Psychology of a Wine Label: Why We Buy the Bottles We Do

Psychology of a Wine Label: Why We Buy the Bottles We Do

Without a smooth-talking salesperson to serve as co-pilot, wandering the aisles of wine shops and supermarkets can feel like losing yourself in the Bermuda Triangle. Some wine lovers go in with a list, while others simply prefer to wing it and let wine fate determine the perfect bottle. Favorite grape varieties and familiar wine regions certainly help narrow down the search, but when everything else is equal, what really causes one bottle to win out over the other?

Art and copy has ruled the advertising world for over a century, selling us with sleek designs and compelling content. But what exactly lies behind the design of wine labels, and what, if any, are the psychological games at work?

In an interview with NPR, David Schuemann of CG Napa Brand Design shared that “a carefully crafted label can make us think the bottle is way more expensive than it is, and it can boost our enjoyment of the wine itself.” Uncluttered labels with cream-colored backgrounds and an additional touch of elegance such as gold stamping or embossed text tend to communicate that a wine is expensive – and by extension, of higher quality.

On the flip side, wine labels that feature humorous jokes, woodland creatures, vibrant colors, and avant garde artwork intentionally break with the “old-school”/ Old World style. These labels don’t communicate the same elite status; instead, they reach out to wine drinkers who embrace the idea that wine should be enjoyable and accessible to anyone with a corkscrew – not just the wine snobs who can properly pronounce remontage.


Beyond relating the bottle to a particular price point, wine labels are also powerful (and sometimes our only) indicators as to what the wine will taste like when the cork is popped and the first glass is poured. Back label panels traditionally carry tasting notes, though many read more like a Hallmark card than anything else. But it’s not just the text that signals what’s inside the bottle; colors used on the label itself can hint at what flavors to expect. For example, red and violet colors are generally paired with berries and red fruit, while greens and yellows are reserved for wines with tropical flavors, tree fruit, and herbal characteristics.

Whether we like it or not, wine labels communicate feeling. The same way that staring at an oil on canvas in an art museum evokes emotion, so do the few square inches of a wine label. The size may be smaller, the moment may be briefer, but the effect is entirely the same. A dramatic red and black design evokes romantic sensations, while a picture of a sandy shoreline invites feelings of tranquility. Humorous images, whimsical cleverness, and edgy artwork all attempt to make a connection with the person sauntering by, but not with everyone. A successful wine label reaches a specifically targeted customer – the customer most likely to enjoy sipping on what’s inside, which is why some labels turn us off and others wind up in our shopping carts.

Wine labels also can produce easy memory recall, or staying power, in the minds of consumers. In an academic study conducted by Real Simple, participants could accurately recall 94% of the bottles with graphic-driven wine labels, and only 68% of the bottles with muted, traditional designs. That has big implications for wine brands interested in repeat business. Next to no one walks into a wine shop carrying an empty bottle and asks for “one more of this kind, please.” Of course not, because the bottle went out with last week’s recycling. However, if the wine label is distinct enough to make an impression, that consumer will be able to find what she liked and buy it again.

When wine lovers aren’t able to sip on a sample before whipping out the wallet, closing the sale often comes down to nothing more than the label, whether it’s the prose on the back, or the artwork on the front. So next time you lose your bearings in a sea of too many options, let yourself be drawn in by the colors, the stamps, the foils – just be aware of what’s going on behind the scenes.

"Psychology of a Wine Label: Why We Buy the Bottles We Do" originally published on The Menuism Dining Blog.