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Can you judge a wine by its label?

Last week, as I indulged in my weekly dose of trashy reality TV with the premiere of The Bachelor (the most shocking Bachelor premiere yet!), I got to thinking about first impressions. Whether it’s falling in love or buying a bottle of wine, does appearance mean everything?

I’m often asked whether it’s OK to choose a wine based on the appeal of its label. We buy a lot of products because of eye-catching packaging; it’s something that designers and marketers count on. And in many situations, there is really nothing wrong with that. There are over 15,000 different wines in the U.S. market, so if you are in a store trying to decide which wine to buy and have no other information to go on, why not choose the bottle with the label that appeals to you the most?

It’s important to remember that appearances aren’t everything. Think about The Bachelor. Season after season, I am astonished by how easily our bachelor or bachelorette can fool him- or herself into thinking that good looks make up for a lack of substance. A pretty label on a bottle of wine is nice, but how the wine in the bottle tastes is another issue entirely. If you keep buying the same wine because it looks good but you really don’t enjoy it, you should start considering other factors. I’ve bought plenty of wines because, say, the winery has the same name as my son or there’s a cute animal on the label. But at the end of the day, if the wine in the bottle doesn’t have something to say, I won’t return to it.

So how can you tell if you have a bottle that’s all style and no substance, or a wine that has the making of a long-term relationship? For that, I suggest you consider the old adage “Love is blind.” Next time you are having a get-together with friends, ask everyone to bring two bottles of wine: one that is purchased based solely on the attractiveness of the label, and the other chosen for having as unappealing or boring a label as possible. Hide all of the wines in brown bags and have everyone take a small taste of each wine. Then rank them from best to worst. I’d be willing to bet that wines from both pretty and unattractive labels will be popular, and you will probably find that a grape variety (or grape varieties), the producer and the region matter more.

But that’s really the beauty of wine. It involves kissing a lot of frogs, or at least opening a lot of different bottles. There isn’t one magical soul mate of a wine for each person, but instead lots of different wines to enjoy over your lifetime. But to find the wines that you like, it is important to try a little bit of everything – from the wines that catch your eye to the ones that seem to sit shyly on the shelves waiting for someone to take a chance on them.

So go ahead and judge some wines by their labels, as long as you also try to keep an open mind and occasionally try something that is new or unfamiliar. You might just discover that there’s more to a bottle than meets the eye.