How to Read a Wine Label
A wine label is an essential source of information and ensures the origin as well as the authenticity of the wine that is being purchased. By reading the wine label a consumer learns the story of the wine and the producer who made it as well as the production methods and the ingredients in the wine.
Some of the information is essential and must be included to meet country labeling requirements while there is other information that can be included by the producer on a voluntary basis.
What is a wine label and why is it important?
The first wine labels can be traced back to ancient Egypt and consisted of a series of etchings and/or seals. Merchants discovered that having a label on the wine helped to improve trade as it identified the contents that were being sold. Wine labeling has significantly evolved over thousands of years, the etchings and seals have evolved into very specific guidelines that have been established by each country that require that certain details are included on a label before the wine can legally be put on the market. There are two primary types of wine labels - Champagne and all other sparkling/still wines.
What information must a Champagne label contain?
1. The word Champagne
2. The trademark if the wine is made by a Champagne House
3. The amount of residual sugar in the wine - Extra-Brut, Brut Nature, Brut Zéro, Brut, Sec Extra-Dry, Demi-Sec, or Doux.
4. The volume of the bottle in centiliters.
5. The percentage of alcohol that the wine contains.
6. The name of the winemaker and company must either be written out in full or represented by the code assigned to them and must be followed by the words élaboré par or élaborateur.
7. Country of Origin - France
8. The official registration number issued by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). This number is unique to each winemaker and consists of a series of tiny figures that are preceded by two initials, which indicate the category of the company or individual that makes and markets the wine. There are seven different designations:
Champagne labels may list additional information such as
1. The vintage year (if the grapes come from a single harvest).
2. The specific grapes that are used such as Blanc de Blancs (only light-skinned grapes are used) or Blanc de Noirs (Only Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are used).
3. Grand or Premier Cru.
4. The commune or village that the grapes are grown in.
5. The origin of the grapes if they come from a vineyard plot of exceptional quality.
6. The year that the Champagne House was founded.
What Information must a Wine Label contain?
The labeling rules vary from country to country but all labels have basic information that is legally required to appear on the label before it can be marketed. A wine label must contain certain basic information about the wine and who makes it. Each label design is unique to the producer. Basically, no two labels are the same!
1. The country or countries of origin - though not a common practice, there can be a blend of wine from several different countries in one wine.
2. The quantity of the liquid in the bottle
3. Any allergen information
4.The volume of alcohol in the wine
5. The name and address of the bottler or supplier of the wine
When a wine is imported into a different country from where it was produced, the labeling rules of the country of sale must be complied with which often is very different from the country that the wine was produced in. As a result, when wines that are destined for export are first bottled, they are in the wine cellar and are only labeled when their country of export has been assigned.
Below is an example of how the labeling rules differ in the EU, the United States, and Australia.
If you want to learn more about the production methods and ingredients of your favorite wine, it is easy to research the specific country labeling requirements that your wine is from online. Learning how to read a wine label is a very simple process and once you have acquired the basics it will be easy to make informed decisions about the wine that you are choosing. A label is the ingredient sheet for a bottle of wine and will assist you in choosing the attributes that you are looking for, a light, medium, or full-bodied wine as well as the grapes that it is made from. Though many old-world wines are not required to put varietal information on the label, you can look up the appellation to find the grapes that the wine would normally contain. For example, a Burgundian Red will come from Pinot Noir grapes.