The term “label drinker” is used to refer to someone who only buys the most expensive and famous wines – wines that may be good but that are also often overpriced. As wine critic Andrew Jefford has commented, “The classic label drinker is someone with more money than experience.”
Thanks to marketing, the term “label drinker” has acquired a wider meaning in the past 10 years to include people who only drink wine with which they are familiar. This could be a wine from a particular region or country, a certain grape variety or wine style, a specific brand or a favourite critic’s recommendation. A few friends who have spent some time in Australia only drink Australian wine, while another group’s definition of white wine is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Then there are those who only buy wine that is rated 90+ points or that has medal stickers… the list goes on. These wines are mostly good quality and probably not ultra expensive, but their followers are limiting their wine experience.
Social media is another reason for the upsurge in label drinkers. We love to post food, wine and wine label photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The wines that are shared are not confined to big brands or well-known regions, which is positive because this motivates us to try wine outside our comfort zone. However, there are usually very few words accompanying these photos other than the likes of “yum” or “great”.
We put too much emphasis on competitive tasting. We all want to taste “the best“ or “the approved” rather than “the different”. Research has shown that when two bottles of identical wine with different labels were presented to tasters, the one with the more famous or familiar label – including a word such as “Napa”, “Bordeaux” or “Chateau” – was perceived as better quality, with a higher price point.
The latest label-drinker trend is organic, biodynamic, vegan and natural wines. This may not be obvious in Hong Kong, but it is happening in other markets. The intention is good, but we should not blindly follow these labels. There are many wineries practising organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture, but they do not bother to apply for these certifications because they are expensive or because the winemakers view them as marketing gimmicks.
With most wine, winemakers may use egg albumen and gelatin to fine wine, but these are synthetic products and are filtered out as precipitates. Natural wine, if not made and handled properly, turns into vinegar, so we really should see beyond the label and judge a wine by its quality. It is also easy to find out more about a wine and the philosophy of its maker on the Internet if you want to know more.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that social media is the best platform for promoting the diversity of wine. Do share the wine labels you enjoy on Facebook and Instagram, but please say a few more words such as why you like a certain wine, with which food it pairs best and for what occasion you enjoyed it so that your followers know the context – this can be something like, “This is a simple but pleasant and affordable wine, and it’s a great BBQ wine with friends.”
There are thousands of good-quality wines from around the world. All we need to do is try them and share them. Open your mind and don’t fall into the label trap.
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