Wine Writing Team on July 22, 2020 0 Comments How do you choose a bottle of wine when you’re standing in the aisle at the store aimlessly looking at all the bottles? Deciding on a bottle can be intimidating when there are so many different varieties, labels, prices, and names to choose from. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and resort to choosing based on which label grabs your attention. While label design is important, there is much more information beyond the label that should influence the wine you choose to purchase. Let’s take the guesswork out of which wine to choose by learning how to dissect the basic, most important parts of a wine label. Brand Name or Producer The brand name or producer of the wine is located in a prominent place on the front of the bottle. This refers to who made the wine. You might see some wine labels that only have a wine name, such as Apothic Red. This means it’s a branded wine from larger wine producers that have multiple brands. Country or Region of Origin The country or region of the wine refers to the geographic area where the grapes were sourced to produce the wine. It can usually be found on the top or bottom of the label and could refer to either a country, state or specific vineyard. Generally, a wine labeled from a larger region (for example “California”) is a value wine, while wine labeled from a specific region (“Napa Valley”) or vineyard (“Duckhorn Vineyards”) is a higher quality wine. Variety Variety refers to the type of grape used to produce the wine. For example, popular red wine grape varieties are Merlot, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon; popular white wine grape varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. If you can’t find the varietal on the label it could be because the wine producer used a blend of grapes. In this case, the Appellation can give you a clue, which refers to the region where the grapes were grown. Vintage or Non-Vintage (NV) Look for a year printed on the wine label. This is the year that the grapes were harvested, also known as the vintage, telling you the age of the contents of the bottle of wine. In general, wine gets better with age, so an older vintage indicates a better quality wine. Non-Vintage (NV) wines are lower value wines. They are unlikely to improve with age and usually ready to drink once they are released. Alcohol Level The Alcohol by Volume (ABV) level can usually be found in smaller print at the bottom of the front or back of the label. It’s a good indicator of how rich the wine tastes or how big the flavor is. In general, wines with higher alcohol content are made with riper grapes and tend to have stronger fruit flavors. Sulfites You may see the phrase “Contains Sulfites” on the wine label. By law, wine producers must tell you if sulfites were used. They are a type of preservative added to many wines to maintain the color and flavor, as well as to stop them from essentially turning into vinegar. There is a big debate around the presence and safety of sulfites in wine because they can cause severe allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. However, this isn’t common, and most susceptible people know who they are and know which wines to steer clear of. Other notable terms Other words or phrases you might see on a wine label are “Reserve” and “Estate Bottled.” Reserve is a fancy-sounding word that doesn’t actually mean anything official on a wine label. Some wine producers like to use it to distinguish their highest quality wines, but there are no wine rules or best practices that this is actually the case. Estate Bottled simply means that the wine was grown, produced, and bottled all on the wine estate they’re from. Understanding the basic components of a wine label can help you make a better decision when standing in the wine aisle attempting to choose a bottle, but the one thing it can’t do is tell you how the wine actually tastes. That part will be up to you to test! So the next time you’re bringing a bottle of wine to a gathering — or just choosing one for yourself — you’ll at least be better informed about how to read the label and be able to make an educated guess.