LEARN HOW TO READ A WINE LABEL
Have you ever really looked at a wine label?
I mean, beyond the picture of a stately Château, or the cheeky hippo? You would be amazed by
how much you can learn if you just take a minute to peruse the label.
Hi everyone. I am Jacky Blisson and today we are going to learn how to read a wine label. The first thing you are going to look for is the brand or estate name. This is going to be useful, obviously, if you like the wineand you are looking for it again in a wine store. Next you might find the grape variety. It could be on the front, or the back label.
Some Old World origins, like Chianti for example, or the Rhône, don’t tend to list the grape
on the label. In Europe, if a grape is listed (one single grape), it means that 85% of the
wine is of that grape, and the other 15% can come from other grapes, making up a blend.
In the States, only 75% of the wine has to be of the grape variety if a single variety
is listed. Next, you are likely to find the vintage written
somewhere on the label, and this is important for a number of reasons. Especially in cooler
climates vintages can vary quite a lot depending on the weather during the growing season.
In cooler growing seasons, you tend to get more tart fruit flavours and higher acid.
In warmer growing seasons, the wines tend to be a little fleshier, a little riper, and
a little fuller. When it comes to more affordable, every day wines the vintage is going to be
important because these wines are made to be drunk young and fresh. So for white and
rosé wines look for a recent bottling within sort of 18 months of the vintage and for red
wines you can maybe push it to about 3 years. Next, you are likely to find an indication
of the origin of the wine. This can be as wide as a large region like California or
Bordeaux, or it can be as specific as a single vineyard parcel. Generally, the more site
specific the appellation/ or origin written on the wine, the better the quality. If you
see terms like Premier Cru, or Grand Cru, or Grosse Lage, or Classico for example, these are indications of superior single vineyard sites. You may also find other quality designations on the bottle. Each region, each country (especially
in Europe) has their own set of terms to denote superior quality wines. Terms like – for example
on this Rioja here, Reserva, or Gran Reserva – or Superiore in Italy, Smaragd in Austria…
These are all terms that are used to denote wines that come from better vineyard sites,
have riper fruit, and tend to be aged for longer in the winery. This can all be a little
confusing. I am going to go into greater detail about quality designations and appellations
specifications in later, region-specific, videos.
There are also some pretty vague terms that wineries love to throw on their labels. A
few of the most notorious of these include: Old Vines and Réserve or Prestige cuvée.
Older vines tend to give a lower yield of more concentrated, flavourful grapes. So they
do tend to be of higher quality. It depends on the grape, but in general terms an older
vine is one that has reached at least 25 to 30 years-old. Unfortunately, there is no set
legal definition for how old the vine needs to be in order to use the term on a label.
So if you see a wine with Old Vines on the label you really don’t know if the vines are
merely teenagers or fully mature adults. Good tip – if you see a wine that is under 15$
with Old Vines written on a label, I would be suspicious!
The words Réserve or Prestige can also be pretty meaningless. It is meant to denote
a step up in quality from a producer’s most basic level – which is definitely the case
for the Famille Perrin Côtes-du^Rhône Réserve here. But, for a lot of producers, the Réserve
cuvée is only about 1$ difference from the regular wine. Unfortunately for a lot of wineries,
the words are just marketing hype. You are also going to find the alcohol % by
volume on the label. This is important because it will tell you about the body of a wine.
A lower alcohol wine tends to be lighter in body. A higher alcohol wine fuller. Finally, on the back label, you might find some health and dietary information like “Contains
Sulphites”. So yes, most wines do contain sulphites, naturally, and added sulphur to
protect against oxidation and microbial spoilage. Don’t be alarmed though. The level of sulphur
used in wine is well within health and safety norms. It is far lower than flavoured yoghurt
or dried fruits for example, and, contrary to popular belief, wine sulphites do not cause
headaches. You might also see a mention that says “Suitable
for Vegetarians/ Vegans”. This is because a substance can sometimes be added to wine
to clarify it (to remove the sediments, and sometimes to soften tannins). These are called
fining agents. They can include things like milk products, egg whites, isinglass. So if
Suitable for Vegans is written, it means that none of these products have been used, and
the wine (if it has been fined), has been fined with a bentonite clay.
There are all sorts of other wonderful things you can find on certain labels, like serving
suggestions, service temperature, and what not, but I think I have covered the essential
things. Good luck with your next wine buying trip, maybe you will look at the label a little
more closely. Thanks so much for watching. If you like this
video, please consider subscribing to my channel. Share this video widely. Give me a little
thumb’s up or a comment, and until next time, santé!