What’s in a wine bottle label?
Have you ever picked up a bottle of wine and after scanning its label, you are only able to pick out two or three familiar words out of the many other words on it?
You wonder why the makers had to include all those other indecipherable words which usually are in a language foreign to you. To an inexperienced wine buyer, beyond the name of the wine, its country of origin and perhaps its vintage, the inclusion of every other information seems pointless.
You may even wonder if the purpose for the inclusion of these other seemingly unnecessary words is to make the process of wine selection a herculean task in order to prove that wine selection is an art in itself.
In truth, the reverse is the case. Wine producers include all these information on wine labels to provide useful information to assist in the selection and appreciation of wine.
If you read this article to the end, you’d become a low key oenophile, reading wine labels and interpreting them with expertise.
A wine label usually has 5 basic parts. (1) Producer (2) Region (3) Variety/Appellation (4) Vintage and (5) ABV
This is who made the wine. The producer’s name is usually at the top or bottom of the label though some labels don’t have the name of the producers on it. Those labels carry only the brand name/wine name.
The wine label will usually state the country or region where the grapes were grown or sourced to produce the wine. If a wine is from a specific vineyard site, that site will be indicated in quotations.
The variety refers to what grape or grapes are used in making the wine. Examples like chardonnay, Merlot, syrah etc. A wine may be labeled by a grape or varietal name such as Merlot, Chablis, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, or it may be given a generic name such as “Red Table Wine.” Before a wine can use it’s varietal name, the content of the wine must contain at least 75% of the grape variety that constitutes its varietal label. For instance before a producer can call a wine Merlot, 75% of the grapes used to produce the wine must be Merlot grapes.
An appellation of origin serves to give more insight on the varietals which in turn gives clues to what varietals were used based on the rules governing that region. A wine that is identified by its appellation credentials relies on the appellation’s quality level rules and regulations to indicate what’s in the bottle. Appellation credentials are awarded to regional producers following strict rules governing which grapes are allowed, crop yield, alcohol percentage and quality level. The specific requirements for regions are determined by the country of origin
Or as the case may be, non-vintage.
The vintage is the year the grapes were harvested and NOT when the wine was bottled. Depending on the country, regulations usually stipulate that 75-95% of the grapes must have been harvested in the named vintage and the remaining percentage of grapes can be from a vintage other than the stated year. What this means is that if a wine’s vintage is 1998, 75-95% of the grapes used in making the wine must have been harvested in 1998. Non-Vintage wines on the other hand have the ease of selecting grapes from multiple vintages to control the flavor and are regarded as lower quality wines.
Alcohol by Volume
This indicates the alcohol content by volume. Many European wine regions only allow their highest quality wines to have 13.5% ABV and above.
There are other things you might notice on a label, such as a declaration of sulfites. This is mandatory. Wines which have a level of 10 parts per million or greater of sulfur dioxide must be labeled with a sulfite declaration (“Contains Sulfites”).
Since October 2007, all French wine labels have had to include a health warning aimed at pregnant women. The regulations require the inclusion of either a pictogram or the following message: “Drinking alcoholic drinks during pregnancy, even in small quantities, can have serious consequences for the health of the baby.” This wording must be placed where it can be seen at the same time as the alcohol content.
The information contained on the wine label will usually vary from country to country because the laws of some countries mandate wine makers to include certain information while others don’t.
Next time you go into a store, I’m sure that you will not only confidently read the information listed on wine bottles, but you will have an understanding and appreciation for all the information included on its label.
Happy wine shopping!