Berger on wine: How color and shape influence wine sales

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Would you drink blue wine? Or would it depend on the shade — azure, navy, turquoise?

Does a wine with flakes of gold floating in the bottle appeal to you? How about a wine in a red glass bottle?

Wine is such a tradition-ridden beverage that toying with convention can be seen as anathema to “serious” wine lovers. So pastel-colored wines are instantly seen as gimmicks.

Traditional young reds range from dark pink (Beaujolais) to burgundy to Bing cherry; young whites are pale yellow/straw, occasionally with a slight green hue.

Aberrant colors can be clues to a spoiled wine.

If a young white wine looks bronze, it may be a sign that it has begun to oxidize prematurely or was aged in oak barrels a bit too long.

A young red wine that’s a bit brown or amber may be starting to oxidize or has spent too long in oak barrels. A “rusty red” color is rarely a good thing.

Often the color of a red wine is hard to see when it’s still in the bottle because dark brown, “dead leaf green” or smoke-colored glass bottles are used.

Color also means something in the marketing of fine wine. The colors used on wine labels and capsules can determine how it’s viewed.

Decades ago, wine packaging experts preached that impulse purchases relate to “bright” label colors like red, yellow, and light green. (But not orange, they said.) They advised wineries to avoid blue and gray labels, which they said were too cool to promote impulse sales.

Lately, some adventuresome wine brands targeting younger consumers have used black and Gothic images, or designs that are supposed to conjure up cannabis or other substances.

Bottle colors can affect sales too. Decades ago, I was asked to assist in selecting wine for an international airline. At one blind tasting, the winning white wine was a superb German Riesling. When we pulled the bottle out of the brown bag, we were all shocked: The bottle was flame red!

I told the airline’s purchasing manager. He replied, “I don’t care how good it is, we’re not going to serve wine from a red bottle.” We chose another wine.

As for blue wine, there is a California sparkling wine called Blanc de Bleu Cuvée Mousseux. It’s pale blue. The producer says blueberries were added. It’s festive-looking because it’s in a clear-glass bottle.

One thing you may see in white wine is rare: a haze, sort of like floating white clouds. In most cases, the wine is perfectly fine to drink. Here’s what’s up:

Some extremely particular winemakers test white wines to determine if a pristine-looking wine is as good as it was before any in-house tactic is employed to remove the harmless clouds should they develop.

Making a wine completely haze-free requires a tactic some winemakers say harms the aroma or taste. Some avoid the treatment, even though the wine may wind up cloudy. Normally this is a marketing no-no.

I know of winemakers who do very minimal processing on wines that are sold only at their tasting rooms, so they can explain the cloudy issue to buyers.

Finally there is the topic of label shapes. Most are rectangular, but I’ve seen triangles, squares, trapezoids, ragged-edged, two-piece, silk-screened, cut-outs and even paper-wrapped cardboard “bottles.”

In the 1950s, author Vance Packard, in his ground-breaking marketing exposé “The Hidden Persuaders,” detailed many design tactics for packages intended to entice consumers using psychological tactics.

In the mid-1970s, I read a marketing report that suggested mass-market wine companies adopt rounded-corner labels. The report said women buy more wine than men, and the wine industry has long known that women prefer wine labels whose corners were rounded – a “softer” look.

Wine of the Week: 2017 Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($12.50) – As good an example of this Loire Valley grape as you can find, and a bargain. Scented like melons, herbal tea, and a hint of fresh fennel, the wine’s succulence comes from a tiny trace of residual sugar. Perfect acid balance allows it to work with filet of sole or other mild white fish that’s poached. Or just quaff it on a patio.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at He is also co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 am.

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