They say never judge a book by its cover, but a wine label is a good start to figure out the origin, contents, quality and even the flavours of the wine well before you open it.
Every wine-producing country has its own legal requirements for labelling the wine, but most are labelled according to the following four types:
1. By region
Mostly used in old world (mostly Europe) where the regional style is sacrosanct. Wines are labeled as per the region and vineyards they come from. It is expected that just by reading the name of the region, one can garner the style, grape variety and flavours of the wine. For examples if a red wine is labeled as Bourgogne, it indicates that it is from Burgundy region of France, is made from Pinot Noir and has earthy and red fruit aromas and flavours.
2. By Grape Variety
The new world wines from USA, Australia, India, South America and Africa indicate the grape variety at the front of the label to help you know what to expect from the wine. While the labels also include the regions and names of vineyards and producers, the grape variety is most prominent.
3. By producer/winemaker
A lot of producers and Winemakers across the world label their wine with their own names. It may be the most prominent thing on the label or just a byline but it usually is indicative of the winemaking style. It also helps in building a brand and can be used as a sales/marketing strategy, in case there are other known wines by the same producer and winemaker.
4. By brand/Invented Name
Many wineries choose to use an invented name along with interesting graphics for their wines and have lovely stories behind them. The idea is to make it intriguing, which also helps in easy brand recall. I’ve often bought wines based solely on the unusual labels and a lot of them have been delicious.
Using a brand name on the label is indicative of the history and quality of these older, well known brands.
Most wine labels also contain the following information on the front or the back of the wine :
Vintage – The year the grapes were harvested.
Alcohol levels – ABV commonly ranges between 7-15%.
Country/Region – The place where the wine comes from.
Vineyard Name – To indicate the terroir of the vineyard.
Quality indication – For example, Italy’s wines have the quality indication in decreasing order as DOCG>DOC>IGT>Vino da Tavola. Similar classification exists in most old world wine countries.
Contains sulfites – Sulphites are used to stabilise the wine while in the bottle. It is required to be mentioned on labels as per laws in various countries.
With all the information and different laws governing different regions, sometimes it is overwhelming to read these labels. I will try and write a post about decoding wine labels of different countries/regions, soon.