Editor’s Note: This is the second part to last week’s blog on How to Read an Old World Wine Label.
When I first started drinking wine, oh so many years ago, I will admit to being very ignorant about all things that had to do with wine including being able to read a wine label. I knew almost nothing about the various types of wine. Like a lot of people, I started drinking white wines and wasn’t a big fan of reds at all. I remember being on a number of business trips to the South of France and my friends would get irritated with me because I wouldn’t drink red wine. Now, many years later, I am eager to try as many different types of wine I can.
There is a wealth of information on wine labels. Most wine bottles have both front and back labels. You need to make sure you examine both of them. Usually, information you need is divided between them both. Be sure and check out the labels before you pull the cork. I think this is especially true in some restaurants. The reason I say that is, if you have ordered a specific vintage and the restaurant has sold out of that vintage, they will bring another vintage in its place and it may not be as good as what you ordered. For example; let’s say you order a 2007 Napa Cabernet. 2007 in Napa was a great year and most of the wine from that year was, and still is, excellent. If the restaurant wants to substitute the 2007 for a 2011, which wasn’t a good year for grapes in Napa, you or I would want to reject that bottle and order some other brand of wine.
Listed below are the things I look for on a wine label:
- Vintage Year: The year that the grapes were harvested
- Type of Wine: The type of grapes used to produce the wine. For example: for a Cabernet Sauvignon to be called a Cabernet Sauvignon it has to be made with the primary grape being 75% of the blend. Any less and it is called a blend.
- Brand of Wine: This is usually listed at the top of the label and tells you who produced the wine. A lot of wineries have several different brands so pay attention to what you are choosing.
- Origin of Grapes: This can be listed as a general area or a specific appellation of origin. For example: my Glenwood Cellars Pinot Noir comes from several appellations in the Carneros region which stretches from Napa to Sonoma. In the same blend we use grapes from the Russian River Valley as well.
- Vineyard: The name of winery where the grapes were purchased or grown. This information isn’t always listed on the labels.
- Special Designation: This tells you what the producer believes special about the wine. Is it a Reserve (extra aging), Special Selection (certain grapes, processing, etc.), dry, sweet, etc?
- Estate-Bottled: This tells you if the producer of the wine also grew the grapes.
- Alcohol Content: Referred to on the bottle as either ABV or Alcohol by Volume. Some producers place the ABV on the front label at the bottle in one corner or another. I put my ABVs on the back label.
- Blend of Wines: Another important piece of information, especially when your wine knowledge increases, are the number of varieties blended into the wine. For example: in our 2015 Tiedemann Adler’s Blend we used 50% Zinfandel, 30% Petite Sirah and 20% Lagrein to make the wine. As your knowledge of different wines grows, you’ll begin to taste the various grape flavors in a blended wine.
The information in this article is primarily for New World labels on wine from the United States, and Central and South American Wineries.
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Look Forward to These Happy Things: Upcoming LEX 530 Events!
Important Wine Holidays
November 7 – International Merlot Day
November 12 – International Tempranillo Day
November 18 – International Zinfandel Day
December 4 – Cabernet Franc Day
December 20 – National Sangria Day
December 31 – National Champagne Day