How To Write a Wine’s Name—Depends

wine-list1One would think it is a simple matter, but it turns out it’s not. In fact, there are various theories and practices behind the writing of a wine’s full name. My approach has always been the same: Except in those instances when the wine is to be written alongside a relatively few others of the same brand, then one ought to write the name of a wine in such a way that most easily allows the reader to find what they are looking for.

First, let’s talk about my exception. Consider the winery newsletter. When it does use names of wines, those wines will be made by the winery sending the newsletter. There isn’t any expectation by the reader that newsletter from Exe Winery will be discussing the wines of Why Winery down the road. If Exe Winery lists the three or four wines it is releasing soon or that are almost sold out, there is very little threat of the reader being confused about which wines are which. So, there are number of ways the winery could write the name of its wines:

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Great Vineyard”—Napa Valley  (no brand name included)

Exe Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Great Vineyard”—Napa Valley (brand emphasized)

2010 Exe Winery Napa Valley “The Great Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (emphasis on explaining the varietal)

The point is that when you are only writing the names of wines from one winery and when you are only writing four or five wine names, there is little chance the reader will get confused and you can write the name of the wines in the manner you think best emphasizes the nature of the wine in question. It’s really a question of aesthetics.

But what about when you are writing something that has you displaying the names of many wines in a list and there is no expectation that they will be from the same winery. Maybe there is some organizing principle in this list of wine names: wineries from a particular region, all of the same variety, all from the same vintage, etc. In this case, I’ve always taken the approach of writing the names of wines in a way that will allow the reader to quickly scan and find what they are (likely) looking for.

Some examples of how others handle this:

Exe Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley “The Great Vineyard” 2010

2010 Exe Winery “The Great Vineyard” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Exe Winery “The Great Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Exe Winery “The Great Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Great Vineyard” Exe Winery

Imagine going through long lists of wines in which the wines are written in these various ways. The Wine Spectator method is interesting insofar as they emphasize the winery name, but completely de-emphasize the vintage by placing it last. I think this is more a commentary on their part that the winery name is most important for scanning, rather than a suggestion that the vintage is not important.

And they have a point. When scanning a list of wines in which the vintage is listed first then the winery name, it’s fairly easy to train the eye to ignore that initial placement of vintage because all vintages are the same (four numbers) and they are easily distinguished from a word. They are easily skipped by the eye, which is free to move quickly to the right to the next portion of the wine name. One can choose to have the vintage first or not and really not impact the efficacy of the reader’s scanning efforts.

The Fine+Rare method is probably the most interesting approach. It assumes that the reader will be most interested in scanning a list of wines by varietal. However, keep in mind that this UK-based retail/broker always creates lists of wines in which the wines are always listed in alphabetical order by the winery names, despite the winery names being listed last in the name. For me this is problematic because if in fact readers are scanning for winery name, they are forced to move down the right side of a list of wines to find the winery name, then move left to gain more information. This is counter-intuitive to me and my eye.

For me, I am attracted to the Wine Searcher approach where the vintage is first (my eye can easily skip it) then winery name, for which I am most likely to be scanning, which is then followed by the vineyard designation, then/or the variety, followed finally by the appellation. For me, the variety is always most importantly described by the specific vineyard it came from if it is a single vineyard wine. Therefore, for me, a varietal is not completely described unless the vineyard name precedes it. Finally, the appellation information is much less important if there is a single vineyard. However, with no vineyard designation, I would place the appellation prior to the variety to give the variety more context just a sthe placement of the single vineyard name before the variety does.

The point is this: Write the wine’s name in such a way that the reader will find it most useful for finding what they want. Circumstance dictates how this is done. Consider the restaurant wine list. When wines are listed under varietal categories, you have no need to even list the varietal. At that point the vintage or winery or even single vineyard could be argued to be most relevant and the wine list, such as the Press Restaurant wine list here, could go with: 2010 Exe Winery “The Great Vineyard” Napa Valley, never mentioning varietal.


3 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - July 30, 2014

    The constant about the name of a wine is the winery, so I always list that first, followed by the name of a vineyard (if it’s a single-vineyard bottling), the grape variety or proprietary name, the vintage and then the AVA or appellation. Hence: Clos Firehouse Ashley Grove Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast.. I have seen many times when the vintage is listed first, but I think that order puts the importance of the year before the winery.

  2. Benito - July 30, 2014

    I’ve always used the Winebid version as my own house style, but I didn’t get it from them–it just seemed the most logical, and I place region on the second line, then grapes, then price/abv.

    I haven’t seen enough large collections in person to see how people organize their wine, though I’d imagine that it’s like that scene from High Fidelity in which John Cusack’s character is arranging his records autobiographically. My DVDs are on the shelf by genre, then director, then chronological order. Imagine a wine list organized by winemaker, or soil type…

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