So, if you’ve been following along, you’ve learned the basics of how grapes are fermented, the ways to distinguish varieties from varietals, and how wine is regulated in the Old World and New World Regions. It’s almost time to send you off into the world to buy your own wine, but the last step before we do is to give you the proper education into reading a wine label. What’s the point of knowing all this great wine information if you don’t know how to use it in the store?
There are a few key parts of reading a wine label: the producer or cellar, the region, appellation/variety, the vintage, and the alcohol by volume (ABV).
Let’s start with the producer. This simply is the winemaker or winery that produced the wine itself. It’s always helpful to remember who makes the wines you enjoy so you can explore their collections further. Digging a little further, the region is going to let you know which actual wine region it’s from, which does refer to the geographical location. You may notice the actual country listed, however, many regions are very specific so you’ll see them noted specifically. For example, the wine regions within California are very particular, so it’s likely you’ll see the actual region name, such as Napa Valley or Sonoma Country.
The appellation or variety will tell you what the wine is made of and will also correlate directly to where it was made, as we discussed in one of our recent articles on varieties. The appellation is the geographical location in the Old World where the wine is produced, and that’s how they label their bottles. Whereas in New World regions, the producers will let you know what grape variety, or in certain cases, the varietal, is inside the bottle. If it’s the appellation, you may need to have a little more knowledge about what is specifically grown there.
Vintage, in terms of wine, lets you know what year the wine was made. Certain wines are intended to age for an amount of years before being consumed, and it’s important to know when it was bottled so you can do the correct math on how long it waits. A wine may be non-vintage (NV) if it was harvested from multiple vintages of vineyards. These are typically focused more on expression and creativity of taste, rather than the grapes themselves.
And finally, the alcohol by volume is the percent of alcohol in the bottle per volumetric measurement. For one, it’s legally required to inform consumers of the alcohol content, and two, it’s helpful to know when you’re in your wine journey. You may not like the higher alcohol wines in terms of taste or flavor palate, and it’s important to pay attention to those numbers as you’re learning more.
When in doubt, shop local and ask for assistance from store staff!
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