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Wine 101: Understanding Wine Labels

Some wine labels are very informative. They offer a detailed description of the wine. However, to the green eyes of new wine drinkers, a label might look like a piece of paper filled with mysterious scribbles. So to make your next wine purchase less confusing, we will decode the terms.



The year that you see listed on the label is the year that the grapes used in the wine were harvested. In order for the wine to display this vintage year, at least 95% of the grapes for this wine must have been picked during that year. In the case that more than 5% of the grapes were harvested from a different year, there will no mention of a vintage on the label or the label will state NV, short for “No Vintage”.


Alcohol content

Alcohol and regulations go hand in hand. So of course there are regulations when it comes to alcohol content in the wine bottle. Alcohol content must be stated on any wines containing more than 14% alcohol by volume. These wines, even if the level of alcohol is reached naturally, are considered "fortified" and taxed at a rate four times higher than wines under 14%. For wines under 14%, either the alcohol content may be stated or the designations "Table Wine" or "Light Wine" may be used, both phrases implying alcohol content within a range of 7% to 14%.



The name listed might be a brand name or the name of the bottler and its location.



The appellation is the area where the wine's grapes were grown. In most cases the appellation gives a description of the wine grape variety, grape growing method and wine making methods.


A label should include the type of wine that the bottle contains, such as table wine or dessert wine. In order to state a varietal name, at least 75% of the grapes used in the wine must be from that variety.



The volume of the bottle in millimetres is included either on the label or moulded into the glass bottle itself.



Sulphites are added during the fermentation process to help prevent the growth of bacteria and minimize the effects of oxidization. Since sulphites can cause allergic reactions, the label must include a notation if sulphites were used when making the wine.



Estate-bottled wines are wines in which no less than 100% of the grapes used are produced on land controlled by a given vineyard.


Ok so the front label is quite simple. But it is the back label that adds mystery and confusion to a wine purchase. On the back label the producers get a second chance to really sell their product. Some choose a simple approach by describing the tasting notes. While others go all out and forget that not everyone is familiar with the wine lingo. So when you read all those foreign words and terms, don’t freak out!! The text on the back label is just a more elegant summary of the information on the front label. So just make sure you understand the front label. But don’t spend too much time reading, because at the end of the day the best bit of a wine bottle definitely does not lie in the reading!