WCTlogo.jpg (12547 bytes)Label DetectiveWCTlogo.jpg (12547 bytes)






grapes2.jpg (59507 bytes)      Read the Label!

Whether sitting at a restaurant or shopping at the local wine store, a fast read of the label is a worthy investment of your time. Producers pack a lot of information on a label and a better awareness of this information can help you pick a wine that fits your tastes or meal, teach you something new about a growing region, and may help you to remember a selection so you can impress your friends later. After all, taste is a powerful memory trigger for detail.

Policy on wine bottle labels vary from place to place but generally contain enough information for even the most savvy of shoppers. But even though wine labels are required to provide certain information such as the name of the bottler, other information such as color may seem implicit and left off. Interestingly enough, the style of the wine, the grapes, and even the vintage are not necessarily obligatory but do assist in choosing.

Naturally, for the sake of marketing and common sense, brand name and vineyard are usually most prominently featured on a label. Certain region classifications, area of origin, and estate names are also sized to attract attention, but not to immediately draw the eye. Some labels will note whether the wine was bottled on the property of the estate.

It seems that vintage, represented by the year, is what most people seem to look at first, after price. The perception is that an older bottle is a better bottle and/or deserves to be a more expensive bottle. Some shoppers may have an individual sliding scale as a mental measuring stick for profiling a bottle based on price and year when predicting quality and taste. Guidelines in a vintage-dated wine generally stipulate that at least 95% of the wine must have come from grapes grown in the year indicated on the label. Personal tastes aside, a little research and experience is all that is required to recognize "a good year".

As mentioned above, rules and policies regarding labels vary from place to place, another very good reason to invest time to familiarize yourself with labels. Did you know that in the United States, at least 75% of the grape named on the label must be used in a varietal wine? For example, a bottle labeled cabernet sauvignon must have a minimum of 75% of its volume as cabernet sauvignon, while up to 25% of other blends may be used. Other regions use similar tolerances.

Wine labels nearly always show alcohol strength, usually in comparatively small font size, however variances in actual alcohol content within a bottle are allowed, even as much as a percentage point. Naturally, the difficulties in maintaining accurate consistency for producers is understandable, so regulators built in this allowance and thus save producers a number of cost headaches, not the least of which would be for printing extra labels. However, this does mean that a wine with a stated alcohol strength of 12% may actually be found to have slightly over 13% or possibly slightly less than 11% alcohol by volume.

If a wine is an American Viticultural Area designated wine, at least 85% of the grapes used must come from that area. Vineyard designated wines tend to be even stricter, with typically over 95% of the grapes from the named vineyard being used. The flexibility allowed for a labile seems to end when it comes to the source of a wine. For example, a wine labeled “California” is required to contain nothing but California-grown grapes -  100%. However, county designations are typically granted more leeway. For example, a county designation on a label, such as “Sonoma,” means that at least 75% of the grapes in the wine must be from the named county.

What this all means is that care in consistency is important and thus follow the reputation of the producer, and ultimately the price, and price is probably the first and only factor wine buyers are willing to consider at a glance, and it is also the most important label item left off the bottle.






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