HOW TO DECODE A WINE LABEL?
I see you already in front of endless wine labels on the supermarket: shelves and shelves of wines labels…lost… frustrated!
How to choose?
Shopping online?…same issue, so few information or not useful ones… Reading a wine label can be indeed such complex.
A wine label will be presented differently according to its country of origin, country of distribution regulations or even wine type. This is clear, consumers are asking for clearer wine labels!
Here are a few tips to decode a wine label…all Easy &Fun!
1/ Old vs. New world wine countries?
Even if I do not like that terms, what is the difference between “Old” and “New” world wines?
- “Old world” labels refer to European country mostly (think about…France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Georgia, Greece, etc.)
- “New world” countries examples: USA, China, South Africa, Australia, Chine, Argentina, New Zealand…
2/ Wine labels main information’s
So each label covers in some extend information. Here are the main ones you could encounter in wine labels:
- Producer name / Estate name / Wine brand: Name of the producer of the wine brand. Sometimes the producer name is different than the Estate name.
- Country / Region: This indicates where the wine comes from. Sometimes you have the country and even the region. – Wine Category and Sub category: These are the famous AOP “Appellation” or “DOC” or again “AVA”… Each country has its own set of category and sub category and this can be very detailed and complex for a neophyte. It guaranties a specific place fo origin, production and know how (“savoir-faire”). Sometimes the wine Cru only is mentioned (like plot origin without category) unfortunately not enabling neophyte to know where the wine comes from.
- Grape: this is the grape varietal to make the wine (Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat…). This varies from country regulation. For example, in California, we need 75% minimum of the grape varietal to be mentioned. The winemaker can choose any other 25% varietal… And those 25% can be sourced from outside California.
- Vintage (note: the year mentioned it is the year grapes have been harvested and not the wine put into bottle). Same, it varies from country. Let’s take gain the California example. 85% of the grapes must come from the mentioned vintage. Others 15% can be picked from other vintage (95% minimum if it comes from a specific category or sub category).
- Alcohol level (degree of alcohol): generally between 12-16 degrees but we find 0% wine alcohol or low alcohol wine (Some Italian Moscato at 5.5degrees for example). Country regulations again vary. Again about California regulation enable some 1-1.5% variance in the alcohol level vs. the reality. So a wine listed at 14.5% might be at 15.5% in reality… -Size in cl or ml: a regular bottle is 75cl or 750ml.
- Sweetness level (especially in German wines) – “Bottled at”: the place where the wine is being put in bottle (sometimes at the wine estate, sometimes in different place)
⇔ Of course wine labels do NOT show all of them.
⇔ Note: “New world” labels are often easier to understand with simpler information.
⇔ Let’s see a few examples:
3/ Wine Classification
Here is an example of some European classification.
Each country has its own regulation rules as wine categories classification.
Wine often have some categories / sub categories / and more specific ones. It refers to requirements relating to the place of origin, production and know how. Each category has more or less restrictions that “tend” to link to the wine value. But not the quality!
- Let me give you a simple example: a winemaker wants to produce some Shiraz on a geographical area where “AOP” category does not allow Shiraz. The will be labelled on a lower category but the quality will be equal or maybe higher to the “AOP”.
- Europe is trying to get some European classification but each country has its own names adaptation so often confusion for consumers.
Example of Subcategory in France, Burgundy
4/ Others wine labels mentions
Wine labels can have some “mentions” with unspecified terms such as:
- ”Reserve”: ok this one does not mean anything measurable. It means the wine has been aged (in tank or barrel) before being put in bottle but no time indication and detailed info. Sometimes a winemaker offers 2 different wine styles and put one with “Reserve” mention if it has been aged versus the first one but again, not much specific information.
- “Estate bottled” / “Single vineyard”: Generally, it means the grapes used to make the wine come from and are bottles in a single vineyard. However, it varies from country regulations. In some countries it can be grapes from different lands that belongs to the same owner. It is generally associated to higher quality but is not 100% true in reality.
- “Contain sulfites”: Sulfite or Carbon dioxide (S02) is a chemical added during winemaking process to help to protect wine conservation and prevent oxidation. A lot of countries need to mention it but we never know at which level…that could be very/too high. Organic have lower level of sulfites and Biodynamic wines even lower. Some “natural” wine (see my article about here) do not have at all.
- “Old vines”: When we plant vine, it takes in average 3 years to be able to produce grape but it matures for many years. A “old vine” is generally over 25 or 50 years old.
- “Cuvee”: not really specific but it is in general a special blend from the winemaker
I discovered some articles mentioning request from younger generation, Millennial & Gen Z thirsty for clarity asking about So2 level (and not only “Contains sulphites), bitterness level (IBUs) or even fancier mentions such as “keto, low-carb, sugar free, no hangovers 😉 Which one would you like?
5/ Easy Bacchus SCRATCH & SNIFF wine labels
Due to this lack of clear and PRAGMATIC information, I created some additional labels (which have 3 patents) to give you useful information and playful experience:
- Scratch & Sniff wine aromas (up to 100 times! perfect to Select or also accompany you during tasting to identify and remember wine aromas)
- Touch & feel wine intensity (Light, Mediun, Strong…)
- Look at the best Occasion and Dish Pairing & Scan to discover more about your wine…
Check out more here
6/ How taste “New vs. Old world” wines?
Every wine is different and it is hard to classify them so it is just a “Trend”.
“New world” wine “tend” to be fruitier, with higher alcohol level, lower acidity and heavier taste. As every wine is different, what are you waiting for?
Try and Enjoy! Cheers
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