Wine Wednesday: How to Read Wine Labels

Have you ever walked in to the grocery or liquor store and felt completely overwhelmed with all the wines there are to choose from?  If so, check out Jennifer Arnold’s suggestions to get the best wines for the right price.

Determine where the wine is from // A wine’s flavor is influenced by where the grapes are grown. New World wines are wines from America, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These wines will generally give you most of the information you need right on the front of the label. Old World wines are from France, Austria, Italy and Spain.  These wines are a little trickier and you may need to look at the back of the label for more information or even consult Google.

Determine the producer or shipper of the wine // This is the most important piece of information on the label, because the quality of the wine depends to a great extent on the reputation of the winery.  The highest designation would be “grown, produced and bottled by.”

Determine the varietal // The type of grape used in making the wine will be clearly listed on New World wines as long as the wine contains 75% of the varietal listed.  If there is no varietal listed, then the wine is a blend of at least two different varietals.  For Old World wines, you may need to consult Google as the region is really what indicates the varietal.  Below is a small chart to help you identify which grapes are grown in the different Old World regions.

Chablis 100% Chardonnay Grapes
Bordeaux White wines are generally a blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon

Red Wines are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot & Malbec

Loire Valley-

Pouilly-Fume or Sancerre

100% Sauvignon Blanc
Muscadet Melon de Bourgogne
Vouvray Chenin Blanc
Burgundy Chardonnay for whites/ Pinot Noir or Gamay for reds
Rhone Valley Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre for reds Viognier for whites

Determine the quality level // For French wines, look for the shipper, the appellation, the vintage and the name of the Village or Chateau.  Also look for quality designations such as Premier Cru or Grand Cru.  For Spanish wines look for Riserva or Gran Riserva.  For American wines look for the AVA as well as single vineyard or estate bottled.  On American wine labels there are no legal requirements to call the wine “Reserve” so don’t be fooled into thinking the wine is better because it says Reserve on the label.   

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