How to read a wine label

by Albert López

In a bottle of wine there is much information to decode. The wine label is one of the most important since, along with the back label, the bottle type, the capsule and the cap, it’s like a car registration or trademark. With it, besides enjoying its design (and commercial hallmark), you can find out the most important elements of wine: grape/s, the winemaker or winery and vintage.

  1. Grape, because you can immediately decide if it’s the type of wine you want to drink.
  2. Winery/cellar/winemaker, because some are very good and some not so.
  3. Vintage because some are better than others depending on the weather conditions suffered by the vineyard (in a restaurant, for instance, I always verify that the harvest year that I get is the one I ordered as it may be more expensive or not as good).

In addition to these three reports, you’ll uncover: its alcohol degree, volume content, the identification and location of the winery, bottling registration, appellation and health records and export, and is expressly prohibited that the wine label contain any misleading data.

The wine back label is where the official seal of the Council of the Appellation usually is, plus tasting notes, suggestions for service or pairing and aging period of wine: Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva.

Reading a wine label can be as easy as reading the alphabet or as difficult as trying to decode a foreign language, it all depends from whom and where the label comes from. Information on raveling the mystery behind a bottle of wine before it’s open by reading the label, could fill a book, but we’ll try to give you the most important keys.

New World wine labels tend toward the approach of “this is what it is”, with the grape variety or blend clearly labeled, the winery, where the grapes were grown and the alcohol content easily in sight. In Old World wines are known for “masking” key information, but this is not true at all. If you know what you are looking for, you can figure out the relevant tag information with very little effort. Instead of the variety, the place is the main piece of information on the wine label – where is the wine from. The wines from the Old World are heavily invested in their land (terroir), not necessarily in the specific grape, so if you know the region, then you will also have information on the possible grapes that made their way into the bottle.

Here you have some examples I found of interpreting wine labels in other countries: Italy, Germany, France (Burgundy), France (Alsace), New World… Got more examples? Any questions? I wait for your comments. 😉

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