The International Review of Wine Packaging and Aesthetics, Vol. 14

Posted by Rob Walker on July 10, 2007
Posted Under: Reviews,The Designed Life,Wine Packaging

Pinot Noir, Montery County, California; South Eastern Australia
$12 (Savannah)

Chardonnay; Casablanca Valley, Chile
$15 (Savannah)

[Note: This is the fourteenth installment in a regular Murketing feature. For previous installments and an explanation, go here.]

Located several shelves away from each other in the same liquor store, these items simply demanded to be purchased in tandem. In fact, I briefly assumed that they must be offerings of the same vineyard. Not so. Still, it’s a particularly interesting showdown in the context of wine-label design at the present moment: Which is better, looks-wise – irony or sincerity?

Irony has a classic look about it — which makes sense. At a glance it resembles something from the days before terrible puns, cute animals, and goofy names became wine-label staples. It’s only when you pay attention that you realize that despite the serious appearance, the name pops out as a bit of a prank. Once you notice it, details like the flourishes around the silhouette “I” and the gold drop-shadow on the grave font in which the name is rendered take on a vaguely satirical quality. In other words, the name suggests that this is the Stephen Colbert of wine labels, mimicking familiar tropes with the specific intent of undermining them.

To my surprise, however, the back matter tells a very earnest story about two brothers deciding to keep the family vineyard going and finding that, “ironically,” this has been a fulfilling life choice. And here I was thinking this was going to be another ’tude wine. How ironic!

Anyway. While the design is hardly standout work, it’s fairly clean and cohesive, and doesn’t do anything so tricky that it trips over itself (a common irony pitfall). Ultimately, a wine called Irony shouldn’t stand out; it should smoothly blend in until the viewer catches on. And Irony does that. Still, I wonder – if that back-matter story is for real — about the wisdom of the name choice. I have a feeling I’m not the only person who will read the name as a suggestion that this is yet another offering that’s more about the gag than the actual wine. Consumers not engaged in writing about wine labels may skip it as a result.

On the other hand, there’s one gambit that’s potentially more annoying than irony — and that, of course, is sincerity. In this instance, the name Sincerity seems to reflect the product, which is “made with organically grown grapes.” I guess this angle explains that weird thing above the name, which looks like some kind of molecular diagram. Throw in the pale screened imagery of a vineyard at the bottom, plus a pointless curved stripe on the side, and you have just the sort of hodgepodge that attempts at sincerity so frequently produce. One last time: How ironic.

The most impressive design decision in the Sincerity scheme is the cork. It’s completely blank. Nice!

But not enough, I’m afraid, to save the day. Irony may not beat Sincerity every time – but this time it does.

Regarding the actual wine: Surprisingly enough, both of these were pretty good.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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