There is a lot of information that can be learned from a wine label, unfortunately, that isn’t always the easiest task to complete. With differences between the styles of wine and the countries where they were produced, it can make the whole situation a bit overwhelming. Let's break down the kind of information that you are likely to encounter when buying a bottle of wine.
The most telling thing that you will find on a wine label is the grape, this will give you at the very least, what kind of profile you will expect to find inside. Not all bottles will specifically say what grape is inside, some will instead name the blend (this is particularly common in the United States and New World wine regions) and others will state the appellation where the bottle is coming from (this is because the grapes allowed are highly regulated, and this practice is almost exclusive to Europe). If you don’t see the name of the grape specifically stated on the front label of the bottle, many producers will have blend information on the back label.
Of course, stylistic differences from producer to producer are important as well, which is why it is so important to label who is making the wine. The name of the producer is typically the largest and boldest words on the front label, the main exception to this would be in Burgundy where producers often regulate their names on the bottom of the label in a much smaller font than the rest of the words.
One of the most celebrated aspects of wine is its terroir, and this is noted by the location being stated on the bottle. At the very least you will know what country a wine was grown in, and the further up the quality ladder you go, the smaller the designated place that will be noted on the label. In many instances, you will see a regional location like the Napa Valley, but there are often smaller regions noted as well, think Oakville or Rutherford. In places like Burgundy and the Mosel designated growing regions can get as small as individual vineyards, when the place is this specific it tends to be the largest and boldest font on the label to signify the importance.
The vintage of a wine is certainly an important aspect of what to expect the wine to taste like. Of course, you do need to have a bit of working knowledge on what vintages of the particular region looked like. But it will also tell you how old the wine is, which provides plenty of context in its own right. The vintage denotes the year that the grapes were harvested, and is almost always included on the label. There are exceptions to this, Champagne and Port being two of the most popular non-vintage wines.
Finally, you can also get some information on how sweet the wine may be, particularly on sparkling wine bottles. Most regions have taken the approach of Champagne and labeled their wine on the Brut Nature to Doux scale.
Ultimately the ability to read a wine label and be able to infer what the wine is going to taste like takes some practice. As you become more familiar with the grapes, regions, and styles of the world, it all starts to become second nature.
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