How Do You Read a Wine Label?

Every year, wine connoisseurs from all over the world are numerously gathering to spend money on a wine that has been bottled a few decades prior in Italy, France, Portugal, and other countries known for their great wines.

A perfect example of this are the fine wine auctions or wine tastings organized by Acker Wines. Their eyes light up just by looking at the wine labels that tell them all they need to know.

a lot of wine bottles
Main image by chuttersnap on Upslash

However, for a plain Jane or an ordinary Joe, whose interest is not really focused on wine, understanding a wine label can be quite a challenge - let's be real about that.

There are just so many things written that you don't know what is important or what you should be looking at to tell if the wine is good.

We understand that, and that's why we created this short guide on how to read a wine label. After reading this, you won't have trouble deciphering any of them. So, without any further ado - let's jump right into it.

Things to Look at on a Wine Label

Generally speaking, there are seven things that you should pay attention to on every wine label, and those are:

Country and Region

Usually, the wine label will include the wine's country of origin, such as Italy, France, Portugal, etc. However, sometimes the producer decides to showcase the region of origin instead (for example, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux).

If you are feeling dedicated, you can find out more about different wine regions, as it will help you in recognizing the wine's quality.

When it comes to wine's origin, it's worth keeping in mind the rule of thumb - the more specific the location on the label is, the more expensive the wine is likely to be.

Another thing that you should keep in mind is the difference between English wine and British wine. The former is a term used to describe wine made from grapes grown in England.

The latter, on the other hand, is a low-price product fermented in the UK from imported concentrated grape must.

Name or/and the Producer

Just like most wine labels show the country of origin, they will also show the producer. Keep in mind that the name itself might not mean much to you - unless you are determined to become a wine expert.

However, each producer brings their own expertise to the product, which makes them unique.

Estate bottled wines are usually of better quality than the ones made by a n├ęgociant. That's because they are typically made by the same person who grows the grapes and cares dearly about the quality of the final product.

Grape Variety

Now, this is something that many bottles don't show, as the producer assumes that the customer knows.

Wines coming from the New World (outside of traditional winegrowing areas of Europe and the Middle East) are more likely to have a grape variety displayed on the label than the wine coming from Europe.

Keep in mind that if the bottle doesn't have the grape variety on it, it can mean that the producer used more than one variation.

In this case, you should look for the appellation, as it might give you some idea about what grapes were used to make your wine.

Vintage or Non-vintage

Vintage is a different name for the year in which the grapes were harvested. If a wine is 'vintage,' it means that it is made from grapes from one single year.

Non-vintage wine, on the other hand, is a blend from harvest from several years.

There's not much to talk about when it comes to the wine's vintage as it's relatively simple - wine from a good year is of better quality than wine from a bad year.

Alcohol Level

Now, the alcohol level is a useful thing to know when you want to match wine with food - for example, for dinner.

Red wines have around 13.5 percent on average, while white wines have a little less.

Generally speaking, it is good to match lighter wine with lighter food, while heavier, red wine with, for example, a steak.

Sulfites (sulphites)

According to the law, a wine producer must display whether sulfites were used if their level exceeds 10 mg/litre.

However, they don't have to tell you how much they used - just the fact that they are there. This can be problematic for people who have sulfites allergies.

However, that doesn't mean that wines that don't use sulfites or use very small portions are more wholesome.

Sweetness

Almost all red wines are dry, which means that the sugar grape juices inside have entirely turned into alcohol, and the level of residual is too low for professional testers to detect (detection level is around 4 gr/litre).

Very similarly, most white wines that you encounter will be dry. However, some of them may be either off-dry or sweeter.

Final Thoughts

Reading a wine label is not a skill that someone is born with - just like with most things, you need to learn how to do it.

However, after reading this and some practice, we hope that you won't have trouble deciphering any of the wine labels you might encounter in the future.

Cheers! Or should we say 'Cin-Cin'?

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Jan