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How to Read an Italian Wine Label

Every bottle of Italian wine that you will ever buy has a label.

That label isn’t just there for show. It’s your key to understanding some of the basic aspects of the wine so you know exactly what you’re getting when you spend your hard-earned money on the bottle.

The wine label reveals plenty of information at a glance.

But there are also often small aspects of the label that will tell you little titbits about the wine that may help you make a better decision.

This article will help you read Italian wine labels properly so you always know what you’re getting.

Tip #1 – Country and Region

Knowing where a wine originates is crucial.

Happily, most wine labels showcase this information prominently either on the top of the label or its bottom. Many wines will tell you their country of origin. However, some producers prefer to focus on their region of origin, rather than the country. This is often the case with Italian wines, where regional variances play such a huge role in the industry.

A good rule of thumb here is that more detail about the region tends to mean a more expensive product. Producers that showcase a lot of pride in their region tend to make more prestigious wines because they understand the role their land plays in the process. This isn’t to say that a bottle that gives you the bare basic information can’t be good. It just means that the winemaker believes the region of origin isn’t important for selling the wine.

Tip #2 – Look for the Grape Variety

This is a tricky wine because not all wines will tell you the grape variety used, unless the wine is made solely using that grape. For example, you don’t need to be told that a Pinot Noir is made using (you guessed it) Pinot Noir. It’s right there in the name.

However, many wines from “old world” countries (such as Italy) don’t include their grape variety. If they do, it’s usually tucked away on the back of the label. The reason to look for this is that you may have tried a wine that you really liked in the past, meaning you’re now looking for something similar. Knowing grape varieties helps you to find different Italian wines that have similar qualities to the wine you enjoyed so much. If the grape variety isn’t on the label, it’s usually easy enough to jump online and quickly research the name of the wine to find out what goes into it.

Tip #3 – Check The Vintage

If you see a year written on the Italian wine label, you’ve just discovered the wine’s vintage. This is the year that the grapes were harvested and the production process began for that bottle. Often, the vintage is several years behind the current year. For example, you may find a 2018 vintage in 2022, which indicates the wine was produced and then aged for a few years before being made available for retail.

The vintage is important because it informs you of the potential quality of the wine.

For example, let’s say you have two bottles of the same Italian wine. However, one is a 2018 vintage and the other is a 2017. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 2017 was a better year for producers than 2018. The climate was ideal, making growing conditions perfect. So, the grapes that went into the 2017 vintage were stronger than those in the 2018 one. Naturally, the 2017 vintage is the better choice in this scenario.

After locating the vintage, do some quick research to determine if the producer experienced ideal growing conditions during that year. This will help you to find wines from a good year and avoid those from bad years.

Vintage also has another purpose:

It tells you how much ageing the wine has.

This helps you determine if the wine benefits from a couple more years in the bottle or if it’s ready to open now. Generally speaking, wines that don’t have a vintage at all are usually best drunk young.

Tip #4 – Look at the Alcohol Volume

The alcohol volume is represented by a percentage, which is usually found at the front of the wine.

There are a couple of things about this number that you need to know.

First, some countries are laxer with their volume numbers than others. For example, the United States allows producers to state a volume within 0.5% of what it is. So, a wine that claims a 13.5% volume may actually be 13% or 14%.

Second, the volume clues you into whether an Italian wine has followed DOC or DOCG rules. If a wine has either of these acronyms on the label, this tells you the wine was produced under strict guidelines. Alcohol volume is part of those guidelines. After reading the volume number, head online to check it against the DOC or DOCG guidelines. If they match, this is an indicator that the wine is supposed to carry the label. This is a quick way to determine if an Italian wine is legitimate, though it is not perfect as clever forgers may select the correct volume.

Tip #5 – Check the Producer

Most producers proudly display their names on their labels. If you see an Italian wine label without a producer, that’s a pretty good sign that the wine isn’t really up to snuff. Good producers put their names to wine in the same way that artists sign their paintings.

Once you’ve found the producer’s name, jump online and research them. Check their website and see if you can find reviews for the wine you’re looking at our the company’s other wines. This will give you an indication of whether the producer is known for creating great wines.

The Final Word

An Italian wine label tells you a lot about the bottle you’re about to buy.

Pay attention to it.

Following the five tips in this article will help you to make some good decisions. Of course, you can always make things easier on yourself by getting your wines from Xtrawine. Every wine in our collection has reviews and full information on its product page, allowing you to make a quick and easy choice.

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