Reading the Wine Labels

June 12, 2017

3 minutes read


It can be quite daunting when it comes to reading wine labels. Chateau this, barrel fermented? Denominazione de Origine Controllata e Garantita? And what the heck is Vouvray?


Each country has its own regulations when it comes down the wording on their wine labels. It’s by health laws that the customer isn’t misinformed, or worse, experiencing health issues after enjoying a bottle of wine. Hence, the likes of the alcohol %, volume of the bottle & other wordings needs to found inside of the bottle.


There is a distinct difference between the Old (Europe) & New World countries, with the latter having the easier to ‘’read’’ wine labels.

The name of the winemaker/-house or brand is often the first one to ‘’jump’’ of the label. For some, this is the most important & represents an expectation with the customer. Names like Moet & Chandon, Barolo or even J. Gallo rings a bell? In supermarkets, you might find BOB’s or Buyers-Own-Brands, whereby your local supermarket basically makes, labels & sells their own wines (in bulk).


On some European countries wine labels you may find names of regions written in capitals. Chablis reflects a premium wine made from Chardonnay grapes. It’s also a region within Burgundy, France. Furthermore, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the Loire Valley, France), Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grapes from the Loire Valley, Franc) or Rioja (Tempranillo grapes from Rioja, Spain) to name a few.



But often you WILL find the grape names on the wine label. Either it will be a single-grape variety with for example ZINFANDEL or a blend like SEMILLON/CHARDONNAY, with the first grape the dominant one.



The vintage, the year the grapes are harvested are often seen on a wine label too. For a few, this is of great importance too. For example, in premium wine regions around the world, 2007 harvest was a great year with perfect weather, as 2008 was, well, sh*t. The 2007 will have a guaranteed higher price, as the wine is made in perfect conditions & will be of quality.


To make it even more difficult, the European Union divided wines from specific wine regions into 2 quality categories. These are the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) & Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Both represent a quality level, but with restrictions on vine growing, wine making & use of grape variaties. PDO wines follow the laws written very closely (& are more expensive), while the PGI wines have more freedom on choice of which grape variaties to use.


You won’t see PDO nor PGI stated on the label. European countries have their own labelling terms, which are called Appellations. To make it even more difficult, each country has its own rules to label their wine to indicate true quality. Please do see below table. More on the German quality terms here.



Other words that can be found on a wine label are:

Oaked/Unoaked = The wine has been in contact with oak during the maturation/aging process. Unoaked obviously not.


Barrel fermented = The grapes have been fermented in an open barrel, adding more oak flavours.


Old vines = Vineyards that has been around for a long time. These produce low in yield volumes of wine, but of high quality.


Cuvee = A blend of grapes, vintages or regions often representing the better wines of the winemaker.


Organic/Biodynamic = Wines made without any addition of fertilisers or pesticides during growth & production process & respecting the vines & earth to growth naturally.

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Wine Rebel
Hugo de Grootstraat 115, Delft, The Netherlands

KVK-nummer: 70927340
BTW nummer: NL069862540B01

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