Understanding Wine Labels

There are so many varieties of wine on the market today that it can be a very difficult task choosing a bottle of wine, even for the wine enthusiast. Understanding wine labels is not easy as labels do not always appear very user friendly with a mix of foreign languages, strange terminology and fine print. It is almost as though the wine maker does not want us to look very hard at his wine labels.

However, believe it you must – the intention of wine labels is always to assist the customer in deciding what to buy, and is not intended to confuse.

The trick is to learn a little about wine labels so you can use the information to understand more about the wine, the winery and various aspects of the wine production.

When you have had a little practice at understanding wine labels you will wonder how you previously ever made a wise wine choice.

Wine Label Brand Name:

This one is quite straight forward – simply the name of the company that has produced the wine. Usually it is the name of the winery especially if the winery produces multiple brands.

Wine Label Vintage:

It is usual that the wine label will display the vintage although this is not a mandatory requirement. The vintage is the year that the grapes used to make the wine were harvested. In most wine producing countries there are regulations that require at least 85 percent of the grapes used in the wine to be harvested in the specified year of vintage shown on the bottle’s wine label.

Wine Label Appellation:

The appellation is the geographical area where the grapes were grown, and is sometimes known as “appellation origin”. Most wine producing countries have strict laws regarding how appellation is classified, similar to the requirements for wine vintage. Typically at least 85 percent of the grapes used in the wine must be from the region specified on the wine label.

Wine Label Type of Wine:

The type of wine describes the particular grapes used to make the wine. This descriptor can range from broad as in “Red Table Wine” to quite specific as in Merlot or Chardonnay. In the case of the latter, a single named grape variety is known as a varietal.

Most wine producing countries allow the use of some non-varietal grapes in wine blends. This can be as high as 85 percent of the wine’s content from the named varietals (as in Europe and Australia), to about 75 percent in some parts of the United States.

Wine Label Producer and Bottler:

This section of wine labels varies according to where the bottle of wine originated. If grapes are harvested and bottled at the winery it is considered to be “estate bottled” and the wine label will state this using “Mise en bouteille(s) au Chateau” for French wine, “Gutsabfüllung/Erzeugerabfüllung” for German wine or “Estate Bottled” for English speaking wine producers.

Wine Label Other Required Information:

Other information of the wine label is dependent on the requirements of the country where the wine was manufactured. For example, many countries require that somewhere on the wine label there is information about alcohol content, the volume of wine in the bottle and any consumer warnings (such as health warnings).

Some of the famous wine regions of France (such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace) will have the term “Cru” somewhere on the wine label to indicate that the wine is from a town or producer of high quality.

Armed with the above information you should now be able to make better sense of understanding wine labels. The important thing to remember is that the wine label is there solely to assist your decision when choosing wine. While different wine producing countries have different requirements as to what is shown on wine labels, you can be sure that with a little effort you can get a good idea of the main characteristics of the wine.

If you would like to pursue this interest further, check out Amazon’s extensive library of wine label books.