Friday, 23 January 2015

The power of label

At the recent Northeast portfolio tasting, I came across Finca Piedras Andinas. It caught my eye not because it was the only Argentinian wine represented but because of its label.

I asked Hernan Castro Matias, the producer's manager based in Hong Kong, if the graphic on the label had any meaning, perhaps associated with the name—Finca Piedras Andinas means house of Andean stones. Hernan said no, it is just a modern simple graphic that people can interpret freely and subjectively. For him, it is the stem of a wine glass. For me, it’s a chair. And someone else saw it as an abstract of a grape.

That is the power of a good label. It stands out from the crowd, gets people talking about it, and very likely gets the bottle picked up and purchased. Some wine professionals dismiss consumers who shop by label, insisting that one should buy wine based on knowledge of the region, grape varieties, styles and producers. But the reality is that there are so many wines in the market and most consumers only have limited wine knowledge. Unless there are salespersons hand-selling the wine, how can the ordinary consumer navigate the kaleidoscopic wine world?

I’m all for choosing by label. At least it encourages consumers to explore wines they haven’t tried rather than just sticking with the same few brands they always buy. I admit that I shop by label without feeling ashamed. I was in Barolo last year and went to a wine shop and picked three cases of Barolo by label alone—labels that I liked the look of but hadn’t seen in Hong Kong. I didn’t know all the producers and I certainly didn’t want to buy anything that was available in Hong Kong.

Of course it is true that the label alone may sell once but it needs quality to ensure repeat purchases. The label can't supersede quality as the most important attribute of a wine purchase but it does help the wine to speak up. What's more, a good label is not just something arbitrary, dreamt up by a designer who doesn’t know the wine. It is the bridge between consumer and wine and it should convey the history, the story and the philosophy of the wine.

So back to Finca Piedras Andinas. Yes, the graphic looks like a chair to me but the whole label is very modern and clean. The stroke is powerful yet elegant. It doesn’t look as though the wine is from a winery with hundreds years of history but rather it is one made by energetic young winemakers with only one mission in mind—to make a good wine.

So, what’s the verdict? Finca Piedras Andinas Malbec 2013 is well balanced, with layers of fruit supported by lively acidity. It is full-bodied yet not heavy. I think the label conveys the story very well. The winery is a family-run business located in the Uco Valley in Mendoza at some 1,000m above sea level. It used to sell grapes to other big name estates and only recently started producing wine under its own label. The wine's quality certainly lives up to the standout label and I’m glad that I spotted it.

So don’t hesitate, shopping for wine by label should not be embarrassing. Loosen up, happy shopping and exploring!

Finca Piedras Andinas is available from Northeast.

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