Why Read a Wine Label?

Have you ever been tempted to purchase a bottle of wine because the wine label was attractive?  Yes, me too.  But there are better reasons to look at the label - in fact you can learn a lot about the wine by reading the label.

What wine is in there?

Does the label name a grape, such as Merlot or Chardonnay or Riesling?   That tells you that at least 75 percent of the wine in that bottle comes from that grape.  If the label uses a phrase like "white table wine" or "proprietary red", then the wine is a blend, with no one grape dominating.

Where did the wine come from?

The wine label will tell you where the grapes were grown.   It may be a large region, i.e. "Oregon" or "California".   This means at least 75% of the grapes are from that area.   It may be a legally defines smaller region, such as "Sonoma Valley".   Again, a high percentage of the grapes will have come from that location.   Or, the label may designate that the grapes are from a single vineyard.   That means at least 95 percent of the grapes came from that single vineyard.

How was it produced?

Look for the code on the wine label.   Phrases such as "estate grown, produced and bottled by" mean that the winery grew the grapes, processed them, and bottled the wine, from start to finish.   "Produced and bottled by" indicates the winery bought some or all of the grapes, but then crushed, cellared, and bottled them.  Phrases on the label such as "vented and bottled by" indicate that the winery bought the already finished wine from another source, and bottled it.

How old is the wine?

There will be a year bottled on your wine.  Some wines get better with age.   The older a wine, the more esters have developed and the wine will become smoother.  A young wine tends to be tarter and a little more acidic.

What is the alcohol content?

The total alcohol content of the wine at completion is usually listed on the front of the wine.   You will find that your heartier wines will contain more alcohol than the lighter wines. Fruit wines will have a lower amount of alcohol.

Don't forget the back label!

The preceding information is typically found on the front label.   However the back label on the wine bottle also provides information.  Often you will be able to learn some history of the winery and perhaps suggestions on how to enjoy the wine, as well as the required government warnings.

"Old world" wine labels.

Have you ever picked up a bottle of French or Italian wine? These old world wines take the labeling of their wine one step further. The region that a grape was grown is very important. These territories are classified and the wines produced are rated and classified into categories. There are the table wines, the better wines and the best wines. The wineries and their grape have to "earn" the classification that is given them. It is an honor when you have become "the best" wine from that country.

Read more about Wines of the World in our History of Wine Making section. Learn about French wine, Italian wine, Chilean wine, Australian wine, Portuguese wine, Spanish wine, German wine, South African wine, New Zealand wine, Argentine wine and Californian wine.

Click here to learn about Wine Label Making. We will give you ideas on how to make your own labels. Get as creative as you want.

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