Decoding wine bottle labels

 

By Charles Rosier

 

 

Wine labels say more about wine than they seem.

 

 

 

The labels on wine bottles may all look similar to the layman’s labels. Their examination is nevertheless very instructive for who knows how to decipher them…

 

Vintages and grape varieties

 

The vintage, when indicated, indicates that all the grapes are from a single harvest year. The absence of a vintage indicates, on the other hand, the possibility of blending different years, a mixture which is traditionally practised in Champagne to guarantee the regularity of the wines (only rare vintages are vintage) and which at the other extreme of the price scale are possible for wines for everyday consumption used to sell grape stocks.

 

Charles Rosier

The grape variety is a much rarer mention on French wine labels: most appellation contrôlée wines are made from a mixture of two or three grape varieties, and only single-variety wines can bear this mention. These are generally wines produced in PGI, or even simple ordinary wines that want to distinguish themselves by emphasizing the typicity of the grape variety. On the other hand, wines produced in countries other than France can sometimes mention a single grape variety even if it is only the majority in the wine!

 

 

Miscellaneous information

 

The “Aged in oak barrels” label guarantees that the wine has been prepared in barrels, which generally results in a stronger presence of tannins.

The indication of alcoholic strength is now mandatory, but, given a tolerance of 0.5°, it is of little use to the consumer – who will still have to defy a red wine with too low an alcoholic strength.

Finally, the message advising pregnant women not to consume is now a legal obligation, which only reminds us of common sense…

Charles Rosier