Don’t feel intimidated by wine labels. The information on such can be broken down into four key segments:
- The brand or producer (who)
- The country or region (where)
- The grape variety (what)
- The vintage (when)
When looking for who made the wine, famous brand names will of course stand and be easy to spot. But some wines are actually named after the producer, which is when you see the château and estate appearing in the name.
For smaller or lesser known winemakers, the most prominent wording on the label may actually be the grape variety or the wine region, with the producer name in small print.
Geographical Indications (GI) are very common on wine labels, and they tell you that a wine was produced in a designated vineyard area within a country, such as Rioja in Spain. Not only can they denote a certain standard by association with a region’s reputation, they are important for understanding that the grape variety in the bottle will have a flavour and style unique to the location it was grown in (everything from weather and soil type to bottling and winemaking techniques will influence it!)
Several countries have their own wine labelling systems and terms in place, which you may come across on a bottle. Denominación de Origen (DO) is the wine certification system used in Spain, and the Rioja wine region is recognised as a DOCa (an area with a Qualified Designation of Origin).
There are many different grape varieties out there, which we discussed in a previous article. each possessing their own characteristics and flavours. The type of grape used plays a big part in the wine’s make-up, as some grapes have higher levels of sugar (for fermenting into alcohol) than others, different skin colours, tannins, flavours and levels of acidity. And these are all affected by the climate they’re grown in too. So a Chardonnay from northern France won’t be the same as a Chardonnay from Australia.
The ‘vintage’ is the year the grapes used for a particular wine were harvested, and it’s usually stated on the label. The vintage can be used as a measurement of quality and also as an indication of when to crack open the wine to drink it at its best.
For wines that are better when younger and fresh, the vintage simply tells you how old the wine is rather than signifying a particular level of quality. For more prestigious wines and those that develop in flavour as they age, the vintage stated on the bottle carries much more significance.
Don’t get too caught up on age though!