Six Top Tips On How To Read A Wine Label
Wine labels contain an awful lot of information which can give us clues as to whether the wine is a quality one or a value one and to help us decide if that £10 bottle of wine on offer for £5 was really ever worth the £10 in the first place. Here are my six top tips on how to read a wine label.
- Variety or Appellation Credits: The front label will list which variety of grape or grapes the wine is made from. You will learn from trying different varieties which ones you like. An example of grape variety is Shiraz, Merlot, Rioja, Chardonnay etc. If no variety is listed there should be appellation credits which is usually a very good thing to see and generally a good indication of a high quality wine. For example Chablis does not mention that it is made from Chardonnay grapes but instead relies on its appellation credentials to do the talking. Appellation credentials are awarded to regional producers following strict rules governing which grapes are allowed, crop yield, alcohol percentage and quality level.
- Region: The more information there is about where the grapes came from is a good indication of a quality wine. Where only a country or state is listed this would suggest a more budget wine most likely made from a blend of grapes from different regions.
- Date: The date on a label refers to the date of harvest and not the barrel or bottling date as many people believe. Crianza, Reserve, Grand: The exact meaning of these words vary from vineyard to vineyard and country to country but they usually denote to the length of time a wine has matured in the barrel and the quality of the grapes used. Most vineyards reserve these descriptions for their higher quality wines although there are no hard and fast rules.
- Alcohol: The ABV (Alcohol By Volume) level actually says allot more about a wine than just how drunk it will get you! Many European wines only allow their highest quality wines to contain 13.5% or higher. The higher the alcohol level usually the fuller the flavour of the wine and because many of these kinds of wines are made from riper grapes there are more distinct fruit flavours.
- Estate Bottled: This means the grapes have been grown and produced on the estate where they are from and will usually be a good indication of a higher quality wine. It will be worded as; Estate Bottled, or Mis en Bouteille au Château, Mis en Bouteille a la Propriete, Mis en Bouteille au domaine, Embotellat a la Propietat (Spain), Imbottigliato all’origine (Italy) or Erzeugerabfüllung (Germany)
- Stamp Of Approval: I’m not sure if this applies to all wines, but certainly Spanish wines of superior quality will have a stamp of approval like this one in the picture below. On Italian wines this stamp will be DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita / denomination of controlled and guaranteed origin) which is the top line grade a wine can receive in Italy. The next grade down would be listed as DOC or IGT.
I hope you find these tips useful the next time you are out shopping for a lovely bottle of wine. Enjoy!