READING A WINE LABEL
Wine labels are as varied as the countries from which they hail, but they all contain some basic information. Here’s a rundown on the information you should find on a wine label at a minimum.
Many labels clearly state the varietal of grapes used in the wine (Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, etc.). On wines that are made using a blend of grapes, the label may or may not list each varietal and the percentage of each one used.
The region where the grapes used to make a wine were grown is almost always featured on the label. A wine with a label listing a region that is more broadly defined is often a value wine, while wines from more specific areas, or even vineyards, tend to be higher-end, such as “California” vs. “Santa Rita Hills,” according to WineFolly.com. Sometimes wines are grouped by region in stores, and you might find the specific region on the label convenient for narrowing down your search.
PRODUCER OR BRAND NAME
Some wines feature the name of the producer prominently; others display a brand name more prominently. This is a branding decision by the winemaker.
Wine labels often feature the “vintage,” or year the grapes used to make the wine were harvested, however this is not always the case. Non-vintage, or NV, wines — which often are bubbly or fortified wines — feature combinations of vintages. NV wines are sometimes thought to be of lower quality, but you’ll have to judge for yourself. Combining various vintages allows winemakers to mitigate the effects of bad growing conditions during a particular year and present a consistent wine over time.
The alcohol content in a wine is often listed as ABV, or alcohol by volume. Federal law requires wines with an alcohol content above 14 percent to list ABV. Below that threshold, winemakers may choose not to list the alcohol content and may call it a “table wine” or “light wine.” Tolerance of 1 percent to 1.5 percent is allowed. The alcohol content is used to calculate the class into which the wine falls for the purposes of federal excise tax.
While the tasting notes provided by the winemaker could sway you, remember that this copy is pure marketing. It’s more useful to know the above basics of a wine label to make an informed decision. Of course, it never hurts to check out objective tasting notes, reviews and ratings from a source you trust to find the perfect bottle.