Reading A Wine Label

If you have ever sat down and examined a bottle of wine you will have noticed that the label contains an awful lot of information, some of which you may not immediately understand. This information carries plenty of importance, as it not only informs you about what is in the bottle but also tells you where the bottle originates from and, in many cases denotes its quality as well.

As such, it is important for any true connoisseur to understand what they are looking at when they examine a wine bottle label. This allows for wiser choices when it comes to the wines that you buy, meaning that you end up disappointed far less often than you otherwise would be.

Here we will be taking a more in-depth look at the information that is found on the average label and what it all means for you.

The Type

There are generally two ways in which a bottle of wine will make itself immediately apparent to the viewer, meaning there are two types of basic label that you need to keep an eye out for. Wines will advertise themselves either by their brand name or through their appellation credentials.

You will be able to notice which of these is which by simply looking at the front of the bottle. A wine that is advertised by brand name is often not recognised by any governing body, so you cannot guarantee that it sticks to the DOC’s regulations when it comes to what has gone into the wine’s production and the way that it has been made.

Those marked with their appellation can be trusted to have passed these regulations, meaning that you know you are getting the genuine article.

It is also important to remember that this does not always denote the quality of the wine. While a bottle that has the appellation credentials on the label has been certified by the DOC, there are many wines outside of the organisation’s reach that are most certainly worth a try.

The Producer

The producer’s name will be the next thing that you look for. It will either be emblazoned on the bottle, which is often the case for producers looking to make a name for themselves, or will be written in small text at the top or bottom of the label. It is important to keep an eye out for this, so you can do a little extra research on the producer if needed.

It is also worth noting that if you are buying an American wine and can’t see the name of a producer, then the wine itself is part of a larger brand. These are usually recognisable by the name the wine is given, which usually refers to the contents of the bottle.

The Region

With Italian wine in particular, the region of origin is extremely important. After all, there are many regions in the country, all of which produce their own wines. You should be able to find the region on the bottle and it can often be an indicator of the quality of the wine. If the wine is simply stated to come from a region then it is often a more mass-produced wine. If the specific vineyard it hails from is mentioned, usually in small text below the region markings, you will often find yourself paying a higher price for something that is considered to be more refined and of higher quality.

The Vintage

Many wine amateurs are so used to hearing about particular vintages of a wine that they will often assume that the vintage will always be on the label. However, in the case of lower quality wines, it is often not there. The vintage refers to the year in which the wine was made and is often seen as a mark of quality. For example, if a bottle of red wine mentions its vintage you can usually feel secure in knowing that it is of a good quality. If it doesn’t then the likelihood is that the wine is mass-produced or made from a value range, thus you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

The Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

Different wines have different volumes of alcohol in them, which can be seen on the label as a percentage figure. For Italian wines, this can actually be an excellent way to determine the quality of the drink that you hold in your hands. Only wines of a particularly high quality are allowed to have a volume of 13.5% or above, so if you notice this on the label you can feel pretty safe in the knowledge that the wine you have is of a good quality.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that wines below that volume level are automatically bad and if you’re looking for something to act as a light refresher it is often a better idea to find a wine that has a lower ABV.

The Appellation

The appellation information provides you with data on what has gone into the makeup of the wine. This is often there in place of a full list of grapes and the percentage each is used in, so if you can’t find the names of the grapes in the wine, look for the appellation. You can then check this to find out what blend is used to achieve that particular appellation. This is particularly useful for Italian bottles of wine, as so many of them have their appellation judged by the DOC. If a bottle is labelled as Chianti, you likely won’t find the grape information on the bottle itself but it can be found with a little extra research.

Net Contents

The final thing you should look for is the net content of the bottle. With most standard sized bottle this will usually be in the 750-1,000ml range, so any wine that exceeds that but is still being sold for a fairly low price can reasonably be considered to be of low quality. All this tells you is how much wine you are getting for your money.


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