Wine labels are often beautiful to look at or contain entertaining images and enticing words, “a delightful, robust wine for a warm spring evening on the patio.” But in addition to their appearance, the labels contain a lot of information that help in selecting your wine. If you really want an understanding of what you’re buying, it’s worth learning how to read the label properly.
Common elements on your wine label:
Winery or producer – e.g. Inniskillin
Every producer and/or winemaker has their own history, approach to winemaking and file a particular market niche.
Name of the grape variety – e.g. Pinot Gris
The specific kind of grape used for the wine is the second most important piece of information. Each grape has a distinctive aroma and flavour. Some thrive in warmer climates, others love cooler weather (like Ontario).
Vintage Date – e.g. 2014 was a good year for many wines
This refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested, not bottled. Due to the condition of climate of the harvest year, this is very important information. Not all wines from the same winery are created equal. Also, some wines improve with age but not all.
Appellation of Origin – e.g. Sonoma Country, Napa Valley
This refers to the region in which the grapes were grown. In most other wine-producing countries, these wine-growing regions or appellations are defined by law. This is why only grapes grown in the champagne area of France can be made into real champagne.
In Ontario, VQA means the wines are made exclusively from Ontario-grown grapes, and a region is always indicated, e.g. Niagara, Prince Edward County, etc.
In France, the appellation of origin is usually used as the name of the wine instead of the name of the grape, for example, Burgundy and Bordeaux, both regions in France.
Estate Bottled – e.g. Jackson-Triggs “Delaine Cabernet Merlot”
“Estate bottled” wines are made from grapes grown and harvested in the winery’s own vineyards. The owner can even put the name of the actual vineyard on the label. When you tour a winery, the names of the various vineyards are on the rows of vines, and can be matched up with the bottles for sale inside!
This information is given in percent by volume. Table wines traditionally range between 10% and 14% alcohol content with a lower level meaning a lighter tasting wine.
Proprietary and Blended wines
If more than one type of grape is used, the wine is considered blended, using a specific recipe. Merlot, for example, is an ideal wine for blending.
Produced and Bottled By
Ideally, wine is produced and bottled by the same producer. This means more quality control and a better product.
Reserve – generally means a wine deemed of higher quality than usual by its producer. Other special terms that refer to a specific vineyard or winemaking techniques include: Bottle Fermented, Special Selection, Barrel Aging and Barrel Fermented.
Reference: Grape Growers of Ontario