Deciphering a Wine Label

Wine labels provide information for consumers. Some of this info is required by the country where the wine is made and some from the country where the wine is sold. Optional info such as tasting notes or technical data may be present.  It is often a striking graphic design on the label that draws your attention to a bottle, but if you understand the various label elements it will help you to choose your wine wisely.

Winery/Chateau Name/Brand Name – Many producers have names for individual wines in a portfolio which is different from the winery name. 

Wine Type –  A general description of the wine category will tell you if it is white or red, sparkling or dessert.

Grape Varietal – Wines from New World regions (U.S., Argentina, Chile, etc.) list the varietal on the label. 

Country of Origin and Region – Old World European wines often do not list the varietals on the label. Instead you will find the regions, i.e. Bordeaux, Barolo, Burgundy, Rioja or Douro.

American Vinicultural Region (AVA) – An AVA is a designated U.S. wine grape-growing region distinguishable by geographic features with boundaries.

Appellation . . . Contrôlée (AOC) –  The French put the name of the official place and location where the grapes grew in between the first and second word of this phrase.

Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) – An Italian controlled designation of origin classification system and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), controlled and guaranteed designation of origin.

Vintage Year - The year in which the grapes were harvested is known as the vintage.  If no vintage appears the wine is made from grapes of more than a single year. This is common with Champagne.

Estate-bottled – This indicates the grapes were grown at the same place the wine was bottled.

Alcohol Level – A statement of alcohol content in percent by volume appears on most labels. As an alternative, some bottlers may label wine with an alcohol content from 7 to 14 percent as "Table Wine" or "Light Wine".

Net Contents – A standard bottle contains 750 milliliters.

Contains Sulfites - The phrase appears on most bottles.

Certifications -  There are a number of certifications including Organic, Salmon Safe, Certified Sustainable and Biodynamic that wine producing regions use to indicate how grapes were grown and wine produced.

Dryness Level – Sparkling wines use a term that indicates how dry or sweet the wine is. A sparkler that is labelled as ‘’Brut” is drier then one labelled “Extra Dry”.

Government Health Warning – The notification about the danger to one’s health, pregnant women and the risk of operating machinery must appear on the label. 

Quality Designations – You may find descriptors such as reserve or grand cru. 

Name and Address This will be where the wine was bottled or the importer’s location.