An easy read?
October 12, 2006
You cant judge a wine by its label, but you certainly can learn quite a bit about wine from the label. If a wine is good, or not, is a matter of personal taste, but the labeling should assist you in selecting a wine that may have the flavors you are looking for.Labeling requirements vary from country to country. Each country specifies information requirements for wine labels. Learning about these requirements will not only help you decipher those foreign labels, but will also give you more information about the domestic wine you may be considering for purchase.In the U.S., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sets the standards for wine labels. The label must have an identifying brand name (Rosenblum, Manzanita Creek, Mondavi, etc.), and include the type of wine: sparkling, dessert, or table. If the wine lists the varietals, such as Cabernet or Viogneir, it must contain at least 75 percent of that grape. Alcohol content must be listed by volume, and the amount of wine in the bottle indicated in millilitres. The name and location of the bottler, which may not be the same as the brand name, must also appear on the label. Health warnings about consuming alcohol, along with a sulfite warning, are also required on U.S. wine labels. Imported wines must contain these seven requirements, along with the importers name.In addition, if the vintage is listed, that is the year in which the grapes were grown, and the wine must contain at least 95 percent of that years grapes. When an American Viticultural Area (A.V.A.) is listed, the wine must contain at least 85 percent of grapes grown in that region. If a specific vineyard is indicated as the source, then 95 percent of the grapes must come from that vineyard. Just as use of the term Old Vine on Zinfandel is not regulated, the term reserve does not have any special requirements for use either. However, Estate wines must be grown and vinted on the same property, and wines with that designation may be of a higher quality, because the wine maker and vintner, if not the same entity, work very closely with one another to produce a product that exhibits the grapes true character and flavors. In addition, some interesting designations can be found on the label, such as the term bottled by, followed by a persons name. This indicates that the wine producer bought grapes from independent growers and only made the wine. This does not indicate a lesser wine. Quite the contrary, because these vintners can select the best grapes they can find to produce their wines. Until recently, some wine makers were buying grapes from other areas and processing and bottling them in Napa and labeling that wine as being from Napa. Napa wine makers, however, were successful in getting a legal regulation banning the practice. Still, when reading a label, pay attention to where the grapes were grown, and where the wine was bottled. In France, the appellation dictates the type of grape used, the growing methods employed, and the winemaking methods. Mis en Bouteille means the wine has been bottled at the estate where the grapes were grown. The producer is listed on the label, usually in the largest text. The legally defined area where the grapes were grown is listed as the Appellation dOrigine Controlee.Their labels will also indicate the quality of wine by indicating AC or AOC, which are wines made with more stringent quality standards, and wines labeled vins Delimites de Qualite Superieure (VDSQ). The word superieure on a French wine label also indicates a higher alcohol content. The producer of French wines is indicated by Chateau or Domaine.German labels contain a vast amount of information, usually in beautiful ornate typeset, which can be overwhelming to decipher, with some information in German. German wine labels can be especially difficult to understand if you do not know what to look for. The region of origin must be on the label, such as Mosel-Saar_Ruwer, then the town where it is produced, and the name of the vineyard. The producers name will be indicated by the demarcation. Estate-produced wines will be labeled Gutsabfullung. When the grape variety, such as Riesling, appears on the label, that wine must have been made from at least 85 percent of that grape. Near the grape name, the style of wine will be indicated, such as Kabinett, Spatlese, or Auslese. These terms indicate the ripeness of the grape when picked.The terms Trocken (dry), and Halbtrocken(Semi-dry), may also appear on the label. Alcohol, volume, and vintage will also appear on the label. In Italy, you will find a ranking indication on the label. Vino da Tavola, Vino Tipico, DOC, and DOCG, which is the highest level. The Italian label will indicate the producer, usually in large lettering at the top of the label. Then the quality of wine, like Reserva; the vintage, sometimes labeled as Vendemmia; name of wine-growing region, which by law, dictates the type of grape that is grown there; bottle volume, and alcohol content. If imported, the name of the importer will be listed.Spanish labels start with the producers name, name of wine and growing region, the quality of wine according to Spains ranking system, with the vintage (Cosecha), usually on the same line. There will be a descriptive blurb, and the country of origin: Spain, volume and alcohol content.Understanding a little about what is on the label will help you in selecting some good domestic and imported wines. Happy reading. Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consultant. Reach her at email@example.com.