Plain and Simple


I think it was the former US President Bill Clinton who used the phrase ‘Keep it simple, stupid’.  Those who design most traditional German wine labels should take note!  Take the example below:

German Label

It has the producer’s name, the vintage, the grape variety, the region, village and vineyard in which the grapes were grown and even an indication of how ripe the grapes were at harvest.  This is typical of German wine labels and makes them among the most informative in the world.  But that – and the common use of the difficult-to-read antique font – also puts off many wine lovers who don’t want – or understand – all the detail.  “Just give me a clear idea what the wine is going to taste like”!

So, I was pleasantly surprised recently to find a German wine with one of the barest labels I’ve seen:


Just the producer’s name, the grape variety (Grauburgunder is the German name for Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris) and the vintage.  Anyone interested in the region (Rheinhessen) or village (Nierstein) could check the back label where you also find, far more importantly, that the wine is dry (trocken) and has, unusually for a German white, 14% alcohol. In some wines, this level of alcohol can taste ‘hot’ or dominate the flavour but not here; it brings a lovely richness in the mouth – closer in style to a good Alsace Pinot Gris rather than a light and quaffable Pinot Grigio.  The wine is quite savoury with a delightful saline character that makes it really food-friendly – a noble fish in a creamy sauce comes to mind. 

From the label to the taste and style, this is about as far away from normal expectations of a German wine as it could be, but it’s really delicious.  And a bargain, too: Louis Guntrum’s Grauburgunder is just £11.50 from the Wine Society.


4 responses »

  1. I understand the point, and in a way I fully agree.
    I am wondering though, if we’re not going a little too far these days with simplifying wine labels. There are so many wines these days with an entirely white label, a few words and a logo, I find it a little daunting.
    I was recently going through the catalogue of a Dutch wine merchant, offering wines from France, Spain, South Maerica, South Africa and more, and virtually all wines had a white label with similar design. To the point that I asked the merchant if this was a criteria or a strategy of theirs. They responded that it was just the way all these different producers had designed their wine and they just happened to have liked these.
    Perhaps an exagerated modern trend, like this old German label was indeed a little ‘too much’.
    Cheers. ANd thanks for sharing 🙂 Julien

    • Thanks for your comment Julien and I agree with you. There’s a balance to be drawn between style over substance with a result that you’re not giving customers enough info and giving too much without considering the impact of all the clutter. Ian

  2. Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign used “It’s the economy, stupid”, obviously derived from the slogan you gave, which goes back quite a bit further! I do like a bit of detail on the label, but sometimes the marketing people generate too much clutter. I wonder, do you know of any books covering the subject of wine label design? It must be an interesting area, combining the artistic side, the demands of the regulators, and the desire to stand out on the shelf.

  3. Quite right, Mike! Not Bill Clinton. Wikipedia suggests that the first recorded use of ‘Keep it simple stupid’ was in the US Navy around 1960 although, no doubt, it might have been around even before then. As for books on wine labels, it depends what aspect you’re interested in: there are a number of ‘coffee table’ books concentrating on the artwork of the label and a few on the history going back to the time when the bottles themselves were unlabelled and silver or china labels were hung round the necks to identify the contents. Most are quite old but I see there are some available on Amazon. And then there’s the more practical side of what do all the words you find on labels mean? For this, there’s a good basic guide in “Looking Behind the Label” published by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust for their Level 2 course. I’ve got a copy if you’d like to borrow it. Ian

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