Wine labels tend to have a lot of information on them. Some of it is critical to understanding what is in the bottle, and some of it is just blowing smoke, so, knowing how to spot a bargain and what to ignore is important for all wine enthusiasts. Understanding wine labels may not always tell us how the wine tastes, but it can help us paint a better picture of exactly what we’re buying.
Below are quick, basic guides to help you identify the wines you want better.
Producer or Name
The producer name is either obvious or in small text at the top or the bottom of the label. These labels tell us who made the wine. Most French wines have producers displayed this way, and some American wine labels such as Apothic Red which only have wine names are branded wines from larger wine companies. Apothic Red is a branded wine by E&J Gallo.
The region tells us where the grapes used in producing the wine were sourced from. A wine from a larger region is typically a value wine whereas a wine from a specific vineyard site often indicates a higher quality regional designation. If a wine is from a specific vineyard site, that site will be indicated in quotations as in “Les Suchots” or located right below the region designation as in Vosne Romanee Les Suchots. Generally, as you narrow the source to a specific site, the quality level becomes more refined and the price increases.
Variety or Appellation
The variety refers to the grape or grapes used in producing the wine. Examples of these are Merlot or CMS Blend (Cab, Merlot, Syrah). Many blends don’t include the constituent grapes nor the percentage that each makes of the whole. If there is no varietal given, look for the Appellation which could give clues to what varietals were used based on the rules governing that region. Today, there are fifteen nations with officially regulated appellations, though the strictness of the rules varies wildly among these nations.
Vintage or Non-Vintage (NV)
The year the grapes were harvested is the vintage. The vintage says a great deal about a wine if you are familiar with vintage variations. Multi-vintage wines or “NV” wines are considered lower value wines, because they have the advantage of pulling wine from multiple vintages to control the flavour.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
The alcohol level also says a great deal about a bottle of wine. Many European wine regions only allow their highest quality wines to have 13.5% ABV and above, but in America, ABVs can be up to 17% on some dry wines. The alcohol level is an indication of how rich/big the wine may taste. Many higher alcohol wines are made from riper grapes and tend to have more fruit forward flavours. However, this is a generalisation. There are exceptions to the rule.