Summer Reading: How to read a wine label like a pro

We all remember having a summer reading list to keep our minds occupied during the endless sunny months out of school, but now that we are adults, and wine-drinking pros, we like to exercise our brains by reading wine labels. Though this may seem simple to some, it can often times be challenging to understand all the information on a wine label, especially if it's in another language. 

Labels tell us stories about the wine we drink. They answer the ever-important questions of who, what, when, and where, and they are often the reason why we choose to drink a particular wine. Some winemakers have gotten so creative, they have added visual art to to the labels they use to make their craft even more appealing. Reading a label can transport you to interesting places so you can savor the culture of any region, whether it's down the road or across the globe. To get the full story, you'll want to ask those questions while considering the five main parts of any wine label.


Who? Meet the "maker" noted by the brand name or producer of the wine. Depending on whether it was made in the U.S. or abroad, the name will either be located at the top or the bottom of the label, respectively.

What? In the U.S., wine tends to be classified by the type of grape that is predominantly used to create each wine, also known as the varietal. To be labeled a particular varietal, wine has to contain 75% or more of that grape, as most wines contain a blend with other similar grapes. Varietals range from Chardonnay, to Cabernet, to Sauvignon Blanc, to Merlot. In Europe, varietals are noted by appellation, or the sub-region where the grapes that made the wine were grown. In France, one might commonly see "Pomerol" noted on a bottle, which is a sub-region of Bordeaux known for growing Merlot grapes, therefore indicating the varietal of the wine is essentially Merlot.

When? The year the grapes were harvested is known as the wine's vintage. This can provide the wine-drinker with information about the expressed flavors of the grapes used if they are familiar with the weather patterns and conditions of that particular year. Vintage does not indicate any information regarding the year that the wine was bottled, however, as that date has no bearing on how the wine will taste. Equally as important, is the absence of a vintage, which tells the wine-drinker that grapes from several harvests were pulled together to create the wine, giving the winemaker more control over the flavor profile. Usually, Non-vintage (NV) indicates wine that is lower in price as it is not unique to any particular year, and this is most often seen in Champagne, or sparkling wines.

Where? Location, location, location. When it comes to wine, the region where the grapes are grown can affect what the wine tastes like. This most often is due to the type of soil in the region as the terroir is often expressed quite apparently in the flavor of the wine. Regions can also indicate the quality of the wine: when noted generally, region might suggest a value wine, whereas notation of a specific vineyard would denote a high quality product. The more specific the location, the higher quality the wine tends to be.

How much? Alcohol by Volume (ABV) indicates the percentage of alcohol in a bottle of wine. Across the world, the average is around 13.5% but in Europe 14% is typically the minimum. Higher alcohol content can be attributed to riper grapes and suggests a bolder flavor. Some dry wines can even reach up to 17% ABV. 

Once you have all of your questions answered, you're left with the rich story of wine that will have you wanting to read your summer list all year long.


- Melissa Vidaurre


Sources: 1, 2 

Published on Tuesday, July 5, 2016