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Helpful Tips - Reading the Label

Reading the Label

The wine label reveals important information about what is inside the bottle and how the wine is likely to taste. Each component serves a specific purpose.  

1. Vintage Date
The vintage date indicates the year the grapes were harvested. In order for a wine label to carry a vintage date, 95% of the grapes used in production of the wine must have been harvested in that year. (Some years produce better grapes than others, primarily because of weather.) Wine without a vintage date is referred to as non-vintage or multi-vintage.

2. Varietal Designation
This refers to the dominant grape used in the production of the wine. By law, at least 75% of that particular grape variety must be used and an appellation is also required.

3. Appellation of Origin
The appellation indicates the region, state, or county where the majority of the grapes were grown. As mentioned under Name of Wine, the actual growing area or appellation becomes the name of many European wines. In other areas like the United States and Australia, where the wine is more often named for the grape variety, some producers also list the growing region on the label, particularly if the area is prestigious. The Napa Valley in the United States and the Hunter Valley in Australia are examples of such well-known growing regions. In the United States, where such growing regions are called American Viticultural Areas (AVA), at least 85 percent of the grapes must come from a single AVA for the region's name to be used on the label.

 4. Alcohol Content
Alcohol content in wine is always stated by volume. The United States requires that alcohol by volume information be included on wine labels. For table wine, the U.S. requirement is a minimum alcohol level of 7 percent, a maximum of 14 percent. The label variance can be up to 1.5 percent. For example, a wine label stating "Alcohol 12.5% By Volume" can legally range anywhere from 11 to 14 percent. However, wines cannot exceed the upper or lower limit. The alcohol-by-volume range for sherries is 17 to 20 percent, for ports it's 18 to 20 percent; both have a label variance of 1 percent.

5. Brand Name
The brand name is the name given to the particular line. It is not necessarily the name of the winery responsible for production. Many wineries offer several lines of wines.

6. Barrel Select
Designation used at the discretion of the wine-maker. While the information is not considered mandatory, it is used to distinguish a special bottling.