How To Read A Wine Label

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While we try to provide you with as much information about wine as possible here at Xtrawine, there are sure to be plenty of times when you find yourself in a store browsing through a selection of wines that you have never heard of before, trying to find something suitable for the occasion.

It is during these times when you need to be able to read wine labels correctly so you find something that is just right. Get it wrong and you may end up with a wine that doesn’t suit your tastes or doesn’t have the quality you are looking for in a wine. Get it right and you may just discover a vintage that could go on to be a big favourite.

So without any further ado, this is how you can examine a wine label so you understand exactly what you are getting.

Step 1 – Locate The Country

The first thing you should do is check the label to see what country the wine was made in. In old world wines, this will usually be fairly prominent on the front of the label, but you may need to turn the bottle around and search on the back for wines that come from countries that are a little newer to the wine industry.

Of course, the country the wine was made in doesn’t matter all that much if the wine itself is of sufficient quality. Still, if you’re looking for a safe bet than looking for Italy, France or Spain is usually a good option. However, Australian, Chilean and wines from the United States are also becoming increasingly popular and tend to be of god quality too.

Step 2 – Check For The Quality Designation

Most countries with large wine industries have a quality system in place that ensures the wines produced there are satisfactory. This will differ depending on the country the wine was made in, which is why step 1 is important.

Bear in mind that these quality designations are a good sign, but they are not the be all and end all for wines. There are plenty of great ones out there that don’t carry a designation.

As for what you are looking for, here’s the designation for each of the major winemaking countries.

France

  • AOC, which stands for Appellation of Controlled Origin.
  • Vins de Table, which stands for table wine.
  • VDQS, which denotes wines that are considered to be of exceptional quality.

Germany

  • QmP, which is a wine with special attributes.
  • QbA, which is a wine with specific appellations.

Spain

  • DO, which stands for Denomination of Origin
  • DOC, which is a Denomination of Qualified Origin. While this is not to be confused with the Italian DOC, they basically stand for the same thing.

Italy

  • DOC, which stands for the Denomination of Controlled Origin.
  • DOCG, which stands for the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.
  • Finally, there is IGT, which is a geographical indication but also demonstrates that the wine has not been made under the DOC guidelines.

It is usually a good idea to be wary of any wines that don’t carry one of these quality designations, so at least do some research before deciding to part with your cash.

Step 3 – Look For The Year

Now you know where the wine comes from and what its quality designation is, it is a good idea to check for the year. Again, this will either be prominently displayed on the front of the label, or may be tucked away on the back.

The key here is to remember that not all harvests are the same and the quality of the wine can change depending on factors like the harvest and how long the wine has been aged. Again, it pays to do a little research to ensure the wine you are buying meets the standards that you need.

Step 4 – Look For The Specific Region

Now you know the basics about the wine it is time to start digging a little bit deeper. The region the wine comes from is important because each wine carries specific qualities that come from the land that is used to grow them.

The quality designations mentioned in step 2 will confirm that a wine is from the correct region, but it still helps to locate the vineyard if you wish to do a little extra research. Again, this will often be prominently displayed on the front of the bottle, making it easy to spot. On cheaper or more widely-produced vintages, you may need to spin the bottle around and check the back label again.

Step 5 – Look For The Alcohol Content

Now we’re getting into the more practical steps. You should know where the wine you are looking at comes from, what year it was made and if it carries a quality designation by now. This means one of the last things you need to check is its alcohol content.

This will generally range somewhere between 13 and 17%. In fact, many European countries are fairly strict about only allowing wines to carry an alcohol content of 13.5% of above, meaning this can be an indicator that the wine is not of the quality that you thought.

Step 6 – Check For Fakery

The final step is to do one last sweep of the label to make sure nothing is amiss. It can be difficult to spot a fake label, especially if the fraud is carried out well. Still, there are a few things you can check form, such as misspellings, that can tip you off.

If you’re buying an older bottle of wine, examine the label carefully. Paper is not time-proof and neither is the adhesive that is used to stick it to the bottle. If the label on an older bottle is absolutely perfect you should be wary, at least until you can get the bottle authenticated by a reliable source.

The Final Word

We hope you now have a better understanding of wine labels and what to look for when buying wine. Of course, Xtrawine is always here to provide you with more information, should you need it.

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