Decoding the wine label


According to a Persian legend, wine was first discovered by a despondent young woman who, in an attempt to end her life, drank spoiled residue produced by rotting table grapes. Instead of poisoning herself, she became intoxicated and thus, the pleasurable effects of wine were discovered. Evidence from the burial site of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun indicates that the ancient Egyptians were among the first to actually label their wines. Labels from King Tut’s heyday detailed the vintage, the growing region, and the wine-maker.

Most wine bottles have two labels, one on the front and one on the back. This allows makers to simplify the appearance of the face of the bottle, while providing all required legal information on the back. Wine producer Château Mouton Rothschild was an early pioneer of art-inspired labels, commissioning artists like Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol to design its labels.

Producer or Bottler This is a mandatory requirement and indicates who made the wine.

Some American wine labels that only display a wine name are branded wines from larger wine companies. For example, Apothic Red is a branded wine by E&J Gallo, the producer. Below is a list of several common producer descriptions:

  • Produced/made and bottled by: This indicates that the bottler fermented 75 percent or more of the wine at the stated address.
  • Cellared and bottled by: This indicates that the bottler has subjected the wine to cellar treatment before bottling at the stated address.
  • Bottled by: This indicates that though it was bottled at the stated address, it may have been grown, crushed, fermented, or aged elsewhere.


Sterling Silver Decanter Tag, Lafitte,by William Bateman 1839 ($390.00)

Region Most wines have some sort of geographical indication that denotes where the grapes were sourced to produce the wine. If a particular wine is from a specific vineyard, this will be indicated in quotations or located below the region designation. These wines are often considered more refined and thus more expensive.

Varietal or Wine Type The variety refers to what grape or grapes are used. For example, Merlot or Chianti or CMS Blend (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah). For blends, the percentage of each used isn’t typically stated. But wines that use varietal names must have 75 percent of the grape designated.

Vintage or Non-Vintage (NV) While this is an optional element, vintage versus non-vintage says a lot about the wine. “Vintage” refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Non-vintage wines tend to be less valuable because winemakers pull from multiple vintages to control the flavor. So for collecting: Vintage. But for consuming, a NV can be just as flavorful.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV) Watch this when selecting a wine as a gift. Most wines will range from 7.5 percent ABV all the way to 17% ABV. European wine regions only allow their highest quality wines to have a 13.5 percent ABV and above, but in the United States, ABVs can be quite high. High alcohol wines are made from riper grapes and tend to have more fruit-forward flavor

Estate Bottled  This means that the wine was 100% grown, produced, and bottled on that specific estate. Good collector choice.

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