Have you ever wandered the aisles hoping to find a new wine to try, but found yourself confused by the various labels? Me too! So I’ve done some digging around for information to help decipher the enigmatic wine label.
The fact that different countries have different standards for what information is required on a wine label doesn’t make this easy. Lets start with American wines. Their labels must contain specific information regarding when and where they were made, who made them, and the volume and alcohol content of the bottle.
This diagram from Napa Valley Vintners breaks it all down for us.
The Brand name is easy to figure out. That simply refers to the producer, or winemaker. Here, the brand is Jackse – and their wine label is packed with information.
Going down the left side, we first see the Special Designation. Not all wine labels will have this optional information. It’s used to indicate unusual qualities of the wine. For example, if a particular vintage is of a higher standard than others bottled by the same producer, it might be designated as a “private reserve” batch.
Then we have the Wine Type. This indicates the grape variety used to make the wine. Easy enough, right?
Vineyard Designation is another optional feature used to denote a superior product. This is commonly used when a specific vineyard is renowned for growing high-quality grapes. When using a vineyard designation on a wine label, federal regulations require that 95% of the grapes be grown in that vineyard.
Listing Alcohol Content on the wine label is mandatory in the US. This indicates the amount of alcohol present in the wine by volume. There’s a little wiggle room here. Regulations allow a tolerance of plus or minus 1.5% if the wine has an alcohol content of 14% or less and a tolerance of plus or minus 1.0% if the alcohol content is more than 14%.
Back up to the top right we have Vintage, which is simply the year in which the grapes were grown and harvested.
Estate Bottled is another optional designation. This term certifies legally that the winery grew 100% of the grapes on land it owns or controls and that the winery crushed, fermented, finished, aged, and bottled the wine in a continuous process on the same property. Both the vineyard and winery must be located in the viticultural area that is stated on the label.
Using a Fanciful Name on a wine label is an optional marketing tool used by some wineries to differentiate a brand.
Lastly, the Appellation of Origin names the states and counties in which the grapes were grown. Under federal law, this designation can be used on a wine label only if at least 75% of the grapes come from the named state or county. If warranted, it might also contain the American Viticultural Area (AVA), which is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States. In order to name an AVA, at least 85% of the grapes must have come from that region, which on this label is Napa Valley.
More mandatory designations are usually found on the back label of the bottle. Look beneath the description of the wine for this information.
Here you’ll find information on the volume of wine contained in the bottle, and whether or not it contains sulfites.
The Government Warning is usually found on the back wine label as well.