How to Read a Wine Label

How to Read a Wine Label

Do you always go for your same favorite bottle of wine at the store? Have you considered branching out but aren’t sure what you’re looking for? A wine label can tell you virtually everything about the wine you want to enjoy, so here are some tips on how to read wine labels.

Most wines will showcase the country of origin of the produce. This is typically at the top or bottom of the label. If you don’t recognize a country, then the producer may have instead listed the wine region. Knowing the region will assist you in determining the quality of the wine. The more specific a location is on the label, the more expensive the wine is likely to be and therefore, hopefully, a better quality.

The producer of the wine will also likely be labeled on the front of most bottles. Each producer brings their own skills to the process and with it, their own uniqueness. A producer may be a business, an individual, or a family.  Estate bottled wines do tend to be better quality than ones produced on a larger scale. This is because the person growing the grapes is likely more concerned with the quality of the output.

The grape variety used in production is another feature you’ll see listed and this is also clearly displayed (ex:’merlot’). This can indicate tasting notes and the depth of the wine, depending on the grape. If there is not a grape variety showcased, this could mean that it was produced using a variety of different grapes. Look for the appellation, in this case. It can give you an idea of what grapes may have been used in the bottle per regulations for a particular region. Many bottles don’t show this information on the front, however. While regulations vary, varietally labeled wine may contain up to 15% of a different grape and producers will also often add other things to balance the wine. They just don’t have to tell you.

Alcohol by volume or ABV levels are good to know. You can typically find the percentage in small print at the bottom of the bottle, front or back. Red wines tend to sit around 13.5 percent on average and white wines usually sit a bit lower. Balancing the right wine with food should be your main focus. Go for a lighter wine for lighter food such as shellfish, and a heavier red wine with items such as steak.

The vintage is the year the wine was produced. This can be found clearly on the front of a lot of bottles but if you don’t see it, check the neck or the back for the year. This indicates what year the grapes were harvested. The vintage can help you determine how much aging the bottle has had. Non-vintage wines are typically ready to drink and also don’t usually improve with age.

Keep in mind some things a wine label does not have to tell you, as well. Producers can but do not have to tell you if egg or dairy were used in fining the wine, which makes them clearer and brighter. They also don’t have to mention their farming methods. If a wine is labeled as organic then it has to meet those requirements, but overproduction and quality standards can be a question in other cases. The use of oak chips, dyes, or types of yeast is also not required to be listed.

So, the next time you are shopping for a bottle of wine, keep some of these things in mind and test your knowledge. You might do some research and discover a new wine you never knew you loved!


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