says in the bottle," Caraway says. "It needs to be specific, concise and canny. And hopefully it conveys the right message and tells the right story about the wine."

(Click through for other reasons it's totally fine to judge a wine on its label...)

Labels (likely) speak the truth. "Labeling laws are a huge deal for wine makers and wine distributors," Caraway explains, so if the wine's label makes some claim about grape varietals, alcohol, or organic content, it's probably true.

But she also recommends arming yourself with some knowledge: "Understanding the region and the grape varietals from the region you're buying wine from is key."

Caraway recommends branching out to unknown or untasted regions by trying something with a similar flavor profile to wines you've enjoyed before. "Let it boggle your mind. Look it up, try it out, and have a new experience," she says.

Note the vintage and the price point. "Vintage should play some role," Caraway advises. "If it's a Sauvignon Blanc that's under $15 and more than five years old, be careful."

SWALLOW THIS: Trust your instincts. If you're attracted to the bottle, you'll probably enjoy the wine... but make sure to dig deeper than the label when you get the bottle home.

Come back for class next Wednesday and leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments below, no hand-raising necessary.

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Hannah E Williams