How to Read Wine Labels

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How do you read Wine Labels? 

Believe it or not, it can be difficult to know what kind of wine is in a bottle simply based on what the labels says.  Different countries label wine differently, so there are a few things to learn when trying to know what kind of wine is in that bottle you’re looking at.

Wine Laws Dictate Wine Labeling

Believe it or not wine labels can be difficult to understand and it’s due to Wine Laws.  Yes, there are Wine Laws!

Just like we have the FDA to regulate food based on quality and production methods, most countries of some governing or classification body for wine that creates laws and standards.

A winemaker cannot call his/her wine “Bordeaux” unless it follows the list of regulations set by the A.O.C.(France’s Classification Body)

These classification bodies have their own requirements in order to put the name of their region on the bottle and sometimes other information.

This is the difference between Old World Wine and New World Wine.  Wait what? Old and New World Wine?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Requirements can include the following:

  • Permitted growing areas
  • Permitted  grape varieties
  • Permitted Wine Making Methods
  • Limits on wine yields(the amount of grapes grown)
  • Limits on wine produced
  • Minimum percentages of a variety to list it on the bottle, e.g. in the U.S. you need a minimum of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon to list on the label that the wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, otherwise they’d have to list the entire blend.

What is Old World Wine and New World Wine? 

It’s important to know the difference between Old and New World Wine because it has everything to do with knowing what wines are in the bottle you’re drinking!

The wine allowed to be made in Europe is a direct result of European Wine Laws created by their classification bodies.  The Wine Laws are then reflected on the Wine Labels themselves.

***Old World Wine regions allow only specific grapes to be grown, winemaking methods and other standards for you to slap the name of the region on the bottle***

As state earlier, Bordeaux will not let you put the name “Bordeaux” or the name of any of its sub-regions on the bottle unless you use the permitted grape varieties while adhering to specific standards on grape growing and wine making.

Varietal Labeling with New World Wine

When you buy wine, more specifically buying New World Wine, you know what you’re buying because they are labeled by Variety.  That means New World Wine Labels will state on the bottle that it’s Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Shiraz, Merlot and so forth.

Varietal Labeling with Old World Wine

When buying Old World Wine, you rarely see the grape varietal on the label.  Germany is an exception because a lot of German wine is varietally labeled.  Other European wine regions do some varietal labeling, but it’s not that common.  If you see the grape variety on a label of wine from the Old World, chances are it’s carrying the label of a lower classification.

Old World Wine

  • Wine regions in Europe
  • France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, etc…
  • Wine Labels show Region name, not grape varietals
  • You need to know what grapes are grown in each region

New World Wine

  • North America, South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
  • Anywhere not in Europe
  • Wine labels are labeled by grape variety

What might you find on a New World Wine label?

  • Grape Variety
  • Producer or Winery Name(i.e. Cakebread, Stags Leap, etc…)
  • Fantasy Name (i.e. Opus One)
  • Vineyard Name
  • Wine Region Name (Napa, Rutherford, Sonoma,etc…)

What might you find on an Old World Wine label?

  • Name of Wine Region
  • Name of Wine Producer
  • Name of Winery, House, Chateau, etc…
  • Wine classification label (usually on neck of bottle and main label): i.e. A.O.C., D.O.C., QmP, AVA, etc…

french_label_2 labelnewworldblackstone

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