Over the last year I’ve recorded what animals are printed on the labels of 250 bottles of wine. I figured, “those expensive wines usually have something majestic like a deer or an eagle on them”. I wanted to figure out if expensive wines have certain animals on them, and if cheap ones have others.
In other words, does the animal on the label of a bottle of wine affect the price? Short answer: yes. After combing through liquor stores and supermarkets for the better part of a year – and developing quite a fiendish drinking habit along the way – here is the exhaustive tier list of wine zoology and a rundown of the major findings.
The Rule of Thumb:
My big takeaway is this: if it’s a weird or unexpected animal, it’s probably expensive. Snails, parrots, and our only god-tier member are all quite pricy. If you recognise the animal, it’s probably at one end of the price spectrum, but not in the middle. The “classic” animals are either way out of your price range, or bottom shelf budget wine to be tanned before pint night.
The Great Bird Divide:
Avoid birds of prey. I don’t know what it is about raptors, but it seems like every vineyard cheapskate who wanted to make their wine look expensive and worldly decided to smack a big ol’ eagle on the label and just call it a day. It’s always the same: wings spread, probably in the mountains or somewhere, probably in the distance so they didn’t have to pay an illustrator to actually draw feathers on the thing. Avoid eagles.
Songbirds, though, are usually drawn with attention to detail, and that means they’re expensive. A nice pretty songbird is a good indicator of price. Note: Fat Bird, which I’m sure you’re all quite familiar with, is one of the cheapest wines available. And tell me, how difficult could those fat little blobs have been to draw? Exactly. They look like they’re drawn by someone on their fourth bottle of Fat Bird, which, quite possibly, they could’ve been.
New Zealand’s Sheep Fetish
Why are sheep so expensive? What’s the big deal? Goats too, for that matter. I don’t associate either of those animals with prestige and I sure as fuck don’t pass a paddock of sheep and think “oh, hey, I could really go for a nice bottle of Malbec right now”. No. If I’m anywhere near sheep I’m probably blasted and I can’t afford to overcome my new wine tolerance with pricy wine. Sheep and goats should be cheap ways to get fucked up, and I don’t understand why wine companies aren’t on board with that.
Understand that this is not just about ‘what animal is on the most expensive wine’, it’s also about ‘what animal is consistently expensive’. For example, a cheeky $138 buys you the priciest animal I saw: A horse – quite a pretentious horse, really – on a bottle called Zabel. They even gave it a crown. Cute. However, here’s the thing, all the top-end animals you’d think of like horses, stags, and eagles are also on some of the cheapest bottles. Maybe this is because cheap companies are trying to emulate the expensive designs and fool you into thinking they’re anything better than grape flavoured piss in a shitty bottle.
So what’s in God Tier? Who has remained consistently expensive without attracting any copycats?
Elusive as always, our culprit is the octopus. They were exceedingly rare, and I only just saw enough of them to make this judgment. I never saw one under $30. If someone brings wine over for dinner (when you’re an adult and can afford to do such things), and that person graces your table with an octopus-adorned vessel, be impressed. Bonus points for any nautical imagery; that always made wine more expensive. It’s like we think sailors drink nice wine or something, which they definitely do not. The world of wine labels is a nonsensical and often nautical place.
In the Excellent Tier, we find many of the animals often touted as ‘high-class’. These are often pricy critters, but every one of them has a dirt-cheap counterpart, which serves ‘em right for being so stuck-up all the time. In this tier we find the horse, the stag, the eagle and an unexpected contender in the humble duck. All of these animals appeared on high-quality labels, but also on very poor-quality labels.
You can’t judge a duck by its cover, really. But if you want to appear wealthy, then these are a solid go-to. Everyone will associate your eagle-adorned bottle of red with velveteen tablecloths and won’t recognize that you scraped it off the bottom shelf for $8.99 (I’m looking at you, Wolf Blass.)
Good Tier is where you wanna be. Animals here aren’t fancy enough to be copied, and aren’t boujee enough to be obvious. This makes it one of the most diverse niches in the wine-label ecosystem. We actually find the most bottles and the most animals here, so anything from this pool is both classy and – when on a good sale – economic. In this range (usual0ly around 15-35 dollars a bottle) we find most insects, foxes, goats, elephants, a smattering of birds, and dogs and cats. If you can find any of these creatures on sale for under $12, it’s a must-buy.
Also in Good Tier are all mythical animals, none of which (surprisingly) appear in both low and high-cost wines like the excellent tiered animals do.
Most animals fall pretty decisively towards one end of the spectrum. Again, all the really fancy animals are either real cheap or real expensive, so you could argue that they all average out to “standard tier”. I like that argument. Anyway, a good standard benchmark is the bull. I found that bulls were very consistent. They were all about $20, they were all reds, and they were all from Spain.
Generally, if it’s more expensive than the bull, it’s good, and if it’s cheaper, well, it may be shit.
Poor Tier is a sad place. Poor Tier is like crying in the bathroom during an exam. Poor Tier is your mate yakking their yardie all over your favorite jumper. Poor Tier is drawing out a line of MD and then sneezing. Poor Tier really could’ve been great, but just kinda blew it. Animals here are the cheap renditions of the horse, eagle, deer and bird, as well as most of the fish. You’d expect fish to be more expensive because all the nautical stuff was pricy – and they sometimes are – but fish on red wine is definitely bad news.
Ah yes, my favourite tier. You know who belongs here? The lion. Fuck the lion. Lions are the only members of Shit Tier, and he totally deserves it. Male lions are a farce. They do no hunting. They laze around in the sun and generally smell like shit. Somehow they’ve fooled us into thinking they’re this graceful and legendary thing, and we’re all still along for the ride. But they won’t fool me, and they now they wont fool you either, because they’re only to be found on the most backwash, bottom-shelf, bile-tasting batches of red piss. Serves ‘em right.
Anyway, that’s that. Keep an eye out in the store and see if you can spot any labels that break the pattern. Snakes were really hard to find. I’ve got a giant excel spread sheet full of this data, and if you’d like to take a closer look or have any questions, I’d be happy to hear from you.
Remember the rules. No birds of prey, obscure animals are a good sign, and always judge a goon by its cover.