The Art of the Wine Label

It’s a well accepted belief that the Ancient Egyptians were an advanced civilisation. We are yet to fully understand the complexities of all their invention and industry. 

But we do know one thing - they drank wine. A lot of it. And they were pretty smart about it.

But how are you supposed to keep track of the vast quantities of various wines that you’re consuming, day in and day out? With labels, of course!

Though much of European wine history speaks of really old, Roman-era vineyards being cultivated by monks, the ancient world has that pegged. Archaeological excavations in the Middle East - once the seat of the vast Persian Empire - found proof of the use of detailed wine labelling. And that was back in 6000BC! Leap frog over to Egypt and to the year 1550BC, and we learn a little more. Giant bottles, or amphorae, were commonly used to store and transport large quantities of wine. Seals and etchings were made on these bottles using clever hieroglyphics that denote the wine’s producer, year, production location and quality (sounds pretty familiar to today’s labels, doesn’t it?). How else are you supposed to know what the finest vintages are? 

King Tutankhamen apparently knew this well - he was buried with many bottles of wine, meant to see him through the afterlife. And of all those bottles, only 3 specific vintages had been chosen - as recorded on their wine labels. Because of the Egyptians’ sophisticated labelling system, King Tut could keep track of exactly who his favourite vinters were and what the very best vintages had been. And though I say King Tut, I’m fairly certain I actually mean a bevvy of servants dedicated to realising his every wine-related whim. It’s also a fairly safe assumption that at least one of these dedicated souls found themselves buried in The Valley of Kings alongside him - it may be the afterlife, but he still needed someone to pour the wine!

Fast forward to the 18th Century and into the European wine trade, where labels had developed into something which served the same purpose as before, but with rather more flourish. The invention of the lithograph allowed for the mass production of labels on parchment, which in turn presented producers with an opportunity to be a little more artistic when it came to label design. This was taken to its height in the 1970s, when wine makers such as Chateau Mouton Rothschild began working with famous artists (a Picasso original, anyone?!) to create bottle labels which could fully represent the artisanal quality of the product within. These attention-grabbing labels, which could be produced on a massive scale, increased distribution and so changed the industry forever.

Modern wine labels offer a deluge of information to the consumer. Alongside listing the legally required stuff, wine labels are an opportunity for producers to show some flair - to really make their brand stick out from all the other wines on the shelf. Which is important because a lot of people choose which wine to try based solely on how a label grabs them. Though it’s also useful to be able to take note of things like vintages and grape varieties for our future reference. After all, unlike a certain King we all know, most of us don’t have someone else around to take note of these things. 

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