How to Read a Wine Label

All that information on a wine label is there for a reason – here's how to decipher it.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Check out the producer Note the producer – the name of the winemaker or winemaking establishment. Recognized names often represent a dependable standard of quality, but don't overlook smaller producers, who may be turning out as-yet undiscovered gems.
  • TIP: Get to know a local wine merchant, who can suggest lesser known producers and wines based on your tastes.
  • Step 2: Know the grapes Check the varieties of grapes that were used and where they came from. Some wines come from just one grape, while others are a blend of several varieties. Make note of the varieties you prefer.
  • TIP: In general, Italian, Spanish, and French wines are labeled by designation or region rather than by grape.
  • Step 3: "Reserve" judgment Don't assume wines labeled "reserve" or "special select" are necessarily better. In the U.S., there are no laws regulating the use of these words on labels.
  • Step 4: Look for single estates Keep an eye out for single-estate or single-vineyard wines. These wines use grapes from one specific vineyard, rather than blending from several different ones, and often represent a higher quality product.
  • Step 5: Consider the vintage Consider the vintage, or year the grapes were harvested. Almost all wine can be drunk within three years after production, but some bottles may peak 10, 20, or 30 years later. When choosing an older wine, read up beforehand on particular vintages.
  • Step 6: Check alcohol content Check the alcohol content. Wine ranges from about 8 percent to 16 percent. Wines with higher alcohol content often don't pair as well with food, because alcohol can create the impression of sweetness, which can overpower other flavors. Fortified wines, like port, and dessert wines contain about 20 percent alcohol.
  • Step 7: Look at the importer If it's a foreign wine, take a look at the back of the bottle for the importer. Some specialize in particular wines and regions, and if your tastes coincide, you may find that certain importers are just as dependable as certain producers.
  • FACT: By the year 2015, bottles sealed with corks may be in the minority, replaced by more reliable screw-on caps.

You Will Need

  • A wine label
  • Some basic wine knowledge

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