Wine is sunlight

February 5th, 2012 § 0 comments

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”—Galileo Galilei

I’ll be the first to admit that I really don’t know that much about wine. I don’t really know what wines pair with what foods and only sometimes can describe the multitude of flavors that enrich the wine. Because I am a visual person and a graphic designer, I purchase wine based on the label design. I know that is a major faux-pas, as the clothing does not always make the man, but I have to start somewhere.

Wine Selections: HobNob and Hangtime

I am currently working on a class project in which I am trying to figure out how to sell American wines to the French—not an easy task by any means. So as part of my research, I figured I should start tasting some wines. So based on the labels I purchased two pinot noirs—one from California’s Napa Valley and the other from the south of France. From doing a bit of research about French wine I’ve discovered they have strict rules about how wines are classified. If a wine does not meet all of these guidelines, it is considered to be simply “table wine.” Roughly 50% of all wine from France is considered to be table wine so it is quite common. The Hob Nob french wine I picked up is considered a table wine so it is probably not the best competitor to the American, but hey I chose based on the label design and this post is more about typography and graphic design than the quality of the wine.

Closeup: HobNob

What drew me to the Hob Nob French wine was the clean look of the design. Very heavy on typography it reminds me of a game of tick-tack-toe in the way the letters are arranged. A little predictable using the O as the center of the graphic but it works. The screened back letters surrounding the main logo help to give this bottle some visual texture. The addition of the Hob Nob logo to the top of the cap is also a nice little touch. I really like the simplicity of the color palette—black, white and red gives the design a sleek and contemporary look—although not something you typically see in French wine labels. Most of the other labels in the French section of the liquor store used lots of script typefaces, ivory backgrounds and sketches of either the vineyard or the main house on the estate and used a pastel color palette. The wide sans-serif on this label is in stark contrast to the wines that were displayed beside it. If this bottle hadn’t been displayed in the French section I might have actually misjudged where it was from. I think this is part of the marketing strategy of Hob Nob as they try to expand their reach into the American market. Apparently this strategy worked because I picked up the bottle.

Cap detail: HobNob

Wine label: Hangtime

The color palette was what first drew me to the Californian Hangtime Pinot Noir with it’s rich purple layers. The label itself is quite different from the Hob Nob as that sophisticated sleekness is replaced by a clean sketchiness. The typeface is a slab-serif, although in some cases the serifs look rounded. The bottle looks very friendly and relaxed. The illustration is quite lovely. I have always loved illustrations that have color as the background with outlines in black overlaying and not quite lining up with the color behind it. It almost has a screen-printing feel to it. The sketchy design pairs well with the relaxed attitude of California. There is a generous use of white space (negative space) on the front label which allows your eye to flow nicely through the label. The back of the label is organized well given the sheer amount of information. I like the idea of describing the wine flavors as it helps a novice like me figure out what I am tasting and what to pair it with. The back of the Hob Nob label is missing all of this information and relies on a dictionary description of what “Hob Nob” means. Again pretty organized and hip as it includes a QR code for smartphones.

Wine label back detail

Wine bottles: HobNob and Hangtime

After spending so much time analyzing the design of the labels, it was time to crack open the bottles and see if the beautiful designs on the outside matched the flavors on the inside. After many swirls, smells, and sips (and no spitting—I hate wasting wine) I came to the conclusion that both wines were quite good. The French Hob Nob was very mild and smooth. A bit of a wooden oak smell left in the glass once finished. This wine is very pleasant and would be a “safe” wine to serve a large crowd. The Californian Hangtime was a little more flavorful. It was very clean and smelled like rain. A little more of a bouquet than the Hob Nob. Overall I was happy with both bottles so in this case – the label design choice did not fail me.

Label detail: Hangtime

Whether I’ll ever be able to really tell a pinot noir from a merlot or a chardonay from a sauvignon blanc is a matter of debate. I suppose my palette is just not that sophisticated, but that’s ok. As long as wine makers continue to make beautiful wine labels I’ll be content with my novice wine tasting skills.

Related:

Hob Nob Wines
http://www.hobnobwines.com

Hangtime Wines
http://www.hangtimewines.com

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