We’ve all been there. You pick up a bottle of wine. Sure, the label artwork looks cool. But you have no idea how to read a wine label. What’s really in the bottle, and will you even like it?
You look left, then look right. How long have you been standing here staring at this bottle? You toss it in your cart, hoping and praying that you won’t end up pouring it down the drain later that night. *sigh*
Knowing what to look for can be confusing. Especially if you’re a wine beginner, it’s hard to decipher the fancy wine words and foreign terminology. Today we’re teaching you how to read a wine label in four easy steps.
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There’s a better way to buy wine
First off, if you’re still buying your wine from the grocery store or your local liquor store, it’s time someone told you about Bright Cellars.
Bright Cellars is the monthly wine subscription that matches you to wines you’ll love based on a 7-question quiz. Our advanced wine algorithm helps you find your new favorite wines, then we deliver them to your door every month. You can adjust your frequency, pause, or cancel whenever you like. Plus, you have the ability to rate your wines, so your matches get better and better over time!
Anatomy of a Wine Label
Ex: Cabernet Sauvignon
The varietal is the type of grape used to make the wine. Other than brand name, varietal is probably the first thing you’ll spot on a wine label. People often stick to varietals they know they’ll enjoy, but at Bright Cellars we always recommend trying something new! If you’re just starting out on your wine journey, check out the best red wine varietals for beginners.
Whether your bottle says Chardonnay, Pinotage, or Shiraz, you can be confident this bottle of wine was made from that specific grape variety. Blends are the one exception to the rule. If you’re looking at a red or white blend, flip over the bottle and take a look at the back label. You should see a breakdown of the varieties that made up the blend.
Ex: Paso Robles, CA
When looking at a wine label, you’ll notice the appellation listed on the front as well as the back. The wine’s appellation is the region where the grapes are grown and can tell you a lot about a wine. For instance, an Old World wine is likely to be less fruity, lighter in body, with higher acidity and lower alcohol. On the flip side, a New World wine may have more noticeable fruit flavors, fuller body, higher alcohol, and lower acidity.
Climate greatly influences the wine experience. For example, a wine from a warm climate may have more ripe fruit flavors and less acidity while a cool-climate wine may be more tart with higher acidity. Wine grapes grown in high elevation areas are often sun kissed or sun dried, giving wines from these regions a jammy profile.
The year you see on your wine label is known as the vintage. This information comes in handy when we started talking about aging, but is good to be aware of in general. Say you found a wine you really like. You always purchase the 2017 vintage, but at some point, the number on the bottles has changed to 2018. Chances are the 2017 and the 2018 vintages are going to be extremely similar. But keep in mind, the grapes are coming from different harvests that may have undergone different vineyard conditions.
An important note: if the wine is a red or white blend, there will not be a vintage. This is because blends often use different varietals that can even come from different harvests. Another note on vintages: you’ll never experience a vintage from the year we’re currently in because the grapes are still growing and have not yet been harvested. If it’s 2021, the most recent vintage you could see on shelves is 2020.
The percentage you see is the wine’s ABV or Alcohol by Volume. This number will usually range from 10-15%.
In Vino Finito
Now you know how to read a wine label. The next step is familiarizing yourself with different varietals and appellations. The more wine you drink, the more you’ll get a feel for which wines strike your fancy and which ones aren’t really your style. Make the wine discovery process easier with Bright Cellars. Take the quiz now!